2024: It’s time for businesses to be ruthless

Greg Thompson
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It would be lovely to think 2024 will be smooth sailing compared to the past three years. Unfortunately, that’s almost certainly not going to be the case. Instead, volatility will continue to reign as the pace of change only speeds up.

Reflecting on 2023, most would agree it was a tough year, and those challenges are not going to disappear over the Christmas holidays. Businesses will continue to face cost pressures, high interest rates and staff issues in 2024. 

The world has fundamentally changed since the pandemic; buying patterns, financing, and technology have all been transformed. As a business decision-maker, not only do you need to get your head around our new economy, you need to do it while also tackling whatever new hurdles are thrown in your path.  

How can you help your business survive and thrive in 2024? The answer is simple: you must be ruthless.  

Start by building resilience

When the economic landscape is in permacrisis, it’s essential to make your business as resilient as possible. To make sure you can ride the wave in 2024, you need to ensure your cashflow is reliable and predictable, and you must manage your costs. Look ruthlessly at your spending and outgoings to find efficiencies, while tightening your terms, invoicing and debt management processes to improve cashflow. The key is knowing what your cashflow is.  

Let go of underperforming products and services 

Cost-benefit analysis is valuable here as you decide what to let go. Crunch the numbers and identify parts of the business that aren’t providing strong and reliable profits, both historically and into the future.  

Ask yourself tough questions about those underperforming strands: ‘Why am I continuing to sell this product or service? Is it dying and do I just need to cut it out? Am I continuing to serve legacy customers because it’s in my comfort zone or I feel an allegiance to the past? Will I get a better return by investing the same amount of time and energy on something else?’ 

Cut out your D clients 

The Pareto principle, aka the 80-20 rule, says that 80% of your profits will come from 20% of your clients. Most businesses find this principle applies. This is an old exercise but an effective one: look at your client list and grade each one from A to D. Your A clients are the most profitable ones who are the best to deal with, and your D clients are the lowest-value, most headache-inducing to work with. It’s time to cut out your D clients and focus your energy on keeping, growing, and finding new A grade clients.  

Jettison outdated stock  

After the inventory rollercoaster of 2020 and 2021, some businesses are still sitting on outdated stock. Sell it if you can, provided you don’t cannibalise your own clients. In other words, don’t sell a cheap old item to a client who might otherwise buy a profitable new item. Instead, try to sell it to a market you’re not involved with. One of my clients was able to shift a huge amount of product to a dollar store, preventing the business from undermining itself. Otherwise, look for a way to give the stock away, or even better - recycle it if you can.  

Take legacy technology off life support 

Legacy technology is a drag on any business. We see it in government departments and large businesses, where slow, patchwork systems take hours to complete tasks that could happen almost instantly with up-to-date tech. Getting rid of desktops and landlines, and moving to the cloud, makes your business more resilient and cuts ongoing maintenance costs. Get the experts in to help your business transition to the cloud in a way that will work for your organisation – you should be able to find some significant efficiencies. 

Embrace AI  

The point of making all these cuts and cost savings is not only to boost your profitability and resilience. It will also free up funds so your business can be ready for the future, because any company not embracing AI will be left behind. As the pace of change increases, firms that embrace change, and have the knowledge and information to handle it, will accelerate their growth.  

Firms that keep doing what they’ve always done will start to fall behind. Eventually the gap between non-adopters and their AI-savvy competitors will become too wide to bridge, and the non-adopters will drop away. There will be some high-profile receiverships, but in general these failures won’t happen with a big bang. It will be death by a thousand cuts as small operators decide they’re too tired to keep fighting fires, decline to renew their leases, and let their companies wither away.  

Open that window of opportunity 

Skills shortages are already on the horizon for many industries, including accounting where the number of graduates is down by 40%. Overall university enrolment in New Zealand fell in 2022, in line with Australia and the USA which have also seen lower post-pandemic enrolment levels.  

When there are too few people to do the work, technology is filling the gap. We’ve seen this in our own horticulture industry, for example, where automation is being developed to pick fruit so we don’t need to rely on itinerant workers. And automation is much easier to apply to repetitive data-driven tasks – it will take over many of the drudgework elements of traditional roles undertaken by accountants, lawyers, managers or human resources. With the dreariest parts of the job outsourced, your business will be more efficient, and you and your team can concentrate on the kind of problem solving that needs a human brain - unlock that potential!  

Find accelerator opportunities 

The opportunities for innovative accelerators will be massive. Right now, as we head into 2024, we have a window of opportunity. This is the time to make change and prepare for a fast-changing future.  

By being ruthless now, you can set up your business to seize these opportunities when they appear. You can redivert resources to allow you to invest in technology so you’re better prepared for change and more resilient to challenges. The choice is stark when considering the outcomes. If you do nothing, your business will suffer and potentially dwindle away. But by changing the way you operate, you can become one of the accelerators, dominating in your niche and leaving your competitors behind. There is no middle ground.