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Economic Crises Call for Better Marketing Plans

Waiting for the next crisis to hit means you will have waited too long to revise your business plan.

As I write this, uncertainty crashes all around us like a violent hurricane. Now is the time to bolster your sales and marketing plans and get ready for disaster business planning. Lehman Brothers went under, Merrill Lynch was picked up in a fire sale by Bank of America and AIG needed government assistance to stay afloat. We're worried about the Chinese pulling their money out of our economy, sending us spiraling further downward. And nobody has figured out what to do about huge federal spending deficits. Then there's trade deficits (although the plunging dollar will help curb that problem), the sub-prime crisis, plunging real estate values, a crashing stock market, not much hope for venture capitalists getting money out of their investments for a while, and, wow, take a breath, what else?

Oh, yes . . . I know . . . do you plan during this kind of chaos, or just duck and cover? Is business planning out of the question? Is it useful?

Let me answer that question with another question: Who do you want to be when the hurricane is coming? Do you want to be one who carefully boards the windows and lashes everything down, closes up and then evacuates with time to spare and a basic plan? Or would you rather be the one that does nothing and ends up drowning or gets rescued by brave people risking their own lives to do it?

Using that analogy, I'd suggest that what you ought to do as the storm comes--or preferably before the storm--is review and revise your plan to include everything and anything your business or startup needs during a crisis.

Go first to your sales and marketing plans. Review them conceptually. What are you selling, and how will your business offering fare during hard times? Take a step back from the business and give that some real thinking. Some shifts in demand are predictable; some changes in customer base are predictable, too.

When I was doing economic analysis many years ago, I discovered that some markets reacted in strange ways. For example, when there was a big economic crash, the luxury car markets would hold up better than the economy car markets. On the other hand, during the current real estate crash, sales in California are up over last year, but they're driven by the low end, particularly transactions on foreclosures. Similarly, you should think about your own sales when watching for the signs. Think: What's changing that might affect my business' sales?

John Jantsch, founder of Duct Tape Marketing, recently suggested that the best thing to do in hard times is focus more and focus better. By narrowing your focus, you can concentrate on your best customers, your key market segments and the parts of your business that are most important to you. That seems like very good advice.

Don't settle for just a conceptual review. Dig into your numbers. Open up your sales forecast and expense budgets and take a long, deep look into what parts of your numbers are most likely to fall off and why. Review and revise. Look at your expenses, and cut where you can. Then look back at your sales and imagine which of your customers, including how many, are doing the same as they plan for their business, therefore reducing their orders from yours.

Think of this as defensive management--storm preparation at its best. The beauty is it's all within the realm of planning and management. Try to foresee how the storm will affect your business, then review and revise your existing plans accordingly.

The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

Tim Berry is the president of Palo Alto Software Inc., based in Eugene, Ore., which produces business planning software. He is also the author of 3 Weeks to Startup and The Plan-As-You-Go Business Plan, published by Entrepreneur Press.
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