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How to Head Off Small Business Fear in This Economy

How to Head Off Small Business Fear in This Economy

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    This is a scary time. Everyone you know knows at least one person who has gotten downsized and new jobs are scarce.  People are scared to start businesses and they’re scared to invest in their existing businesses right now. Part of it is that in an economy like this, mistakes are even more costly than before. And part of it is that people are just plain scared to lose anything right now. What you need to know is that the surest way to lose and make mistakes now is to NOT invest in your business. The only way to win right now is to face your fear and keep moving forward in the right way. Today, I’ll give you a few suggestions for how you can move ahead and steer clear of costly mistakes.

    As with everything else, realize that the current economic conditions are temporary.

    I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. The first thing to do is remember that economic conditions like we’re currently experiencing are temporary. Virtually every financial expert and publication has said that the recession won’t last forever. So when you start to experience fear about the economy and what it means for you, first and foremost, realign your thinking so you’re thinking about it as a temporary condition that will eventually resolve itself.

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    Keep investing in yourself and your business.

    In this economy, a lot of business owners are cutting corners. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to who are cutting out key professionals, reducing their marketing budgets, and eliminating continuing education. What these business owners fail to realize is that it’s absolutely crucial that you continue to invest in yourself and your business to keep things moving in an upward trajectory. But be smart and invest in the right things. This leads me to my next point.

    Cut costs, but cut the right costs.

    When you cut costs, know which costs to cut. Analyze your business expenses and make sure you’re tracking everything. Look for ways to save. For example, if you’re low on printed material like your marketing flyers or business cards, you may be able to find a printer that charges less, but offers the same quality as your old printer. This extends beyond products you use for your business. Examine your business relationships. Are there some service providers you aren’t happy with? Now’s the time to make a switch to someone who will provide you with better service at a better rate. In this economy, you can get great service at a much more affordable rate than ever before. ..and you should.

    That said, don’t cut the essentials! You need to continue learning and improving your skills, so cutting back on continuing ed is a mistake. You don’t need to go to every workshop and seminar, but you shouldn’t eliminate these opportunities to learn, network, and increase your visibility altogether. And don’t start doing your own graphic design or having your son’s best friend design your web site. Cuts like this can result in catastrophe — web sites that don’t function properly, brochures that look unprofessional, and the appearance that your business is small-time, unsuccessful, or fly-by-night. And none of these are words you want applied to your business.

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    Learn from Pareto.

    Another place you can save in your business is by applying Pareto’s 80/20 principle to your client list. The 80/20 rule says (in a nutshell) that the bulk of your business comes from about twenty percent of your client roster. That means you may be expending a great deal of effort and expense marketing to and serving the eighty percent of your clients who aren’t producing very much of your income. So why not go through your client list and do some weeding? You’ll save money in marketing costs and you’ll have more time to cater to your most-productive and profitable clients.

    Another way to implement Pareto’s 80/20 rule is to look at your current products and services. Which twenty percent of your products and services generate eighty percent of your profit? Concentrate on improving those and developing more products and services like them. You may even eliminate the products and services that aren’t generating enough interest.

    Marketing, marketing, marketing.

    One way you can guarantee that your business will fail is if no one knows you exist. So don’t stop marketing your business to save money. That’s the wrong cost to cut. Instead, keep up your marketing efforts, but like your client list, examine which efforts are providing the biggest pay-off. Cut back on the ones that aren’t bringing in clients and beef up the ones that are drawing attention. And, consider implementing more PR methods into your business so you can garner some good press for free.

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    If you’ve been using direct mail as a marketing tool, check the quality of your list. How long have you been mailing marketing materials to people who haven’t responded? Pick a cut-off date and eliminate anyone who hasn’t responded since that date, and you’ll dramatically reduce your printing and postage bills without losing the people who actually respond to your marketing efforts.

    Once you’ve got ’em, wow ’em.

    It won’t do you much good to acquire clients if you can’t serve them and serve them well. So once you’ve drawn them in with your PR and marketing, you’d better make sure you wow them. It’s about more than doing a good job. It’s about doing a great job. Deliver at least on time, if not early. Delight, surprise, and overdeliver. Make sure your clients and customers know you appreciate their business. Always thank them.

    Also, survey the clients who’ve stayed with you for a long time. Find out what you’re doing right and amp up those efforts. And find out what you could do better, and improve on that, and you’ll see your client retention rates improve even more.

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    Save money by hiring experts.

    Hiring the right experts can actually save you money in your business. Imagine all the mistakes you’ve made in your business history. Recall all the professionals you hired who didn’t work out – the web developer who charged a ridiculously high fee for every single update, the assistant who didn’t do her job, the graphic designer who charged you a fortune for a logo you now hate. Remember how much each of those mistakes cost you? Hiring a business consultant who has a Rolodex of professionals who can do that work at the highest quality, but at reasonable rates, can save you a lot of money in the long run, and in the end, the savings more than offset the price of the consultant. Plus, that same consultant can help you avoid other, costly errors, and make suggestions for other ways to optimize and save.

    But beware: “consultants” are a dime a dozen out there. So find someone you can trust and someone who can really deliver, otherwise you’ll spend much more than you’ll save.

    In this economy, it’s only natural that there’s a lot of fear. But knowing it’s temporary, conducting your marketing in the smartest way, continuing to invest in your business in the right way, and building a team of experts who you can trust to deliver can keep your business growing and minimize your fear. Stay strong – this won’t last forever!

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    The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

    The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

    It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

    Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

    “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

    In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

    New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

    There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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    So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

    What is the productivity paradox?

    There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

    In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

    He wrote in his conclusion:

    “Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

    Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

    How do we measure productivity anyway?

    And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

    In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

    But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

    In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

    But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

    Possible causes of the productivity paradox

    Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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    • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
    • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
    • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
    • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

    There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

    According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

    Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

    The paradox and the recession

    The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

    “Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

    This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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    According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

    Looking forward

    A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

    “Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

    Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

    “Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

    On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

    Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

    Reference

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