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Productivity / Performance

Surfing the business life cycle

Like many other aspects of life, business is full of cycles. Being aware of the business life cycle you’ll be better equipped to respond, and to reignite your energy during the inevitable downward turns.

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As the recent GFC has shown, the economy moves in cycles, with a recession and subsequent recovery roughly every five or six years. There’s the life cycle of your products, which don’t remain fashionable forever. There’s also the life cycle of your business: it might begin as an exciting start-up but in most cases, decline is probably out there some day.

It’s almost planned that way. Did you ever see a business plan that aimed to keep the business in the exciting start-up stage forever? No, the five-year plan invariably targets some kind of stress-free, profitable existence by year five.

The business life cycle mirrors your own life cycle. The start-up stage is like adolescence. It’s high risk. It runs on adrenalin and hope is freely available. Like many teenagers, it may run off the rails, but not for lack of enthusiasm. The new business starts with a fully charged set of batteries.

What can you do when those batteries need a recharge? If you are at a point where inertia is sneaking in, give yourself a simple brief: examine your business as if you were a venture capitalist. Look for exciting new investments that could leverage off the infrastructure you’ve got, in the industry you know, using your own skills and resources.

"How you surf the cycles of the economy, your business, your products or yourself will be a key determinant of your success."

Here are some ideas to get you started.

Your infrastructure

What more can you do with what you’ve got? You might be selling a great product. What else can you sell? What’s the exciting new product line that could build on your resources, or your market presence, or your creativity?

Apple went from Mac to laptop to iPod to iPhone to iPad, with iTunes and iCloud along the way. The way it continually reinvents itself means that it sometimes feels like it’s permanently in start-up mode, and the energy that generates makes it easy to keep their customer base engaged and excited.

Want more articles like this? Check out the performance section.

Your industry

Who are the natural allies of your business? Even if you’re not in the market, pretend you’ve decided to acquire and merge with another business – maybe one of your competitors. You don’t have to actually acquire them, but the process of considering how the new united business might operate and what it could achieve will put a very creative spotlight on your own affairs. You might simply find a better way of doing what you already do.

Yourself

In their excellent book Switch, Chip and Dan Heath give the example of the Latin American firm, Brasilata, which introduced an innovation program, encouraging roughly 1000 employees to become inventors and come up with new ideas. In 2008 alone, they collectively had more than 130,000 of them. That’s a serious brainstorming session.

Don’t fall into the trap of saying “I’m a soloist, that doesn’t apply to me”, because in the example above each of those team members was responsible for 130 new ideas in a year. What difference could 130 new ideas make to your business? Challenge yourself to unleash the power of an innovation contest in your own business, whether alone or in cahoots with your advisory board.

How you surf the cycles of the economy, your business, your products or yourself will be a key determinant of your success.

Do you have any other creative ideas for climbing back to the crest of the wave? We’d love to hear your ideas for surfing the business life cycle.

Alan Hargreaves

has spent 35 years in finance and business consulting. His private equity and advisory services span IT, media, property, finance, and retail. He is author of the management book, Recharge, published by John Wiley & Sons.

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