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May 27, 2009

How to Thrive in Tough Times

Filed under: Thrive in tough times — Mike Van Horn @ 11:32 am

Lessons from Successful Business Owners

To Survive Now
Keep your customers
Protect your cash
Sustain your team
Focus your head

To Thrive Later
Seek new opportunities
Ready your recovery fund
Inspire your team
Envision your recovery
Snap up resources

In the business media, it’s all doom and gloom and hunker down. Yet many small businesses are doing well. They are taking measures to protect themselves, yet making money and preparing for recovery.

Here are a few things owners I work with are doing right now–in marketing, customer service, finances, staffing, and operations. You can apply many of these ideas to your business tomorrow.

A year from now, the people thriving will be those who plan for recovery now.

Lesson #1. Banish “doom and gloom” mentality. At each Business Group meeting, members say, “Things aren’t going too badly. But we constantly hear all these horror stories on TV. We’re running scared. When will it hit us?” If you’re on your own, it can defeat you. Don’t hang with doom and gloomers; stick with the problem solvers.

Lesson #2. Keep you current customers. Meet with them individually. “How can we save you money? Here’s a suggestion how we can keep giving you what’s most important to you now, and cut back on these other items for now.” “So that your expenses are predictable, we’d like to shift from time and materials to set a monthly fee.”

Lesson #3. Ask, “Who’s buying?” Too often, we focus on who’s NOT buying. Sure, your big customers from 2006 are long gone. So raise your antennas and see who IS buying what you offer, and how you can refine what you offer to meet their needs and desires.

Lesson #4. Go for cash flow. Ask yourself, “What’s the shortest route to cash-generating sales?” Create a table with two columns. In the left column, write down all the marketing actions you do—or could do. In the next column, write how long it takes for each of these to pay off: “One week,” “a month,” “3 months,” “a year” and so on. Go after fast payoffs to generate cash flow now. This can give you financial breathing space to focus on long lead-time strategic initiatives. I call this “marketing triage.”

Lesson #5. Don’t take on unprofitable work. During the last downturn, a BG member watched with dismay as he lost job after job to desperate competitors. As recovery gained momentum, he was swamped with business from people who had previously gone elsewhere. Why? “You are the only one left!” they told him. Lesson: lowballers go belly up.

Lesson #6. Don’t keep unnecessary labor. 1st, let go of people who aren’t cutting it. 2nd, be frank with your good people. “Times are tough, but we can pull through it if we share the pain. We need to cut hours by 20%. If possible, I’ll make it up to you when the market recovers.” We’re afraid they’ll quit but where will they go?

Lesson #7. Envision your recovery. How do you want it to be in a year? Let your imagination run free and visualize without blinders. Don’t make decisions with long-term implications based on near-term negative outlook.

Lesson #8. Focus on running your business. Get yourself out of the minutiae. Do the things that are the most important to preserve health and stay forward-focused. Hand off the other stuff, or let it go for now.

Lesson #9. Watch your money like a hawk. Where can you save money without sacrifice? Look at each line item on your Profit & Loss statement. What outside services do you pay for that you use infrequently or not at all? Call your vendors and ask how they could save you some money. This includes your insurance carriers. The phone company. Yellow pages. Landlord.

Lesson #10. Collect money faster. Stay on top of your accounts receivable. Give an extra collection effort. Encourage payment by credit card to your merchant account.

Lesson #11. Don’t stop paying yourself. Pay yourself first! You are the most important person working for your company.

Lesson #12. Lay groundwork for recovery. At the end of a downturn is the best time to add needed people and resources that can help take you to the next peak. Locations, people, customers.

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