“If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”

These words were uttered by General (Ret.) Eric Shinseki, United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and they should be etched into the brain of every small business owner.

Change is hard for all of us, especially small business owners. Think about it. You decide what business you want to be in, and you give it your all to make it a success. Perhaps you get there; you have customers who want your product or service. But how long will it last? Eventually, things — the market, the economy, the industry, your products, your target audience — will change.

Remember Typewriters?

Twenty years ago, a friend of mine went to trade school and learned typewriter maintenance. Together with his father he opened a store servicing typewriters. Gradually, they started selling office furniture, and then general office supplies.

Imagine, twenty years later in the post-Internet boom world, if he had simply stuck with typewriters. After all, that was what he was interested in, and that was how he envisioned making a living. But instead, he listened to what his customers were asking for, and he adapted by expanding his products. These new products didn’t really interest him, but they were important to his customers. And it worked.

Interestingly, the typewriters that he serviced and sold as used are now selling for between five and ten times what he was selling them for twenty years ago. So, change isn’t necessarily negative or always going to be one way.

Successful Businesses Embrace Chance

Every business has to stay relevant to their marketplace, and you do that by being open and ready for change. McDonald’s, famous for its cheap, high-fat meals, had to introduce food that fits a healthier lifestyle because many McDonald’s customers started following that healthier diets.

Borders bookstores went out of business because they failed to see the change to digital publishing advancing as fast as it did. Their competitor, Barnes & Noble, even though they are facing hard times, has so far managed to weather the storm because they embraced the change and added it to their offerings.

It All Starts with Your Customers

The challenge for most business owners is seeing the change that’s coming, and positioning themselves so they’re ready to roll with it. This is where knowing your customers becomes increasingly important, and where the opportunities presented via social media platforms can really help. By asking customers what they want, and asking them what they don’t want, you can start to shape your business in a more responsive way.

Customers are much more likely to stay with you if they see that you are adapting to their needs, even if the rate of change is slow because you are listening to them.

How are you responding to change in your business?


Image credit: soundgroov