Monday, October 06, 2008

10 Ways To Just "Do It"

If ever there was a time to take the Nike slogan to heart - it's now. As I write this - the DOW tanked below 10,000 (9,525.32) for the first time since October 24, 2003 when it hit 9,497.72. That's AFTER a last-minute rally brought it back from another 800 point drop earlier in the day.

Needless to say - the financial markets are going to hell in a hand basket. And not just ours - now it looks like the Europeans are getting into the act as well. French BNP Paribas is going to buy 75% of Belgium's troubled Fortis after a Belgian government buyout didn't do anything to quell investor fears. In Germany (Europe's second largest economy) just struck a $69 billion deal yesterday for commercial lender Hypo Real Estate AG

So, what does that mean for the average Joe Sixpack ISV or Corporate Workgroup?

GET BUSY... NOW! As the budgets tighten and threats of losing customers and potentially weaker sales loom - what can you do today to ensure you're around tomorrow?

I've been thinking about it - and here's 10 things that I think business owners need to take a look at:

1) Reduce non-essential expenses.
OK, OK, so I get the"duh" award for this one - but it's the easiest place to cut expenses. Do you really NEED that new laptop right now? Do you HAVE to travel business class rather than coach on a 5 hour flight? Will your current phone system survive another 6 months?

2) Enhance your own revenue
Again, this falls under the "duh" column - but as the general economy gets tighter - think about how you can position your product or service in such a way that your value proposition is irresistible to your potential customers? Remember - everyone is in the same boat!

3) Enhance your customer's revenue
Are there ways that you can help your customers' bottom line? Can you implement a new system that makes them more efficient - or help them realize hard-cost savings? If you can help them either reduce their costs by making them more efficient - or you can help them add revenue to their top line - you will not only save a customer - but chances are you'll have a customer for life.

4) Help your customers who are in financial trouble
If you're in a position where you get timed payments from your customers - perhaps you can work with them to ensure you will actually get paid when their invoice comes due. Typically, people won't pay the "big ticket" invoices for as long as possible - trying to conserve their cash. However, if you contact those customers and work out a monthly payment schedule or some other way of creative financing - you'll help to boost your own cash flow - and help ensure that you keep a customer - long after this temporarily bad situation shakes out.

5) Do more with less
You need to ramp up your own productivity - and those of your employees. One of the easiest ways of doing this is to prioritize your activities - as I pointed out in Thursday's entry. Have a simple goal - either reducing expenses or raising revenue - and allow that to become the filter for your daily activities. Before you jump into 2 hours of answering emails - ask yourself what you could be doing to lower expenses or raise revenue. It will help you focus on the important issues and allow the "busy work" to take a back seat.

6) Do NOT cut advertising and marketing budgets
This is one of the classic "knee jerk" reactions in a tight market (ok, ok, a recession). The reason that cutting that nice, juicy advertising and marketing budget is a tempting target is because you're not tracking the results of your advertising. If you're tracking the results of your marketing efforts - then you don't have any idea on what is actually making you money and what is just costing you money. The key is not to cut out advertising and marketing - but cutting out the wasteful stuff that doesn't return any value to the company.

7) Take stock of your available resources
Are you making the most of what you've got? Are your team members all aligned on a single goal - or do they just care about their own department's metrics - and nothing else. When times get tight - employees can get jittery about their jobs. This makes them want to do either one of two things - either kick some serious ass and get results - or hide their head in the sand. As a business owner - take stock of all the human assets you have and make sure you're not wasting them. Give them a challenge and you'll be surprised to see how much they can accomplish - without you having to micro-manage. People are smart. They want to work. Give them a chance to shine.

8) Do NOT "slack" on your payments to vendors
This is the second biggest temptation after cutting the advertising and marketing budget. If you know you have some big, timed payments coming due - see if you can work with your vendors (in advance - not after the bill is due) - to see if you can apply some creative financing to what you owe. They will be glad to get in the cash flow - and you won't be faced with paying a huge amount all at once. Everyone will win - and this will allow them to pay their vendors in a timely way, and so on and so on.

9) Project where you want to be
Beyond just doing a triage on your business - this a terrific time to take stock and project in your mind and business plan where you want to be when the economy turns around (and it will turn around eventually). Try to get past the "hang on by our fingernails" portion of the program, and be mindful on how you can add value - and set yourself up for success. The way you conduct your business in down times really says a lot about a business. Make sure that what you say about your business will allow to come out of the other side even stronger and better than you are now.

10) Take action
Failing to take action - is taking action. Don't be a victim - take control of the situation the best you can and kick some butt. Unless your business is less than 4 years old - you've been through some tough economic times before. If you just sit there and do things "business as usual" - you might be around when the smoke clears. Have a plan, adjust it often based on what works, and keep moving. It's always hardest to hit a moving target...

Put on some rain gear, lash yourself to the main mast - and get ready to ride out the storm. The good news is - like all storms - this one will also pass. What shape will you and your business be in when it does? Will you be poised for greater success or will you still be playing catch-up?

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