A lot of people have recently reported eye strain from spending so long on their laptops at home. One of the recommended cures – take a break and look into the far distance. The same can also be said of your business.
You may be one of those people who don’t look far ahead because you’re too concerned about what’s right in front of you. Perhaps you have too many short-term problems that need fixing now. You have customers and suppliers breathing down your neck. You have cash flow headaches. You’re worried about shareholders. You want to increase your cash reserves.
None of these are necessarily bad, but thinking constantly about tomorrow, means you don’t have the time or the energy to consider the future and the opportunities it can bring. You simply focus on what’s coming up next. It’s a form of myopia. You need to look ahead.
What are the benefits of thinking long-term?
You’ve probably met people who are forever changing their mind, not sure what they’re going to do next, or whether you fit in with their plans. In a word they’re unreliable. Businesses can fall into this category too, changing tack every five minutes to try and meet short-term aims, or a knee-jerk reaction to keep up with the competition. It may work for a while, but in the long-term, it’s doomed to failure. Customers will see through it, as will the people who work for them, and investors. It’s reactive, not proactive.
To build a strong, sustainable business, you need a strategy that isn’t just capable of dealing with short-term issues, it needs to work over the long-term. To succeed it needs to be robust, based on aims that everyone has signed up to. It needs to be forward-looking.
Think of all some brands you admire – Apple, Dyson, Samsung, Volvo, Nike, IKEA. They didn’t grow big by having a “stack ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap” mentality. They grew by having long-term strategies that they stuck to.
Creatures of habit.
In a world that’s supposed to be constantly changing, people take comfort in the familiar. Some of the most popular, enduring programmes on TV are soap operas. Coronation Street has been running, with pretty much the same format, for over 60 years. East Enders has been on air since 1985 and Emmerdale since 1989. We are creatures of habit. Yet many businesses treat their customers as though they’re desperate for change. They’re not. They want a strong, reliable brand that reflects their tastes, and their values.
That’s not to say that you drop originality from the equation. A soap opera is still evolving, bringing in new storylines, new characters to reflect the current times. But the basic offering remains the same.
Nowhere is this more evident than in marketing. The pursuit of something new often results in the loss of something much loved and respected. How many long-term ad campaigns can you think of? Very few, if any. We live in a world of quantity, not quality. Clients want something different. Consumer often don’t. Sometimes the bravest thing you can do is to do nothing.
Do you have a revolving door policy when it comes to hiring? You may think this keeps your business fresh, exciting, innovative. I take the opposite view. I believe it’s time consuming, expensive, disruptive, demoralising and harmful to your business. The only people it keeps busy are HR and head-hunters.
You should not only be looking for the best people available, you should be looking to keep them – for a considerable time. How long staff stay is a good measure of your business. If you have strong values, a robust strategy, a commitment to society and ecological goals, and are making enough money to pay a decent wage, there’s no reason you can’t keep people for a very long time. The reverse is also true. Who wants to work for a badly run business whose sole purpose is to make enough money to pay dividends to shareholders? Not me.
Would you rather invest in a company with clear, long-term goals, an ambitious management team, a loyal workforce, or a company that lives from hand-to-mouth, lurching from one problem to the next? Investors like long-term thinking.
But surely the number one way to attract investors is to make huge profits? No, often the reverse is true. Many businesses are highly investable, even though they make a loss. Take Tesla, Uber, Spotify, AirBnB. What unites all these companies is that they invest purposefully, focusing on long-term growth, not short-term profits. They all have a powerful vision that investors are drawn to. Even a business as mighty as Amazon makes a small profit compared to its size. Why? Because it invests in the future.
A business that is one hundred per cent focused on making money, isn’t going to have a lot of time left for much else. But ask yourself, what sort of business do you want? One trying to get rich quick, or one with a conscience, that thinks about its staff, the impact it has on society, the effect it’s having on the planet?
Businesses that don’t consider their long-term impact are out of step with the world. Customers, employees and investors are now, more than ever, looking for companies that aren’t just about taking, they’re about giving back.
People say life isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. The same applies to business. Yes, there are pressures to deliver results, pay salaries, keep customers happy. But on top of that, is the need to look into the distance, and consider what sort of business you’re building. Do you have the strategy in place, the people in place, the vision in place, to ensure you have long-term goals you can deliver on? The rewards are there if you do.
Malcolm Duffy is Creative Director of BGI.