The good thing about uncertainty

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Gavin Petken, regional director at the Business Growth Fund, makes a positive prediction for the year ahead

That we live in uncertain times has become a cliché.

Predictions for 2017 and the years ahead are united only by their confusion and each day brings a new media commentator, politician or business leader predicting unrelenting uncertainty.

Everyone knows that "businesses need certainty", plenty of people have used the phrase over the past 12 months, including me.

Yet the best entrepreneurs know that uncertainty, in and of itself, isn't always a bad thing.

A place without any uncertainty would stifle creativity, give rise to monotony and place very little value on a person and team's ability to assess or take calculated risks.

Globalisation's roots must be local

The next 12 months won't be easy but my positive prediction is that, for entrepreneurial Britain, neither will it be the headache that you might fear.

And that's because many entrepreneurs who have or are in the process of growing a successful business have learnt not to assume or obsess about an ideal situation.

They prefer simply to get on with the job.

Throughout the events of 2016, the instinct of many good entrepreneurs will have been to look outwards rather than inwards.

How are their customers' needs changing? How will trade be affected? What steps, if any, might the competition take?

With the onset of uncertainty comes a pressing reason for business owners to divert their attention away from the all too powerful pull of day-to-day management and think about the bigger picture.

Their next step will be to decide how they're going to manage and react to the uncertainty.

Most people are daunted when faced with a situation they've never seen or approached before but entrepreneurs are a rare breed.

Many are re-energised by challenges and the more ambiguity there is in a situation the more interesting it is trying to work it out.

That's not to say they are reckless.

Most entrepreneurs are very emotionally invested in the business they have built, the jobs they've created and the goodwill they have generated among their customers - these are things that they will fiercely protect.

But, when faced with a situation in which no-one knows what's going to happen, creative visionaries become even more valuable.

Times of uncertainty are opportune times to explore new ideas, find solutions to potential problems, consider new markets and push some boundaries.

Uncertainty can jeopardise some relationships but it can strengthen others. In the long run, it is the latter that counts.

Good entrepreneurs know the power of networks and the need to surround themselves with the right people.

This doesn't mean 'yes' people.

When faced with challenges, they will seek out the opinions of those they trust most - their teams, mentors, investors, former colleagues and even the competition - as sounding boards for new ideas.

A little ambition to scale up our firms

Good leaders will also make sure they are visible during times of uncertainty and this opens up opportunities for a new and different type of dialogue with staff.

The chances are that, if the management team has been prompted to think about the direction of the business, its opportunities and threats in the market, then the broader employee base has too.

Smart entrepreneurs encourage and harness this collective thinking for the good of the business.

It is this, rather than reactions to media headlines, that help inform their business strategy.

Businesses in the UK may feel they are currently in a state of limbo and, undoubtedly, there will be many challenges ahead.

But no matter how rocky or unnerving 2017 becomes, the uncertainty won't last forever.

A business that continues to innovate, make, create, sell, explore and invest during the next 12 months is doing something right - and it's a good sign that they're also on the path to longer-term success.

Moreover, businesses that are ready to identify and take action on new growth opportunities as and when they arise, which inevitably they will do, may well become the big success stories of tomorrow.

Source: Gavin Petken, regional director, South, Business Growth Fund

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