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The danger of working on a monthly magazine is that what you write in February (when I'm writing this) may be completely out of date in March or April (when you're reading it). But I'm going to take that chance. I've been on the road a lot lately, talking to both entrepreneurs and the folks who want to sell you stuff. And today, in late February, the talk all seems to be about war.
Business owners aren't spending these days. You're not hiring either. And, according to a recent (February 2003) survey I read, most of you are feeling pessimistic about the economy. It's hard to blame you, because most economic experts are predicting a true upturn won't be felt until late 2003 or early 2004.
But are you really blameless? So many of you are just sitting there holding your breath, waiting for something to happen. But the events you're waiting for (war, peace or economic recovery) are beyond your control. So instead of waiting for outcomes you can't predict or direct, why not take the bull by the horns (certainly an entrepreneurial trait)? Didn't you start your business to gain more control over your own life? Well, let's start acting like it!
Recessions (whether "official" or psychological) are not necessarily bad times to launch a business. Just ask Bill Gates. Nor are they necessarily bad times to grow them. Logic tells you that, if no one else is marketing their wares or services right now, promoting yours can only help you stand out in buyers' minds.
In good times, people spend money on things they both want and need. In tough times, they still buy things they need. So ask yourself what you offer that people need-and start really selling it. Or can you spin your business in a different direction? Now, this could entail a radical shift in your business, or it could be as simple as tweaking your marketing message. Either way, it's worth a look.
Recently, after I mentioned to one audience that so many of you are treading water and waiting for better times, someone asked me if you are getting back to basics. I replied that I thought you'd already done that several years ago and you are now champing at the bit, ready to get back in the race.
But, like most Americans these days, you're holding back because you are scared and don't feel much like running full tilt. That's understandable, but I think the time has come for us to start running anyway. If it weren't for you entrepreneurs, the recession of the late '80s and early '90s would have been deeper and more devastating. Those were scary times, too, but you got us through by growing your companies, creating millions of new jobs and kicking off the most prosperous era in our history.
Can you do it again? I believe you can. After all, you are the innovators, the creators, the best and brightest America has to offer. It won't be easy. But, as I said in this column a few months ago, I don't see the cavalry riding to your rescue, so if you don't take control of our recovery, then who will? In the Broadway smash hit "Hairspray," the character Motormouth Maybelle, herself a small-business owner, says, "When times get crazy, don't get lazy." Good advice. Let the race begin.