Q: When the economy is slow, new business is harder to get. What can I do to build my business in a recessionary economy?
A: It's been about 10 years since our last recession in the United States. For the most part, the U.S. economy has been strong, and business has been good for the past decade. However, the fact is that the economy goes through cycles, and business has slowed down for many people. Unfortunately, every time it takes a downturn, the fallout is felt strongly by salespeople, business owners and professionals alike.
Successful business owners learn from the past. For many of us, this will not be our first recession. So, what did we learn from previous economic downturns? In the early '90s, right in the middle of a nasty recession, I was at a business mixer in Connecticut where I was meeting many local business professionals. It seemed that everyone was feeling the crunch from the slow economy. Throughout the entire event, the favorite topic of discussion was how bad the economy was and how things were getting worse. The whole affair was depressing, because nearly everyone was obsessed with the problems of the economy and its impact on their businesses.
I was introduced to one of the many real estate agents in attendance. Given the decrease in property values in the state, I was leery of asking this gentleman the standard "How's business?" question. I didn't want to hear yet another variation of how bad business was. He shared with me, though, that he was having a great year. Naturally, I was surprised and asked, "You did say you were in real estate, didn't you?"
"Yes," he said.
I asked, "We are in Connecticut, aren't we?"
"Yes," he said with a slight grin.
"And you're having a good year?" I asked.
"I'm actually having my best year ever!" he said.
"Your best year!" I said in amazement. After thinking for a moment, I asked him, "Is this your first year in real estate?"
"No," he replied with a laugh, "I've been in real estate for almost 10 years."
I asked him how he could be doing so well, given the conditions of the economy and the stiff competition. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a blue-and-white badge that read: "I Absolutely Refuse to Participate in the Recession!"
"That's your secret?" I asked. "You refuse to participate in the recession, so business is booming?"
"That's correct," he said. "While most of my competitors are crying the blues about how bad business is, I'm out drumming up a ton of business networking with my contacts and generating referrals by talking about the great opportunity that exists right now to purchase real estate."
Considering what he said, I looked around the room and listened in on people for awhile as they complained about how bad business was. While nearly all were commiserating with one another, I concluded that very few were actually networking and working on seeking new business. As a result, very little business was actually being accomplished.
If you want to do well in business, you must understand that it does absolutely no good to complain to people about tough things are. When you complain about how bad business is, half the people you tell don't care, and the other half are glad that you're worse off than they are!
While you cannot control the economy or your competition, you can control your response to the economy. Referrals can keep your business alive and well during an economic downturn.
During the last recession, I watched thousands of business owners grow and prosper. They were successful because they consciously made the decision to refuse to participate in the recession. They did so by developing their networking skills and learning how to build their business through word-of-mouth. You can do the same during a slow economy by:
- Diversifying your networks. You need breadth and depth. Participate in different kinds of groups.
- Refusing to be a "cave-dweller." Be visible. Get out there and meet people at business events.
- Learning how to work the meetings you attend. It's not called "net-sit" or "net-eat," it's called "network." Learn networking systems and techniques that apply to the different kinds of organizations you attend.
- Being prepared. Prepare effective introductions and presentations to give to other business professionals at networking events and meetings.
- Developing your contact spheres. These are a groups of business professionals who have a symbiotic or compatible, noncompetitive relationship with you.
- Knowing your goal. Perhaps most important, understand that networking is more about farming than it is about hunting. It's about building relationships with other businesspeople.
Don't let a bad economy be your excuse for failure. Instead, make it your opportunity to succeed. It's not what you know or who you know, it's how well you know people that counts. In a tough economy, it's your social capital that has value. Make good use of it, and you'll thrive while others struggle.