Time for change. New opportunities in the new business landscape

Is the economic downturn going to effect a transformation of business culture in the UK?

January is the month of change: of old habits shed; of grand new intentions; of transforming your life. If you're going to lose your job, this is the month you're most likely to lose it, and if your business is going to crash, this is where the drama is most likely to begin. All of this means that January is also the place of fresh starts, of new growth to replace the old and, if you're going to take the plunge and go into business, January is a brilliant time to do it.

We're in the middle of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression and all the pundits say it's going to get worse before it gets better. But to me the economic meltdown is just a sign that the world is undergoing a huge shift and so far, as business goes, the changes are going to be seismic. You don't need to do too much research on the 'net to find predictions of total financial meltdown and even a looming apocalypse, but I don't think we should live in fear of what is likely to happen because life is about growth and it's simply time to move on.

I've been in business all my life. I grew up above my dad's shop, trained in the taxation of entrepreneurs and small businesses when I left school and set up my first company Red Letter Days at the age of 24. I nurtured it on a shoe string budget, grew it into a market leading brand and after over a decade of growth and profitable trading, saw it over expand and fall into administration in August 2005. I was also part of the populist explosion in enterprise through my role on the first two series of Dragons' Den and for the last three years I've spent the majority of my time in the small business sector inspiring, motivating and helping other entrepreneurs on their business journey. My first book, Business Nightmares, follows the stories of 20 highly successful entrepreneurs and how they coped with a crisis point in their own journey.

During my 44 years I've seen business transformed, first by mobile phone technology, then the internet and then by broadband. But I've also seen a dramatic shift in society's values over those four decades, from the strike ridden '70s through the Thatcher years of the 'greed is good' mantra, through the explosive credit boom of the '90s and the dot-com goldrush whose promise of easy money sucked so many people in.

Now we have the post-party hangover: the realisation that the good times cannot go on forever, and a much needed contraction back to reality. As fears for the environment grow, while banks crash around us and bankruptcies and business failures escalate, it is clear that the way things were going was unsustainable. The economic winter we are about to endure may be long and painful but in many ways it is necessary, and my view is that the businesses which will emerge when the spring arrives will be totally different to the ones that preceded it.

I spend most of my time these days at events around the country and all around me I am already seeing change. A dramatic shift away from the money/greed/power/ego-driven days of the Alpha male entrepreneur who succeeds as a result of everyone else's loss, in favour of a much more collaborative, feminine way of working. In harmony with the environment, with other businesses, with the community and with every person that business touches. Ethical supply chains and proper distribution of wealth. Businesses which really care about people and the environment and which are not just blinded by the addiction to profit.

So what implications does this have for you, the entrepreneur either struggling with the economic downturn or looking for new opportunities in this new business landscape? Here are my views:

  • Consumers are slowly but surely seeing that the illusion of material wealth is a mirage. They're realising that their lust for the very possessions which they thought would make them happy have only lead to huge unmanageable debt, and they're realising that the price is not worth it. In short, the retail boom is over.
  • Consumers are becoming increasingly thrifty. They're taking the eco-principles to heart and reducing, reusing and recycling. What at first starts as a guilt-induced activity soon becomes an obsession and pretty soon consumers really won't tolerate any wastage anywhere, any time.
  • Energy prices are only going to go one way and that is up. Everyone is acutely aware that oil cannot last forever and people are not only looking at ways of cutting fuel consumption, they're actively investing in renewable energy - solar panels, wind turbines and hydro electricity - not to mention ways of cutting down on fossil fuel consumption.
  • The 'net is enabling more and more people to work from wherever they want. There is an active shift away from big head office type corporate cultures towards nimble virtual organisations whose people can be located anywhere in the world. The natural extension of this is that we will all eventually be self-employed with total freedom to structure our lives as we wish and to only be judged on results.
  • The old style 'Alphapreneur' is slowly being replaced with new style 'Socio-entrepreneurs' as we become increasingly intolerant of fat cat cultures. Businesses and brands with 'Alphapreneurs' at their helm can expect to lose consumers in their droves.
  • There is an increasing need for something to fill the spiritual void in our lives. Alternative therapies and mind, body, spirit philosophies are increasingly replacing religion as the source of this new meaning.
  • The election of Barack Obama is the biggest signal ever that people globally are ready for massive change - towards a world of peace, equality and fairness. It is the path the US needs to take if it is to restore its former glory as a respected world super power.

The implications of these changes are massive for business and they hold the seeds of future opportunity for businesses everywhere. Take advantage of this period of change to consider where your personal passion lies and where you can truly give value to others in the years to come. Entrepreneurs who work with ethics and from the heart will be the ones, which flourish in the next millennium. Choose your business wisely.

Reported by Rachel Elnaugh

Rachel Elnaugh