Surviving Survival

by Paul Lemberg

Has business been slow? Are you just hoping to make it through another year? Knowing how to survive during lean times is a valuable skill, but sometimes things we do in the name of "survival" can themselves bring about the end of a business.

Aren't you tired of sitting around waiting for something to finally happen?

I just got off the phone talking with my friend James. We spoke about how his business was doing, and I asked what he planned on earning this year. His response surprised me:

"Making money's not my focus now. I don't really think this is the right time--I'm planning to just hold on until things get better."

James is usually pretty optimistic and "survival" is not part of his normal vocabulary, so I started wondering about others I know: my consulting clients, people who take my DYBO business-doubling e-course, people I meet speaking.

One client wrote they had "survived" last year, but had "done the unpardonable--cut marketing." Another told me, "Well, we made it. But we cut half our sales force." And a service provider I know reduced her total payroll from 130 to 75 people in the past six months.

Even though Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan has pronounced the recession over, many businesspeople are taking about one thing only: survival. They are hunkered down trying to weather the storm, but they're doing it at the expense of building their businesses. And I believe many companies are unwittingly sacrificing their future.



Here's the typical survival strategy:

Cut marketing.

Lay off marginal employees.

Cut sales travel expenses.

Lay off good employees.

Lay off salespeople.

Fire ineffective management.

Reduce your prices hoping to attract business.

Fire effective management.

Hope for anything. Pray for business. Wait for the recession to end.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Of course survival is not all bad--not by a long shot. There's a "statistic" reputed to come from the US Small Business Administration, which says 9 out of 10 new businesses don't last five years, or something like that. The details vary with the telling but the point is well made--it is hard to keep a business profitable over the long haul, which is why so few of America's largest companies from 75 years ago even exist today.

The good side of survival makes you "lean and mean," scavenging the landscape for sharp opportunities and playing for keeps.

But the dark side just ends up like a strategy for playing it safe, putting off decisions and delaying action.

Of course, you may still be around when "things get better, but will you be in a position to take advantage of your opportunities? Perhaps--if you've conserved cash and preserved your ability to generate new business.

But if instead you've so reduced your ability to go after new deals - or if you've let your product languish to the point where it is no longer up to snuff--are you going to be viable? Will you be able to compete? Will you be ready to grow during the next expansion?

Transcending the Survival Mindset
We are entering what may be the greatest business building opportunity of the next decade. While most of your competitors are still in the warm sleep of survival it is time for you to prepare for bold action.

Here are some tips which will help you survive survival and climb back up the ladder of success. Note that this is not a tip list on *how to survive*, you've already done that. This is about transcending survival and thriving again.

First, recognize that your goal of survival is not a real goal--it's a staging zone. A holding pattern. Survival is not something to commit yourself to--a commitment to survival is a commitment to a low level of existence. Think of homeless people who survive by scrounging dumpsters for food. They survive--but at what level? And for how long?

Your real commitment must be one to prosperity.

Next, recreate your vision of life beyond survival. Okay, you are still in business--congratulations. Pat yourself on the back because many aren't. But despite the SBA statistics, this is not a cause for celebration--not yet, anyway.

Ask yourself--what are you surviving for? What will you do when the survival period is over--when you decide it's okay to start thriving again? What will you accomplish then? What do you want it to look and feel like next year and the year after that? If your vision is simply one of staying in business, you really should think twice about why you do all that hard work.

Once you have a clear picture of where you are going--the most important thing is to increase your level of action. You may have slowed down during this survival period - making fewer sales calls, reducing your marketing and promotional efforts, retarding product development.

Now it's time rev up the engines and get moving again.

How much effort does your business plan call for? What does your strategic plan say?

If you don't know, or if those plans are no longer relevant, you need to freshen the business plan or create a new strategic plan. It doesn't have to be a perfect plan, but don't just lurch into action. Don't move forward without a plan!

Detail the measures of activity and performance for your company. In my business these include leads generated, sales conversations, relationship and networking conversations, articles written and published, new customers signed, consulting contracts, course registrants, web hits, press releases sent, press mentions, radio interviews, key notes and speaking engagements, and of course, revenues, profits, and cash-in-bank.

Your measures may be different but the process is the same:

1. Make a list of each key measure. These will include both what I call results goals and activity goals.

2. Establish a performance goal for each, by week, month or quarter--whatever is most appropriate. Then, up the ante--you've most likely slowed down and the whole point here is to increase your activity. So take whatever your goal is for these items and stretch it. Reawaken the action habit.

3. Set up a system for measuring and reporting on each of these keys, and then try to get rid any shortfalls.

4. If your need to spend is still greater than the cash coming in, cut back everything that is not revenue related, but don't hurt your current--or future--revenue streams. Look for ways to reduce overhead--but not sales and marketing expenses.

Here's a special word about marketing: Most likely you have cut back. Mistakenly, this is often the first area cut when people think their survival is threatened. Now is the time to bump it back up. If you don't have cash available there are a whole host of guerilla marketing strategies which call for limited spending.

Finally, get a coach or a mentor. Get someone to be an unbiased and insightful sounding board, someone who can both critique your plans and present objective counsel.

Now--envision your next growth spurt. Envision your business expanding profitably. Figure out what it's going to take, and get busy again.

If you are serious about getting back on the growth track, contact us about our Growth System and entrepreneurial coaching services. Also, we can review your business or strategic plan, and work with you to make it current or help you build a new one.

Best wishes and get busy,

Paul Lemberg

Paul Lemberg is a highly experienced business coach who helps entrepreneurs and  entrepreneurial companies quickly increase short term profits for sustainable long term growth.

 
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