Businesses have weathered various storms through out the last year due to the instability and changing markets caused by COVID-19. With limited resources and budget constraints, companies have struggled to digitize their entire organization for remote work and keep business afloat during tough times. Various industries took colossal hits to their revenue such as hospitality, personal services, and wholesale/distribution. While companies start to return to the office, preparing for unforeseen futures is key to survival and growth in the future. It's time to take a look at the hard lessons learned from this past year to be prepared for whatever lies ahead. According to SMB Group's Study "SMB Technology Directions For A Changing World," many SMBs suffered during the first few months of 2020, yet a good amount were able to make up for lost revenue during the second half of 2020 with 20% revenue decrease, 37% staying the same, and 43% increasing revenue. Though the immediate changes caused by the pandemic negatively impacted businesses, they were able to adapt due to strategy and using the right technology. 65% of businesses said they made changes to their technology strategy in the wake of COVID-19 and 67% made changes to their business strategy in the wake of COVID-19. Making these significant changes allowed for business owners to survive a time of unpredictable business and an erratic market. With better times ahead, companies must avoid settling back to old ways and continue to plan and prepare for the unpredictable. Tips from a Business that's Thrived During Difficult Times Matthew Ley is the president of The Streaming Network, Canada's leading provider of webcast, webinar, and virtual event technology and training products, which was actually founded 13 years ago, just prior to the global downturn of 2008. During the time of its founding, The Streaming Network entered a very competitive market made up of established companies like Zoom, Cisco, Webex, and Microsoft. As a small business, Ley and his team had to quickly adapt and adopt to survive in a competitive niche market, and the first order of business was to modernize everything. They started by improving their insight into their own data, since they needed to gain access to historical tracking and stop patching their process together over disconnected applications. Additionally, they needed to improve the convoluted and timely process of migrating to new software and improving processes in the long term so they could be set up for growth. This is what sparked Ley to develop the 10X approach to help them achieve success. "Whatever problems The Streaming Network faces, we focus on not just solving the problem, but improving the process by 10 times. This is exactly how we approached our mismatched tech and scattered data. My team and I organized a meeting with the entire company\u2014support, sales, finance, and company executives\u2014to review our current process and what we could do to improve the communication between teams, save time and money, and overall make things easier for the company and therefore our customers," said Ley. Along with the 10X approach, Ley says that using technology tools that stress automation have been critical to helping the company grow, especially if a business is limited on staff. Finding the right technology to cut out busy work, starts at the foundation of the software. Using an integrated platform will allow your business to sync across areas such as sales, marketing, accounting, and more so that you can complete projects faster and communicate with customers more efficiently with less manual effort, increasing revenue. Emphasizing technological innovation, which has saved them over 800 hours of productivity within two months of using automated cloud-based software, has tremendously aided the Streaming Network in flourishing during COVID-19. While every business is unique, there are ways to encourage security and growth, no matter what the future holds. 6 Ways to Weather Unpredictable Business Futures 1. Consider Building a Flexible Workplace Plan A myriad of work styles have emerged from the pandemic, and while some prefer remote work and others can't wait to return to the office, it's critical to implement flexibility across the board for both your employees and from a business perspective. SMB Group's study shows 11% of companies (with 1-4 employees), 39% of companies (with 50-99 employees), and 54% of companies (250-499) employees created a long term strategy for a more flexible workstyle. While smaller businesses might not see the importance in creating a flexible workplace, the strategy lies in planning for future growth. As companies expand and acquire, the workplace must grow, too. Consider opening smaller offices to reap cost-savings benefits, while adding to in-person collaboration. This model will also appease employees who prefer to work remote for a couple days a week and can live closer to the office. 2. Invest in Technology Adoption and Modernization Businesses have had to digitize faster than ever, but selecting the right technology tools that out stand future crisis' is key. Take the time to fully understand business needs for today and for the future when shopping around. Even though a piece of software may fit your needs, making sure it works well with other applications will be critical. Seek out integrated tools that are built to work with other apps and integrate well with third party applications. Additionally, start small to fully understand your migration journey and select technology that is easy to grow with. 75% of SMBs agree that technology investments usually pay off and they're not wrong. Technology tools will help improve employee productivity, allow your business to keep up with changing customer demand, improve external collaboration with clients, help you get ahead of competitors, replace manual efforts, and more. 3. Using Cloud-based Technology Over On-premises Solutions As the workplace shifts from in-person to remote, and now hybrid, using cloud-based technology solutions that are flexible to fit changing work styles will prevent future hiccups. Unlike on-premises software, cloud-based tools are reliable and have stronger security since updates are automatic instead of manual and users don't need to maintain the system. Additionally, because cloud-based tools update in real time, it allows users to access more accurate data. 4. Build a Digital Transformation Strategy Digital transformation consists of strategizing digital technology in all aspects of business to improve processes, determine how to bring value to customers, and fundamentally shape your business to excel in the future. Take time to produce a well-constructed plan to reshape your business. This will entail everything from the design of your website, customer experience, workflows and processes, etc. Small businesses can find resources to help build their digital transformation strategy through free, educational webinars like Zoho's webinar on Aiding Your Business With Technology For Unpredictable Futures on June 9th. 5. Automate Where You Can According to SMB Group's survey, automating customer service and internal IT are seen as the top two areas businesses need to automate in order to grow. Next comes sales, marketing, and accounting automation. Automating these aspects of your business will save you critical time and money, especially when markets change in the future. Additionally, automation leads to fewer errors from manual entry and more happy customers thanks to SLAs being reached faster. And with time regained, businesses can spend those accrued hours on accomplishing new projects, adding efficiency to other aspects of the business, and bettering their customer experience. 6. Take Security and Data Privacy Seriously With businesses operating in flexible work environments there has been a huge uptick in security vulnerabilities. Make sure to have a security protocol put into place to keep company data secure and safe. Additionally, you'll want to closely examine the software your business uses and see if their data privacy practices align with your business values. Many software tools track and sell data to third parties, which could put your company data at risk, as well as your customer's data. And with so many security breaches in the last year, it's time for businesses take a more serious approach to security. Unfortunately no one has a crystal ball to see what the future holds for businesses. But by putting plans into place and preparing for the future, you'll aid your business with a life preserver to stay afloat in unpredictable business times. If this past year has taught us anything, it's that adaption, having the right technology, and being flexible are lifelines when navigating murky waters. It can seem overwhelming to adequately cover all the needs of your business to promote growth, but starting with the right technology and a strong business strategy can help you weather future storms to come.