“Enough with all the blame. There’s plenty to go around. From Wall Street to Washington, from greed to no oversight—a lot of factors helped create the 700 billion-pound gorilla in the economy that is sitting right on Main Street, probably right on top of your business.

“Wall Street and Washington are attempting to mop up this historic mess. And, as they do, it will be the small-business-owning, non-Fortune 500, economy-driving entrepreneurs who will help pull us out this hole.

“So as Wall Street tries to steady itself, politicians wave accusatory fingers at each other and the media keep pumping out the melancholy, drama-laden news, entrepreneurs will be doing what’s right—putting in a hard day’s work and powering the true engine of this economy: small business.” (drum roll please)
- Amy Cosper, Editor-in-Chief of Entrepreneur Magazine

So, what’s a small business owner to do? Read on for my Top 5 suggestions for turning the economic crisis into an opportunity.

As a business coach, I interact on a regular basis with business owners and business leaders and the reactions to all that’s happened in the last 6-12 months is interesting and varied: some are angry (where’s my bailout?); some are philosophical (it was only a matter of time); some are frozen with fear; some have their heads in the sand, waiting for it to pass (total denial). Still others are doing a lot of whining, using the economy as an excuse, blaming the government, the mortgage industry, Wall Street, greed. And then, there’s the entrepreneurial view: wait a minute, there could be an opportunity here…..So, which best describes you? Which would you like to be?

No question, we are in interesting times. An unprecedented combination of challenges. It seems to beg for a multi-pronged approach. Here are 5 practical ways that you can make a difference in the outcome for you and your business:

1. First and foremost, examine your mindset. What’s your attitude about all this and how is that affecting you and your relationships with your customers, your team members, and your family? Do you believe in your ability to survive, to succeed? Or, are you giving into and accepting the current climate of thought? Are you open to the opportunities that may exist—and actively pursuing them? Are you thinking: That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger? This is a great time to invest wisely. Or are you Chicken Little, convinced the sky is falling and we’re all doomed? Remember that you are the leader and everyone around you is taking their cues from you—so, what’s your responsibility here? What can you do, how can you contribute to their peace of mind and confidence?

2. Invest in yourself. Recognize that the ceiling on the growth of any business is tied directly to the level of competency of its leadership. Realize that what got you here won’t get you there. This is a great time to “sharpen the saw,” as Steven Covey says. The best investment you can make is the one you make in yourself and your development: read, listen to tapes, attend seminars, get inspired, gain new knowledge, learn new skills—get a coach! It’s also a great time to invest in the growth and development of your team—sales training, customer service training, team building, communications, leadership. Of course, you need to inspire learning by your own actions and by demonstrating your own level of commitment.

3. If you have to pick one competency to build, I strongly recommend financial literacy. Now, more than ever, it’s important to know your numbers. Don’t just depend on your accountants and financial advisors to tell you what you need to know. Learn how to read your balance sheet, profit & loss statement and statement of cash flows. Understand the story they tell about your business. Monitor the “vital signs” of your business and use that information to make good decisions. Recognize that these numbers are not only the “language” of business, they also tell the score—are you winning or losing? What’s your break even point? Are you profitable? Is the business generating sufficient cash to see you through the tough times? And, what can you do about it? What other key performance indicators (KPIs) are you measuring in your business to stay on track? Which ones should you measure?

4. Maintain smart, consistent marketing. Despite the temptation to eliminate your marketing budget, now is not the time to do that. Now is the time to invest your marketing dollars wisely. Now is the time to be very clear on what works and what doesn’t work and to do more of what does work and none of what doesn’t. Are you testing and measuring so that you do know? How can you make good [marketing] investment decisions if you don’t know? It’s important to communicate and educate both your customers and your prospects: what are your full capabilities (don’t assume they know), what can you do to save them time and money? Your message should highlight value rather than price. And, in order to do that, you need to understand exactly what your value proposition is and how to articulate it. Also, learn more about –and take advantage of--low cost, no cost marketing techniques.

5. Last, and certainly not least, now it’s more important that ever to protect your valued customer base. Hug your customers. Build a fence around them. Let them know how much you appreciate their patronage. As our good friend Keith Cunningham says: “Find out what they want, go and get it, give it to them.” Make sure that every single person on your team understands the value of your good customers and treats them as they want to be treated. What kind of an experience are you and your team delivering? How can you improve it? How do your customers feel about you? How do you know that? What keeps them loyal—or what would?

To some, all this may seem like a tall order. Others, with an entrepreneurial view, have been prepared and are now able to be strategic. The conventional wisdom seems to predict that things will get worse before they get better. So, how are you going to come out the other end of this economy? Will you squeak through, by the skin of your teeth, barely surviving—or, not just survive, but really succeed? I guarantee that those who just let it happen to them will end up in a bad place. The question is: what are you going to do differently?

Wishing you the best,

Cheryl

Author's Bio: 

Cheryl Ellis is a business & executive leadership coach, certified by the International Business Coach Institute, with a BS in Business and an MBA. Her passion is helping business leaders realize their full potential for success. She draws on over 30 years of business leadership experiences, world class tools and resources from various national and global organizations she is affiliated with, plus her commitment to continuous learning and development to provide knowledge, focus and accountability to her clients. Special areas of expertise include business growth and profitability, leadership assessment and development, team transformation and collaborative exit and succession planning. She can be reached at 973-360-1015 or cherylellis@actioncoach.com. Visit her website at www.actioncoach.com/cherylellis