Sticking out the tough times

Being the owner and
entrepreneur of a three-year-old company here on island, I hardly thought I
qualified to author a column on how to stick with a small business through
tough economic times.

But on second thoughts,
I realized that having been an entrepreneur since 1984, my collective
experiences have indeed imbued me with a great deal of insight as a small
business entrepreneur. Over many years and several ventures, I myself have had
to learn to create, promote and stick with my venture through good times and
bad.

I come from an
entrepreneurial family. My parents started a metal fabrication company in 1974.
They worked hard at it and developed a business that won awards for successful
business practices. They sold it in 1990, when they retired, but the company is
still vibrant and growing today.

As a child, I worked
in the family business and learned the benefits of hard work and how to stick
with something until it was finished. It was there that I first experienced the
tremendous pride and recognition for a job well done. My parents would not only
acknowledge my efforts — they would also proudly discuss it with friends and
neighbours. I wanted more of that, and made every effort to produce those
results again and again. It became addictive and has stuck with me through
every venture I embark.

I recall my first
business venture where I purchased 11 vending machines, convinced 11 companies
to put them in their lunch rooms and sat back thinking the profits would just
flow in … but they didn’t. I quickly realized I actually had to work at it!

I eventually figured
it out and the venture earned enough money to live on, without dipping into the
salary from my full-time job. I sold that business after five years and started
looking for my next venture. As a full time graphic designer, I decided to
strike out on my own in a field I knew well. I did that for a while, but
working full-time as a graphic designer and providing the service after hours
were just too much, so I went back to what I knew would work and give me a
break from my full time job. I bought two concession booths, one sold the best
hamburgers and fries in town. The other made the thickest milk shakes and sold
the largest ice cream cones anyone had ever seen! I maintained a full time job
and hired a staff to run the concessions booths.

Both booths did quite
well, provided a nice income and gave me time and energy to partner in my next
venture – a marketing agency. I found a business partner and started the
marketing agency in 1990. The agency quickly branched into publishing, and
produced a ‘Small Business Guide’ with major distribution throughout Western
Canada. Within a few years we launched a small business network online that
promoted networking, training seminars and trade shows for small business.

The lessons I learnt
as a pre-teen and young adult in my parents business helped me steer
successfully through many ups and downs in these ventures.

Here then are a few
tips about riding through tough times and keeping business going that I can
offer to small businesses:

 

1. Take advantage
of the recession

Tough times are good
times to get noticed. Unfortunately, many businesses –large and small — cut
their advertising and adopt a “wait-and-see” attitude in tough times. As your
competitors make themselves invisible, take the chance to stand out. Look for
cost-effective ways to advertise and keep your name out there.

 

2. Get back to basics

We all know the value
of networking and using good, old-fashioned word-of- mouth to promote your
business. Here’s another staple — bartering of goods and services among your
network contacts. You may not always have cash to pay for what you need, but
you can trade off with services.

 

3. Build
relationships

Remember when you
first started business how important it was to court friends, neighbors,
friends of friends and anyone who could be a potential customer? Go back to
building these relationships and reach out to other businesses, vendors and
associations in your industry.

4. Manage your time

It is quite a cliché,
but yes, time is money. Analyse your business to determine if you are making
the best use of time to produce your goods or deliver your services. Look at
all your business activities in terms of what adds value and what does not.
Make changes, if necessary.

 

5. Manage your money

Keep a tight rein on
the credit you extend to customers. 
Streamline your billing process to keep receivables to a minimum and
make sure that your customers know and stick to your credit terms.

 

6. Offer new products

or services

A good way to
re-position your business during tough times is to offer new products or
services, developed through constant feedback with your customers.

 

7. Know your
customers

To strengthen your
company, your business needs to go above and beyond to satisfy your customers
by finding new ways to help them achieve their goals. Communicate with your
customers to build alliances, develop relationships and earn your customers’
trust. Running a small business requires a daily process of re-commitment.
Fortunately for many owners, their business is also a passion, which helps to
keep going day after day. 

Once you commit to
being there for the long haul, these words from Winston Churchill can help
strengthen your resolve to make it work: “Success is not final; failure is not
fatal; it’s the courage to continue that counts.”

 

Debbie Hand  is co-owner of Wigglypen Creative Services

 

As a child, I worked
in the family business and learned the benefits of hard work and how to stick
with something until it was finished.

 

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