You've heard it a million times by now: We're in the midst of the worst recession any of us will ever live through and no one knows how long it will last, or how much harder it will hit.
I agree: It's a lousy picture. But one of the biggest dangers of an economic downturn is the excuse it gives small-business leaders to lie down and do nothing.
Simply resigning yourself to the situation is self-defeating. Sure, you can tell yourself that everybody else is struggling, so you might as well go home at 5 p.m. and get in nine holes of golf before dinner. But it's much better to ask yourself if you really want to commiserate with all the other losers on the ninth hole. Or do you want to make a profit?
Don't become your own worst enemy by convincing yourself that it's out of your hands and there's nothing you can do. There's always some way to make things better. Even a simple shift in attitude or a reshuffling of priorities can make the difference between just another struggling business and a resounding success. For example:
- End denial
Stop deluding yourself all the way to bankruptcy court. Snap out of your coma, take a hard look at your financials, and do an honest self-appraisal in the cold light of day. Understand where the leaks are in your business and how, as the boss, it's your fault. Look for red flags. Deal with the uncomfortable tasks you've been putting off. Denial is the small-business owner's worst enemy. Wake up and end it now. Do whatever it takes to build a stronger business.
- Love your business more than your family
Put business first. Always! If you're not fully focused--if family, friends, community and church fill up your busy weekly schedule--you are probably failing to deliver real profits for your company. Your cell phone is for taking orders from clients, not storing grocery lists. Weekends are for work. Pray at your desk if you must. Your business is not a part-time job. Be there or be broke!
- The best family business has one member
Face it, blood and business don't mix. Profits will always be better when you're not keeping an extra sibling, spouse, child or in-law on the payroll. More than 60 percent of the small businesses we work with are family-owned, and that's where most of their problems start. Fire 'em! Cancel your kid's membership to the lucky sperm club. Keep your family squabbles at home, even if you have to pay relatives not to be there. Then change the locks on the office door. You'll save money in the end.
- Don't treat sales like your mother-in-law
Don't view sales as an unwanted guest. Focusing on sales is the easiest way to grow your business in good times and sustain profits in bad. Get out from behind your desk and shill. Take names. Build a customer database. Breathe down the necks of your sales team. Go out on sales calls. Foster your own relationship with top customers. The era of easy sales may be over, but there's plenty you can and should be doing. Stop being fat, dumb and happy.
- Give up golf, retreats, off-sites and trade shows
Golf is the biggest waste of time. Trade shows and retreats are just an excuse to goof off and schmooze on the boss's dime. Ban any activities that take you away from the office or a sales call. Business owners kid themselves that hitting the fairway is an opportunity to network, but they're wasting thousands in country club dues and missing important phone calls that could lead to more sales. Eliminate these distractions from your life. Let the competition play golf while you steal their customers.
Shake off your doldrums--recharge, refocus and re-energize yourself. Work harder, faster and smarter than the competition while they're on the golf course grumbling about how business is down. Commit to doing whatever it takes to make your business a success, and everything else will take care of itself.