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Five Observations from Businesses Who Succeed (or Don't) in Difficult Times


22Oct 2009

Given that I have the opportunity to interact and observe with businesses across the country, it gives me the potential to learn from those whom I serve and interact. In preparing for a presentation to a chamber of commerce luncheon, I decided to share some of the observations I have gathered over the past months. I have seen businesses who are doing relatively well and those who are not (or who have closed their doors). And these are the patterns I have seen.

Businesses who do well in difficult financial times:

Are able and willing to make and implement tough decisions.
Some companies who were not able to make tough business decisions quickly are no longer around. Those who hesitated and waited before making cuts have suffered and made the path more difficult for themselves. It is important to note that family-owned businesses often struggle in this area — either because they do not have the processes and decision-making mechanisms in place to make authoritative decisions, or because the “difficult” decision may be to let family members go.


Realize that marketing is a way of life.
I am using the term “marketing” to essentially mean: a) letting people know what you do; and b) being easy to find by potential customers. Those companies who were doing well, had a large back-log for their services or products, and who had fallen asleep in their marketing, often had difficulties “gearing up” their marketing plan when tough times hit. However, those companies who had continued to actively market were in place to adjust their plan and keep going.

Combine focus with diversity. Although I firmly believe in Jim Collins’ “hedge hog concept” (knowing what you do well and using that product/service to drive your business, I also believe there can be focus with diversity. Many of the companies who are now doing well in this tough economy had some diversity built into their business plan — either a variety of markets to which they applied their product/service, or they had a secondary line of products that they could “ramp up” in response to a need that arose. A number of companies who have only one primary service or product line are struggling to survive and/or develop a new product or service in times where there is not a lot of available capital to do so.

Understand that the focus of “networking” is not primarily about finding potential customers but looking for opportunities to serve others. Given that I was at a networking event, this was an important topic to address. All too often (almost always, in fact) business representatives go to networking events (luncheons, educational seminars, receptions) with the primary focus in mind to meet potential customers, give them your thirty second “elevator speech”, and press your business card into their hand. And with what do most of us walk away from these events? A blurred memory of who we met and a stack of business cards. Consider the following scenario. How much would you remember the person who actively sought to hear about any needs or challenges you are experiencing and was able either to connect you with a resource that could help or introduce you to someone who may have the service you need? Now that is impactful.

Actively encourage their employees. I have been working on a project of applying the Five Love Languages (a book used in personal relationships) to work-oriented relationships.

Initially, when Dr. Chapman and I started the project, the economy was good and one of our primary applications was in “how to keep valuable team members”. For many companies now, the issue is how to keep your employees from becoming discouraged and burned out — they have more work to do and increased responsibilities with the same (or maybe less) pay and resources.

We have developed the Managing By Appreciation Inventory to help managers and business owners how to communicate encouragement and appreciation to their employees through non-financial means, and how to do so in a way that is significant and meaningful to the employee. Whatever tool or method you use, it is critical to find ways to encourage and show appreciation to your employees in these difficult times. Briefly think of what a discouraged employee looks like in day to day life, and quickly calculate the costs to your organization of having a discouraged team — loss of productivity, poor customer satisfaction, negative attitudes, increased mistakes.

So, if your business is still alive and kicking, take a minute and see if you can take any of these factors and apply them to your organization — and hopefully increase the probability of your survival!

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