With all the news reports featuring grim economic forecasts for the nation's largest companies, it's easy to forget that small and mid-sized businesses represent the most vital component of the nation's economy. If you're part of this important sector, it's not time to give up hope, but instead time to strategize to help your business weather the recession.
In the U.S. small and mid-sized businesses create 75 percent of all new jobs and generate 50 percent of all national revenue. But when economic times get tough businesses can band together and come out ahead on the other side of a downturn.
Here are some tips from executive performance company, Vistage International, to help your business survive, and even grow, during a recession:
* Take a whole office inventory: Be sure to include not only supplies, but also talent and assets. This will allow you to see the big picture, find opportunities that exist and see how resources can be better utilized.
* Tap into local talent: Many colleges and universities are filled with students willing to intern for free to build their resumes. Younger students also tend to be tech savvy and can help improve your company's Web site, find new ways to interact with customers online and raise your search engine rankings.
* Don't go it alone: Communicate with other business owners and share ideas. Peer-to-peer groups, like Vistage International, help companies stay connected with the communities in which they operate and help businesses find new solutions to their problems.
Dana Borowka, chief executive officer of Santa Monica-based Lighthouse Consulting Services, is a member of Vistage, a CEO peer-group organization. Vistage-member CEOs spend one day a month with other executives examining their own businesses and economic issues and offering each other guidance and support.
"Well in advance of the market shifts, we anticipated that companies would be looking for ways to make more targeted hiring decisions and do more in-depth employee screening," says Borowka. "My Vistage CEO group challenged me to think ahead and their advice has proved indispensible to our success today."
* Build strong relationships: In tough times, customers feel the same level of anxiety as business owners. Pay attention to their needs and look for ways to be more relevant to customers and help them solve their problems. Find ways to reward loyal customers and be more involved in the community -- it sends the message that your company is listening and is investing in the future.
* Communicate: Now more than ever, communication is key. The economic situation is changing too quickly to ignore and you must communicate changes to staff, clients and prospects. By being overly communicative with your staff, you give employees the opportunity to get involved and be creative to find solutions to you business challenges.
* Determine the health of your competitors for growth opportunities: Economic struggles for one company can translate into huge opportunities for another. Sound out your competitors and see if there's the possibility of an acquisition. Buying out the competition when they're struggling gives you greater market share and access to a new customer base.
Dominique Raccah is the owner and publisher of Sourcebooks, an independent book publisher just outside of Chicago. Nationwide, the publishing industry is struggling and the environment isn't expected to improve for some time. With the support of her peer-group, Raccah is protecting and growing her business by closely scrutinizing price points, customer demand and product mix, and extending the publishing firm's distribution network.
"Although the publishing industry takes economic slowdowns harder than most, and competitors are conservative, my Vistage Chair and group helped me realize my company is better positioned than I thought and it might be an opportune time to make an acquisition," says Raccah. "I was in survival mode and wasn't even thinking about growing. The acquisition idea came up within the last six months, we just closed the deal, and the feedback and excitement is amazing."