Make Lemonade ... and
“It is wise to
direct your anger towards problems - not people; to focus your energies
on answers - not excuses.” – William Arthur Ward
By almost any
measure, 2008 was an awful year. Our homes went down in value by 25%,
and investment portfolios followed suit. Auto plants closed. Retailers
went bankrupt. Construction came to a screeching halt. Trusted financial
institutions failed. Mike Myers foisted “The Love Guru” on the
In the small business
sector, things were – and continue to be – mixed. I know businesses that
were down 30% and others that were up the same amount.
We’ve all heard the
old saying, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” It’s good
advice for anyone.
But entrepreneurs are
resilient. Optimistic. We can and must turn it up a notch. Making
lemonade isn’t enough for us. I suggest this twist (pun intended): When
life hands you lemons, make lemonade … and sell it!
In other words, find
opportunity in adversity.
Chances are, you went
into business to take matters into your own hands – to control your own
destiny. Sitting around blaming the government or the banks will waste
your time and zap your morale.
By the way, there
is plenty of blame to go around. But, use your energy to focus on
having a strong year. Leave the blaming and hand-wringing to others.
I offer this
five-part plan for thriving in the current economy:
1. Good business
Good, solid business
fundamentals are important regardless of economic conditions. And the
same good business practices that serve you well in good times are even
more important in tough circumstances.
- Create and use
a plan – don’t make it up as you go along
- Conserve cash
–Collect assertively, as soon as the invoice comes due. Convert
customers to credit card payment. Tie any discounts to on-time
- Reduce expenses
- Analyze every line item for its impact on your business, and assign
them to specific people. Bank fees add up, so shop your banking. Get
bids on bigger overhead purchases.
- Weed out
slow-moving inventory – Inventory is like cash collecting dust on
your shelves. Ask your accountant about a one-time write-off to get
rid of unsellable items.
2. Keep, motivate
and develop your team
It sounds cliché, but
your people are one of your business’ top assets. At least they
should be, provided you’ve taken the time to hire and develop a good
team. Work hard to keep your team intact and to come out the other end
stronger and more competitive than ever.
- Set the example
– Stay calm and remain positive.
- Lots of
communication – Up, down and sideways. Err on the side of too much
- Open the books
and share the numbers - Help employees understand how they benefit
from the company’s success. Teach them how they help the business make
money, and offer a financial incentive tied to business success.
- Keep morale
high - Don’t cut benefits or perks. Reward top performers. Stop
the rumor mill, grumbling and negative speculation. Low performers and
disruptive employees – either coach to success, reassign, or fire
- Do some
training - Invest in your team now to prepare for the upturn. Ask
your team what training is needed. Consider updating skills in these
areas: technology, people skills, customer service and sales training.
3. Continue sales
and marketing activities
Keep up your profile
and show the marketplace that you’re alive, well, and doing business
despite economic conditions.
- Continue your
marketing and sales activities – The products and services you
sell are still being bought every day. Don’t miss out.
- Stay in touch
with customers – Be there when budgets free up … because they
- Do your
homework –Wisely choose and implement marketing approaches, so you
can get the most bang for your buck.
4. Make smart use
Technology is cheap,
readily available, and easy to use. There is no longer any good excuse
for not employing technology to improve operations, enhance efficiency
and reduce costs.
- Work from home, work remotely and use wireless connectivity.
E-commerce - Take orders online, do live online demonstrations,
and shorten the sales cycle.
- Reduce meeting
travel - Use video or web conferencing. Cut down on flying and
driving time and expenses.
- Automate -
Gain efficiency by automating tasks like payroll, sales, banking &
bill paying, and voice mail.
5. Take advantage
of the slowdown
Make headway while
the competition hunkers down.
- Capitalize on
weak competitors - Some may pull back or even leave the market.
Pick up their customers. Look for opportunities to acquire your
- Buy real estate
- Make the leap from renter to owner while prices are low.
- Grow - Grow
& expand while your competitors are retreating. Open up new market
segments and new geography. Expand your product & service line-up.
Here’s another timely
quote from Ward:
complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; and the
realist adjusts the sails.”
Yes, we’re in a tough
situation. If 2008 handed you lemons … well, you know the rest. Take
charge, develop a plan and have your best year ever.
Bill Collier is the author of “How to
Succeed as a Small Business Owner … and Still Have a Life” and is
the St. Louis area coach for The Great Game of Business. He helps
businesses teach their employees to think and act like owners. He can be
reached at 314-221-8558 or firstname.lastname@example.org.