Dear Dan: We're starting to run out of ideas of how to cut our business costs or ways to find new customers. What ways are other businesses thinking up to try and beat this recession? - Still Thinking
Dear Still Thinking: So what now? You've bludgeoned costs to the bone for over a year now. You've amped up efficiency in every way you can, squeezed vendors for every dime, and gone after collections like never before. Your marketing is fever pitch, you're seeking sales in areas you never though to look before, and maybe you've even handed out some pink slips.
And still you have a sinking feeling in the pit of your entrepreneurial stomach. What's left? How about this: Try attacking the problem more with brains than with brawn. There's much you can do as chief cheerleader for your business that involves leadership and insight more than parsing out paperclips or turning off the lights.
"To be the most successful, you need a fearless mindset coupled with strategic action -- a balance of inspiration and practicality," says Gayle Lantz, president of WorkMatters, Inc. and author of Take the Bull by the Horns: The Busy Leader's Action Guide to Growing Your Business. Lantz lines up these brain-based tips you can implement quickly:
1. Ask better questions: Don't feel like you're the only "answer person" around. Too many business owners feel pressured to come up with all the solutions themselves, says Lantz. But that's too limiting. "Somewhere in the minds of your colleagues and employees lies at least one company-saving idea," she says. "Your job is to excavate it by asking the right questions."
2. Change things up and take some risks. Doing the same old things may have gotten your business into current difficulties. Don't be imprudent, but recognize that NOT taking a risk could in fact be the riskier course. "Don't think failure, think testing," suggests Lantz. "By experimenting you're testing an idea. If it doesn't work, no harm done. Just try something else."
3. Spotlight your optimists: If you have certain employees who always seem to have a "can-do" attitude, put them in more prominent positions. Encourage them to share ideas. Optimism tends to be contagious, so others may catch the spark and help accelerate your business growth.
4. Help customers win their own recession war: The best way to cement relationships with top customers is to be totally tuned in to their fiscal health, not just your own. Take time to find out about the unique challenges and difficulties they may be facing, and how your business can help. "Make it your mission this year to develop a new solution for them" suggests Lantz. "Not only will you keep them happy, you'll inspire them to refer your business to others."
5. Remind employees the current situation is temporary: When the media inundate us with gloomy economic news day in and day out, we all get gloomy. By assuring employees and anyone else who you rely on in your business that the recession isn't permanent, you create positive energy that can help pull your business out of the slump.
6. Invest in your more promising people: Make a list of your most prized employees -- the ones who show the strongest energy and desire to help move your business forward. Maybe it's just one person; or maybe it's five or ten. Then, suggests Lantz, invite them to participate in strategic discussions about your future. Helping these people realize their importance to your business, and how decisions get made, will help them contribute more to your business success.
7. Set the bar higher: By setting your expectations higher -- maybe a lot higher -- than you did last year, you'll almost certainly see an improvement in your business, says Lantz. "It really is that simple. Any parent or teacher knows that when you set the bar low, kids live down to it. And when you set it high, they live up to it. Adults are no different. Most of us have mentally had the bar set on survival for the past year or longer. In fact, the recession itself is the result of our low expectations."