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Want to make a change? Here's who to talk to

Posted on: October 02, 2012 | Author: ATB Business & Agriculture

An insightful soft-drink fan once said: "Change is inevitable, except from vending machines."

But to stay relevant in business—even the vending machine business—you have to learn the difference between constructive change and diverting trends.

According to Corey Kotyluk, Managing Director of ATB Business in Calgary, even big companies can get it wrong—just look at Kodak, Blockbuster, or RIM.

"With RIM, the market started out wanting email on the go, and they delivered. Meanwhile, Apple listened to the evolving market and created a more versatile, innovative product that exceeded consumer expectations: the iPhone. The whole market shifted considerably, and now Apple is one of the biggest companies in the world and RIM needs to catch up—or find new ways to compete," Corey explains.

Change isn't easy, and it can be confusing. When you have the opportunity to reinvent an aspect of your business, do your research. Here are a few advisors that can help you make the right decisions:

  1. Trusted customers.

    The purpose of this proposed change should be to make your company more profitable. And to be more profitable, you need to impress your customers. Why not involve them at the beginning of the process?

    Whether it's over coffee or conference call, gather a group of trusted customers and start with the basics: What do they like and dislike about your current product or service? Run through your proposed change and ask for their honest feedback. Consolidate their comments and keep them handy for when other opportunities for arise.
  2. Your professional partners.

    You know your business the best. The people who know your business the next best are likely your accountant, banker, and lawyer. From a financial and legal perspective, these professionals can advise you if the change you are pondering is a good business decision at this time.
  3. Industry peers.

    Whether the change is small, like a new email program, or significant, like a new product line, it's helpful to talk to entrepreneurs who have been through it. What were their biggest challenges? How long before they started seeing results? Who helped them along the way?

    If you don't know where to turn, consult your local industry association or reach out to your extended network. Insight from other industries can inspire truly innovative ideas within your own.
  4. The competition.

    It's not as easy as calling your top competitor to ask for a preview of their latest technology (just ask RIM). But keeping an eye on the competition is an important aspect of staying relevant.

    If you feel like you're playing catch-up, make sure the businesses you're chasing are heading towards a destination that's viable for you too. You may find that when the competition moves in one direction, you can identify a gap they left behind that you can expertly fill. Monitor their moves, and the market, to stay current and competitive.

Don't forget about your gut.

Logical assessment is important, but so are your instincts. Does this change feel right? Are you intrigued by the possibilities and excited about the challenge ahead? If you've done your objective research and the answer is "yes," then your gut is giving you the go-ahead to proceed. If the answer is "no", then this may not be the right change to make—or your gut may be stuck in "play it safe" mode. When fear is getting in the way of progress, trust your advisors and move forward.

By running your ideas through these advisors, you will get a better sense of the right changes for your business and some direction for the inevitable forks down the road.

But, as Corey says, "there's no crystal ball."

"Having a network of trusted advisors helps, and being able to talk to the clients about what's working and what isn't increases the chances that you'll move in the right direction. Whether your goal is to increase profit, increase market share, or just stay relevant, you've got to map it out in your business plan—this is where we're going, and this will be the result."

Other articles you may be interested in:

4 ways to gather customer feedback to better serve your customers
Your professional partners: Why your business needs them, and why they need each other

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