Companies are facing challenges in the economy, the likes of which haven't been experienced in most business leaders' lifetimes. News seems to bounce from bad to worse to hope to despair, leaving relatively rare moments of optimism and huge holes of uncertainty. This combined gloom-and-doom assault has rendered many businesses paralyzed with a sense of fear for the present and the future. Such paralysis has slowed the progress of even the most formerly dynamic of companies to a crawl. Economists are left scratching their heads, unsure of what to do, and marketing departments for many companies appear to be more preoccupied with job preservation than re-establishment of momentum. How can professionals break away from this stagnation and take advantage of opportunities to grow their business?
Here are one CEO's answers:
1. Understand the terrain. Wikipedia defines trench warfare as "a form of warfare where both combatants have fortified positions, and fighting lines are static." The key word is static. By recognizing and accepting that businesses have hunkered down and that the static lines in the economy are likely to remain for the foreseeable future, companies can begin to develop a path that will enable their business to move forward.
2. Recognize that early progress could be agonizingly slow. With a robust economy, success couldn't come fast enough. In World War I, forward tactical advancement had often been measured in feet or sometime inches; so it is in the economic "trenches" of today. Given the current situation, it may seem that everything is happening in slow motion. A business plan must take into consideration a reduced pace of progress. Sustainable success can best be achieved through a series of small victories.
3. Lose the fear. A good insurance salesperson knows that fear is a strong motivator. It is also understood that fear is an emotion that needs to be brought under control, or it will lead to distress and high anxiety. This doesn't mean that apprehension should be abandoned, but it does mean that success will be determined by how companies deal not only with their fears, but also with the fears of their customers, clients, and competitors. The sense of fear will begin to move from the forefront as the company focuses attention on an immediate plan of action.
4. Be different. There is a common adage that performing the same action repeatedly with the expectation of a different outcome is a definition of insanity. What may have worked for companies last year, last week, or even yesterday may not work in today's economic climate. Take deliberate steps to be different in the approach. Breaking from the routine will cause the company to begin looking at the business with a fresher perspective.
5. Be a puzzle-solver. Sudoku and crosswords can be stimulating ways to pass time. Treating the business as a puzzle to be solved can add a new dimension to efforts. Writing down specific problems to be solved, then writing down solutions, can often lead to unexpected and creative results.
6. Every business has a story to tell. Whether it is the business or the customer's, there is a story that needs to be told. One of the best ways to get that story out is through the creative use of Public Relations. PR doesn't have to be an expensive proposition. PR companies are feeling the slowdown like everyone else and are looking for new clients like never before. Using their professional services on a per-event basis could give the business greater exposure with minimal expense. Also, remember that a well-crafted and -timed news release can reward you with huge dividends.
7. Make technology work for the company. Nearly every business has a database of email addresses. These may consist of customers, clients, friends or others whom the company connects with on a regular basis. Email marketing is a proven cost-effective way to get a business message in front of the database. There are many ways to take advantage of this relatively new kind of marketing, such as email blasts or even the newest form of email marketing-emailable video (video brochures). To reach a larger audience, many companies offer opted-in email lists that can be quite specific for a given type of business or customer. Companies should avoid bulk email lists, which are often associated with spam (very different than opted-in prequalified lists). The creative use of email could become the most cost-effective method for promoting a business.
8. Direct mail still works. Even with rising postal costs, direct mail can be a very effective way to get a message out to a broad area. A number of companies offer quality mailing lists with relatively low cost. Keep in mind that when deciding to do a bulk mail, the response will nearly always be a very small percentage of the number of pieces that are mailed out. Sometimes it can be a fraction of a percent, but that is often enough to justify the expense.
9. Know the competition better than they know you. Staying on top of the competition is now more important than ever. Rest assured that competitors are experiencing the same economic anxiety and may be dealing with it in ways the company should be aware of. There is much companies can learn by simply observing how competitors are changing their approach to how they do business.
10. There is no substitute for homework. The Internet is the single greatest research tool ever developed. A certain part of every business day needs to be devoted to conducting research online. By using the resources of the Internet daily, companies will be able to stay informed of the many subtleties pertaining to their business. They will be able to learn about new products and technology and other pertinent information that can help give a competitive edge. The Internet can also provide a wealth of historical information regarding all aspects of the business.
Clearly, there is no single magic way out of the current economic mess. One thing is certain: Doing nothing will produce nothing, and doing little will produce little. But just like a magician who diligently practices the complexities of a new card trick until perfected, the result of companies' working smart and paying attention to the little victories can bring a gasp from the "audience" and the question "How did you do that?"
Adapted from an article by Michael Dotson, chief executive of WorkSmart Media Group, http://www.worksmartmediagroup.com