Things change. If you were you were in the horse and buggy business 150 years ago, you could earn a good living. Whether you were manufacturing and distributing the buggies themselves or earning a living from producing  accessories like whips seat covers and wheels, the revenue opportunities seemed endless. Even breeding the horses themselves was profitable.

Overnight, things changed. Suddenly more than 13,000 businesses that depended on the wagon and carriage industry were scrambling as automobiles became the preferred mode of transportation. With obsolescence looming on the horizon, businesses made choices which ultimately determined whether or not they survived the transition. When faced with the need to change, choices fell in to one of four categories:

  • Look for new applications for their products
  • Introduce new products which could be sold in other industries
  • Close their doors
  • Hold on to the hope that automobiles were just a fad and the market would eventually regain their senses and come back to the horse-drawn cart

You already know the rest of the story. Those companies who were forward-thinking enough changed, survived and even thrived. The others are gone, leaving a lesson that succeeding generations should have learned, but didn’t. Ice blocks were replaced by air conditioners and refrigerators, records by cassettes, CDs and now iTunes downloads. Even the Yellow Pages is valiantly fighting a losing battle to Google, Bing and Yelp.

But the truth is, there is no business that is immune to the march of time. What hot products and services from a few years ago like AOL, MySpace, land lines and VCRs have fallen out of favor. Sooner or later, someone will figure out a way to solve the problem you solve, faster, cheaper, with a smaller footprint, or a more elegant device . The question is, will you be ready?

As a small business owner, it’s easier to create a more flexible business model and business strategy so you are prepared for the changes. You can do this in one of several ways:

  • Looking ahead, tracking emerging technology and trends in your industry
  • Seeking new customers and applications for the products and services you offer
  • Planning the obsolescence of your most popular product
  • Taking classes and keeping your skills fresh
  • Planning your retirement and exit strategy

Like it or not, there is an expiration date on your business. The question is will you be ready?

Fortunately, there is no expiration date on phone books, they have a wonderful new application as booster seats for children.