“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” – Edmund Burke
Three years ago, my little marketing firm was growing like a weed, taking on new employees and new clients at a blinding pace. We were selective on the jobs that we took on and work just didn’t seem like work. It was a good time. Then one afternoon, I had a conversation with a colleague, who advised that we may not be in business by the end of the year. Thinking that perhaps it was an abnormally hot summer, and that the weather was probably getting to people, I shrugged it off. In retrospect, I guess I shouldn’t have. The following two years were hellish at best, and we systematically lost every employee we had, while clinging desperately to our dwarfing clientele. We had our legs knocked from under us, as most businesses did, but we were able to survive. Last summer, we started to turn a corner and are happily – albeit skeptically – in a growth period.
It’s been said that, by remaining aware of past failures, you can predict and avoid future ones. We learned a lot over those couple years and want to share some vital lessons as we’re told that we could experience it all over again.
1. Don’t panic. The one thing that exacerbates a recession more than all others is fear; whether is consumer fear of spending, or business fear of growth, hiring or marketing. If an economy is not growing, it’s dying, so the best thing we can do is continue to focus on not just growth, but smart growth. Continue to advertise and promote, continue to look for talent, and continue to set goals that propel your business forward, not just keep it in one place. And please, turn the TV off. That stuff will drive you bonkers if you let it.
2. Pick your partners carefully. No business is ever successful in a vacuum. Every day, business owners are confronted by potential vendors and partners that pitch a mutually beneficial relationship. Most of the time, it’s not the case. It’s important to do a quick review to only give time to partners that provide an obvious benefit. Are they the best in your price range? Do they have a solid reputation? Is what they provide something that has a short-term effect on bringing you in business (are you getting your investment back within the next six months)? Make sure that you align your business with others that will propel you forward.
3. Woo your customers. As demand drops, desperation rises. Your competitors will become ravenous for your customers, and will do some pretty outrageous stuff to pull them away. If you assume for a second that they’ll never leave, they could be halfway out the door. The first way to keep your customers is to be proactive. By anticipating and addressing future needs (sales cycles, promotional periods, etc.), you are leveraging what you know about your client that your competition doesn’t. You should make that customer feel like they’re the only star in your sky, remember your contacts’ birthdays, and show a genuine interest in who they are as an organization and as people. If you don’t have a genuine interest, it will show, so hurry and find customers you want to work with.
4. Stay loyal. Once you have partners and customers that make your work worth working, don’t do what so many businesses do and screw it up by entertaining other offers. Having successful strategic partnerships and customer relationships both require the same courtesy, exclusivity and support that you would expect from them. Be aware of any conflict of interest and avoid it before it poses a problem. The grass on both sides of the fence can die at once.
5. Stoke your fire for your craft. If you don’t love what you do, then stop. This new economy demands passion and is too competitive for people to just float by. Be tirelessly innovative, finding new ways to do what you love. Rediscover what put you in business in the first place, which may mean revisiting your own idea of success. Only those that are dedicated will survive and, if you’re apathetic about your business, your doors will be shut for you.
Is there anything that you’ve learned over the past three years? I’d love to hear them!