See Your Business with Fresh Eyes In tough times, you need to look for new opportunities.

By Ray Silverstein

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When business is tough, like it is right now, you can't afford to hold onto your old ways. The world around us is changing, and if you don't want to be left behind, you need to change your point of view now.

If you don't like what you see right now, ask yourself, "What can I do to change this picture?"

To make a real change, you must approach problems differently. You need to consider opportunities you may not have entertained in the past, venture outside your comfort zone and take some carefully-weighed risks. In other words, it means exchanging your tunnel vision for a wide-angle lens.

That's much easier said than done, so here are some ideas to help you start thinking.

Has Your Customer Changed?
Think back over the last year or so. Is there anything different about your customer?

For example, one entrepreneur I know owns a martial arts studio. In the past, he required that students register for six months of classes at a time. Back in the good old days, customers signed-up without thinking twice. Today, registrations are plummeting.

Yet he's still sticking to his six-month rule because, he says, "I have to pay my rent."

The problem is that customers are increasingly unwilling to commit to six-month programs. What if their kids lose interest? What if the parents lose their jobs?

His classes haven't changed, but his customers have. Because of the tight economy, they've become commitment-shy. And if he wants their business, he'll have to find a way to accommodate them. He could offer month-to-month memberships or take a cue from the auto industry and guarantee tuition refunds if someone loses their job.

Yes, he has to pay the rent. But getting the rent money one month at a time beats not getting it at all. He's operating by an outdated assumption.

Are you operating by obsolete "rules" that discourage customers from buying?

What Aren't You Selling?
Let's take it a step further. Think of all the recent sales you failed to close on. What were the reasons your would-be customers gave you?

  • Are they asking for a product or service that you don't offer? In that case, is it time to expand your portfolio to include something new?
  • Are customers objecting to your prices? Should you reevaluate your pricing methodology? Provide less-expensive versions of current offerings? Expand payment terms to make purchasing more attractive?
  • Are customers asking for smaller quantities than your current minimums allow? In a soft market, increasing throughput is smart. Can you adjust your workflow to make smaller orders profitable?

What Do You Like Best About Your Business?
I often preach that during tough times, entrepreneurs have to steel themselves to do things they find unpleasant.

However, if you're brainstorming ways to strengthen your business, it helps to focus on the aspects you enjoy most. Chances are, these are your strengths, and if you like what you're doing, you're more likely to stick with it.

With this in mind, are there areas you can build on? Are there related services you've considered offering, but never implemented? Perhaps now is the time to act.

As Dorothy said to Toto, "We're not in Kansas anymore." It's time to question old assumptions and rules. It's a whole new world, and if entrepreneurs want to prosper in it, they need to view it with a fresh perspective.

Need help getting started? Email me at RSPROPRES@aol.comfor a free copy of my "Expanding Your Vision" worksheet.

Ray Silverstein is the president of PRO: President's Resource Organization , a network of peer advisory boards for small business owners. He is author of two books: The Best Secrets of Great Small Businesses and the new Small Business Survival Guide: How to Survive (and Thrive) in Tough Times . He can be reached at 1-800-818-0150 or .

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