Over the course of my company’s 15 year trajectory, we’ve never stopped rebuilding it. Rebuilding isn’t an option; it’s the only way forward. It’s how we adapt to market conditions, client requirements, and employee needs. A rebuilding mentality drives forward-thinking practices and ultimately ensures that we stay not just relevant but ahead of the curve.
After years of focusing on a rebuilding strategy, I’ve distilled the approach into the following five rules:
1. Don’t give in to routine
Businesses are born everyday. Everyday someone with a fresh idea or a new take on an old concept is launching a company that will in some way compete with yours. If you are not taking the same initiative, you are simply waiting for them to catch up and eventually overtake your business. No matter how well established your business is, the innovator will appear with a leaner, more elegant or more efficient approach to the same solutions that you have matured over time.
The challenge for any business is to keep things running smoothly while still focusing on the future. Bills to pay, HR issues, client demands, all pile up and pretty soon you are working in the business instead of working on the business. It’s critical that you stay restless.
2. Think of the projected future value of the business more than cash
Cash is the blood of a business. Without it, there is no business. But being able to generate cash (and lots of it) in the future is as essential to the business as the current state of cash flow.
Market needs are shifting. It’s not that markets suddenly shift. That may be the perception for an outsider, but someone who is keyed into the market’s ebbs and flows will see the changes and be positioned to respond on a daily basis. Truly adapting, though, means that sometimes the necessary responses require fundamental shifts in business models, organizational structures, or product. And that means you’ll sometimes need to sacrifice current cash flow to grow the long-term value of the company.
3. Always watch the landscape
“Sudden” changes to your business landscape shouldn’t take you by surprise. You should be tuned into what is happening in your industry so you can spot early warnings. If you choose to focus only on the present, you’ll miss those signs, and by the time you realize it’s time to change it will be too late.
Carefully watching your landscape will allow you to gain valuable insights and experience as time goes by. At some point, your entire outlook on the business, the market, or the offering, will change. This is a good thing. That means your previous paradigm is now obsolete and it is time to introduce a new framework of thought.
4. Commit to real change
All of the rules above are only worth following if you are open to revisiting the cornerstones of your business. Adapting to change requires more than a cosmetic remodeling of your business. It takes rebuilding the very foundations of your business to maximize long-term viability and potential.
In our case, we began as a small translation agency. In order to overcome the challenge of placing jobs with unknown freelancers, we morphed into a translation house with over 60 in-house translators. That model eventually became insufficient, due to its lack of elasticity, expensive overhead, and challenges in managing people. We morphed and targeted an entirely different business model based on third-party technology and project management professionals thirsty for growth and big name clients. Eventually even that model ceased to be effective with the sudden economic downturn exposing all of the model’s inefficiencies. We began to invest in our technology, built our own global content management platform, and are now developing our identity as both a service and technology company.
If we had not rebuilt our company constantly and continuously all this time, we would have been out of business. Even if not bankrupt financially, we would have been conceptually bankrupt, void of any relevant ideas and propositions. And we would never have been able to rebuild the business as needed. Building is like a muscle — if you stop exercising, it atrophies and will not be there for you when you need it. We have only remained relevant by trusting our restlessness and constantly rebuilding.
5. Make stress an ally
Speaking of building muscle, this is especially important when it comes to developing a resistance to stress. While there are clear long term benefits to rebuilding, the short term results can frequently be negative. You have to deal with unrest, uncertainty, adjustment, and adaptation, all of which contribute to a heightened feeling of stress. There is less continuity and less of a chance to build on the existing vectors. Rebuilding creates big inefficiencies from a cost perspective as well.
While I can’t guarantee it’s true, I am willing to bet that a business that has been continuously re-examining and re-positioning itself will have faced enough ongoing stress to have good resistance to its damaging effects and will thus be more likely to react positively to curve balls that are sure to come than a company that has remained relatively idle, regardless of respective success, profitability or recognition.
Rebuilding is a chance to perform a profound software, or even firmware, update on a business. It is the chance to resync the business with a more updated version of the leadership, customer base, and trends. It is a chance to rediscover, redesign, and redeploy. And just like in writing, if you believe the first draft is final, chances are you will never be a great writer. Building a business is a continuous process of discovery and polishing.
Gabriel Fairman is CEO of Bureau Works.