Three rules for thriving when the economy is barely surviving

by | February 28, 2010

We wrap up our month of “Ready, Set, Grow!” with a post from Tim Fletcher, President of Envirovogue, a company that manufactures eco-friendly bags and gives back to the community with every sale.  Envirovogue is poised and ready for growth this year; and in this post, Tim shares why now’s the time.


2010 promises to be a better year than last, but we’re not out of the woods. Not yet. So here’s my homespun rules for making the most of a sluggish recovery.

Don’t run towards the finish line

We often talk about business as a race, but it is a race without a stationary finish line, because the end goal keeps moving. Haven’t your markets changed in the last couple of years? Haven’t your customers changed? Even if their names and addresses stayed the same, didn’t their purchasing behavior change? Or their expectations for service? Have the ways you’ve reached out to them changed?

So, in the center of all this change, how do you know when you are winning? By focusing on the competition. The only way you can know whether you are winning or losing is by seeing where you are in relation to the others running beside (and hopefully behind) you.

In a growing market, it’s natural to think about the competition. In the big race for a big slice of the pie, with the rewards so tangible and so close, we make every effort to screen out the competition, get in their way, or maybe even fake them out. 

But when new orders are scarce and the market is shrinking, our natural tendency to doggedly pursue the most winnable business, as if every sale was just a two-way conversation. It isn’t. A sale is a three way conversation between you, your customer and one or more competitors.

If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to spot when competitors cut corners in a response to the recession. That’s when you have a chance to fill the gaps in their product offering, or provide the services they don’t.  

So keep a close eye on your competition as you leave them in the dust. In the mind of your customer, the distance between you and your competition is what defines the winner. 

Hunker Not

Not long ago, I called a customer of mine who hadn’t ordered in a while. They told me that they were laying low, reducing expenses and drawing down inventory until their customers decided to go shopping again.  “We’re hanging in there,” they told me, “waiting until the storm passes. We’re hunkering down.”

Hunkering down is defined as taking shelter, assuming a defensive position in response to temporary difficulties. But when you are squatting down on your haunches, you aren’t moving. In my experience, any business that doesn’t move forward is vulnerable.

In a fragile economic recovery, our natural tendency is to batten down the hatches and ride out the storm. Have you found yourself delaying critical decisions, or shelf potentially game-changing ideas for later? Perfect! Follow that natural instinct for self-preservation. But be careful. Not every risk should be avoided at all costs. During the course of this tenuous recovery, some small, seemingly inconsequential opportunities will present themselves to you.

One of them may be present an opportunity to develop a competitive advantage, at a relatively small risk.

When you see a business opportunity, do a quick guestimate of the downside. Can your business survive the worst case scenario? How will it satisfy your customers needs? Is it completely different from what you are doing today? Is there a chance you can do a small test?

Sticking to the safe approach is exactly what most of your competitors will be doing. Embracing a small change may set you apart, and allows you to gain a foothold for when the economic rebound looks more like a rebound.

Think big (it’s free)

When running the operations of a small business, we have to be super efficient. Practical. Analytical. The day-to-day details require us to think small, with a narrow-minded focus on the outcome.


Don’t let that mindset intrude on planning. When planning, be a dreamer. A wild-eyed optimist. An enthusiastic, pie-in-the-sky visionary. Put aside the invoices and silence the incessant ping of your iPhone. Get outside, find a patch of grass that isn’t soggy, lie on your back and look up. What do you see? Miles of storm clouds? But wait, isn’t that a patch of blue peeking through?

Looking far in the distance, with an open mind, allows you to see farther. Make big goals for yourself now. Later on, you can figure out how to get there.

So while your competition is focused on survival, take the opportunity to find the little risks that can open new doors for your business. Find those little opportunities and embrace them. Un-hunker. Ignore the finish line. Think big. And prepare your business for a phenomenal year.