* The rewards of confidence: If you have the confidence to back your ambitions up with action and financial exposure, the early stages of recovery can be an excellent time to be proactive. "Good ideas are impervious to the business cycle," says David Horn, a partner with Tatum CFO Partners LLP, a national group of interim CFOs. "In a period like this, people look at their business models to figure out how to make money. It can be a fertile period."
But before you place your company on the bleeding edge, he suggests you be fairly sure your investments in your business will eventually pay off. To make that determination, ask yourself the following, says Dexter: "What indicators can tell you how your business is doing? Do you have benchmarks that have been tested during past economic cycles? What drives your business? Are you able to move fast? There's always an opportunity to be cautious in the near term and aggressive in the intermediate term if you feel comfortable around your indicators. There's an inflection point."
Some owners have overcome a lot to get past such points. Gerry Elwood's company, The Maids Home Services in Red Bank, New Jersey, had sales of $635,000 in 2001. But when Elwood lost customers in the September 11 attack, business slowed substantially last fall amid the marketplace shock. Since then, however, she has bought two more franchise territories and has invested in carpet-cleaning equipment so she could diversify her company's service offerings. "A bad economy can be a great opportunity," says Elwood, 49. "When a lot of people hid and tried to wait it out, I went the opposite way."
* The appeal of cheap acquisitions: Consolidation is a popular activity at this point in the economic cycle because the differences between the haves and have-nots in many marketplaces are exacerbated, and pickups can be inexpensive. "You can do a lot of good bargain-hunting now," says Don Williams, a San Diego expert on emerging growth markets for Ernst & Young.
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