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December 20, 2014

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What To Do In a Down Economy

Everyone has their take on what to do in a down economy. Every time I pick up a magazine or view a website, there is an article providing advice on how to beat the recession. So naturally, I felt the urge to write a column with my suggestions for conducting business in a slower economy.

One of my friends has termed the current business climate the “new economy.” I like this terminology because I believe that business as usual as we knew it has reached its timely death. I hope that we do not return to business as it was--that we learn to evolve to a more prudent, productive, and profitable future that is filed with meaningful work and less greed and excess.

Here are my suggestions for life in the “new economy”:

Manage your systems and cash. In slow times, cash is king. Watch it like a hawk. Stay on top of billings and collections on a regular basis. Try billing twice per month in lieu of monthly. Reduce needless expenses, question everything that you do to make sure it is valuable. Your financial system is the lifeblood of your company. Watch it closely and keep it healthy.

Get out of your employees’ way. It is not the time to stifle people’s creativity during slow times. Make sure your policies don’t slow down the creative process. Engage your employees in helping the company develop new services and prospects. Those with a vested interest in the company’s prosperity often will have great ideas and will find great opportunities to pursue. I’ve seen too many times that when things slow down, management clamps down. I understand that initial reaction, but don’t neglect your most important asset--your people. Engage them to help move the company forward.

Let your customers in. I’ve found that the best place to find new work is from your current and previous clients. If you’ve had a good relationship with a client, he will be the first to help you out. He can help you fine tune new service offerings and suggest potential new clients that might be in need of your services. A client with whom you have previously worked knows you and can help you expand your peripheral vision, meaning they can help you see your blind spots. Remember, unlike services, relationships cannot be commoditized.

Take some risks. Businesses today are selling within a much more crowded field than in the past. To differentiate your business, one must develop an approach that is unique and memorable. Years ago, my firm wrote a poem as a response to a Request for Qualifications. This was risky and could have easily backfired, but we felt it had a chance of getting noticed. It did, and we ended up winning the job. Take a few risks and see how they are received. What do you have to lose?

Enhance your business development process. A slower economy allows us some down time to rethink the systems and processes within our offices. I suggest that you start with business development. Is your what you want it to be? Do you have a marketing culture within your firm? Today’s economy offers a great opportunity to work on your collateral and to engage and teach the business development process to more people within your office. I was first exposed to marketing and business development in the mid 80’s when I was working for a 40-person firm. Work had slowed down and the employees were encouraged to learn to develop new business. I’m convinced that my efforts at this time strengthened my position in the company and I was able to learn important marketing lessons.

Make purposeful decisions. Slow times often require businesses to cut costs and lay off employees. But too often, long term strategies are not considered in making these important decisions. I’ve seen firms immediately lay off people within their firm who may be the keys to the firm’s future. A slow time can be a gift if used purposefully. Ask yourself what type of firm you want to be in the future and use this vision as the gauge to make tough decisions. It may be worth finding creative ways to keep key people so you can emerge from the slowdown as the firm you want to be.

I’d like to hear from you:

• What criteria do you use to guide your decisions during slow times?

• Do you have other suggestions that you have employed to deal with a down economy?

Until next time…

Craig

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