Post-Recession Small Business Tips
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Time To Thrive, Not Just Survive

If your business survived 2009, good job! As business advisors whose mission is to help businesses grow, we never thought there would be a day when we would congratulate business owners for just surviving. But 2009 was tough! We’ll give you that. Some of us had to make radical changes to our businesses in 2009, trimming our workforces and revamping our marketing messages. We now have to work harder with a leaner team.

Post-Recession Small Business Tips

As we look ahead to 2010, should survival be our goal again? Business owners are watching for signs on the horizon; Is it over … can we go back to making money again? Well, yes, and no. There is still a lot of uncertainty in the global economy. Interest rates near 0% and large government spending projects create worries about inflation, concerns about supplies of oil and other key commodities create worries about sustainable growth, and a paucity of available credit constrains growth. There could still be some more bad news out there.

Politically, there is still uncertainty as well. Healthcare reform could have a big impact on our businesses. Congress will almost certainly also tackle income tax and estate tax reform in 2010 creating even more changes for business owners to navigate.

When the banks started failing in 2008, and the economy subsequently collapsed, it became very hard for leaders to make decisions. It was too hard to evaluate the potential scenarios: Would this be 1930? Would it be 1970? Would the government right the ship and get everything back to “normal”? So the whole business world collectively held our breath for much of 2009. The goal became survival. We weren’t sure when or how to move forward.

But, while we can’t tell you for sure what 2010 holds, we can tell you that your focus should be on moving forward. Do we have a V shaped recovery or a U with a long, flat, bottom? In some ways it doesn’t matter. Your business has to move forward regardless of what the larger economy does. Here’s how you do that.

1.    Pull your team together and show them some leadership. Set goals for 2010, make plans, and demonstrate that you aren’t paralyzed or stuck.

There are a lot of your team members who are scared, and quite frankly, tired. They’ve worked hard this year, and they haven’t seen much in the way of progress, or reward. In fact, many companies have eliminated raises or cut salaries, so many employees feel like they are moving backwards. While those are things that you had to do because you can’t go back to your free-spending ways, you have to engage your team at a new level. Everyone has to put forth their best efforts. How can you be more transparent with your team? Can you open your books more? Can you engage your top people in the problems you are seeing and get their input? The boss doesn’t have all the smart ideas, and right now you need all the eyes and ears and minds that you can get find the path toward growth.

2.    Take stock of what’s working, both within your company, and within your industry.

Again, work with your team to review those things that are producing results now. This is not a time for “we’ve always done it this way.” You need to ruthlessly evaluate what is producing results for you now.

If there are processes that you know need to be revised, or nagging issues that need improvement, tackle them. Don’t just make incremental changes, but take a look at radical changes too. This isn’t a time to do only what feels comfortable. Focus on finding solutions that are going to provide the results you need as efficiently as possible.

And, keep an eye on your competitors. What are they doing? What is working in other industries or regions? Watch for  good ideas, wherever they may be.

3.    Make a plan, and start moving forward.

Even if you’ve never done it before, this is the year to have a budget, a written marketing and sales plan, and goals for each of your team members. It’s going to be hard to see if the ship is going in the right direction for some time, so make sure you can measure interim goals. Are people performing well? Are your experiments producing good results? Are your current client relationships strong? Measure and report on these things until we can see that the company is making good progress.

Keep in mind that radical change is as risky now as it was in good times. You want to find good ideas, but you also need to find ways to test those ideas quickly and inexpensively. Go for the fast fail. If you try something and it doesn’t work, dump it and try another idea. But make those trials small, and quick, so you can find something that does work soon.

In some ways, it’s hard not to look back on 2009 and say good riddance! But just because we turned the page on the calendar, it’s not like things are coming up roses. There’s hard work to be done, but you’re up for it! Now’s the time to move forward toward a better future.

Photo credit: Ray_from_LA

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