Whether due to the after-effects of COVID-19 or the inexorable march of progress, almost no-one in business can afford to stand still and presume that their market’s status quo will extend indefinitely onward. In the current business environment of rapid change, constantly planning and evaluating what and how to adapt in order to maintain a competitive advantage is a virtual imperative – and there’s little doubt that digital technology will be a primary driver of the big transformations to come.
“My recommendations are to be prepared, constantly evaluate and re-evaluate, keep up to date, don’t panic, seek advice, plan wisely, and avoid the fear of missing out,” says Mike Penfold, the somewhat distinguished founder and CEO of Shifting Sands Digital, a new information platform that offers to inspire established owners of SMEs who may be struggling to come to terms with the opportunities and threats presented by looming and unforeseeable changes in their industry. The service presents a resource of valuable content, videos – along with case studies, whitepapers, podcasts, links and more – accessible for a small monthly tax-deductible fee, targeting small business owners of a certain age who may have a fair idea about what makes businesses tick, but who most likely haven’t had the time or inclination to absorb themselves in the forces creating change.
“That’s really what I think is the language I can speak to them in,” explains Penfold. “One of the drivers behind Shifting Sands Digital is to get people to think about change as a real opportunity. You don’t have a choice if you want to stay alive – you’re either going to have to change, or your business is going to die, so you might as well be on the positive side.”
According to Penfold, the “smartest” businesses are run by those who are prepared to rethink their core model and stand ready to adapt as the world changes around them.
“Bookshops have always been threatened with extinction,” he explains by way of example, “but it’s never happened, and it probably won’t. They have certainly suffered quite a bit, but they have constantly reinvented themselves, and made themselves more attractive for customers going into them. As they look through their customers’ eyes, they see a customer might be happy to buy a cup of coffee or sandwich or something else as well – so they can be a bookshop selling coffee, or a coffee shop that allows you to browse books. That’s been a lifeline for the industry. And it’s that sort of thinking that I think small businesses have to really get across.”
Penfold is an intriguing character who has spent much of his corporate career working with computers – having written his first apps (“we called them ‘programs’ then”, he quips) in 1965. As a teacher of young international business and MBA students, he regularly sparks some amusement by opening lectures to his classes of 20-year-olds by teaching them a little bit about social media.
“The responses I got were almost uniform and consistent,” he laughs. “They all know how to use their phones and post stuff all over the place, but very few of them have put a great deal of thought in how to harness the power of it for business purposes. So, it usually takes about two and a half minutes to get their attention by the time I blend in the world of marketing – which is what they’re in class to learn – with a tool they’re quite comfortable with but didn’t really know what its potential was outside of their own personal interactions.”
Shifting Sands Digital takes a similar approach in providing a touch of imagination and guidance to kickstart a thought process amongst those who may not know how to exploit their own potential. Inevitable change is the backdrop of the conversation, which Penfold readily illustrates by recalling the monumental changes of recent decades, dating well back before the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The world is full of huge change,” observes Penfold, “even though on a day-to-day basis it doesn’t necessarily seem that way. But you’ve just got to do a little bit of trawling backwards. Nearly all students, for example, have grown up in a world where smartphones have always been there – but you go back about 10 years at most, and there weren’t any smartphones at all. You don’t have to go much further back than that, and the internet wasn’t around. And now we’re talking about artificial intelligence and virtual reality and all sorts of stuff. So, if you think a lot of changes happened in the last five years, then you know that in the next five years, you ain’t seen nothing yet.”
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