Change with the times or get left behind

With all the talk about high unemployment rates, the dismal housing market and the trials and tribulations of the euro, the business climate sounds pretty bleak.
What we are seeing, however, is a process of regeneration, similar to the cleansing of a forest after a fire.

Business is coming back, stronger and better than before. Make no mistake — the seeds of the next Apple have been sown.

But things will be different. Millions of dollars are being made right now in this economy, but if you’re still doing what you did three years ago, you won’t be around three years from now.

If you want to turn things around and grab your share of new opportunities, it’s time to make some bold moves, adjust to the market and find ways to stand out from the crowd. Here are three ideas to help you get started.

• Talk to your team. Nobody knows what’s going on out there better than your staff. They’re the people on the front lines talking to your customers and thinking about their own survival — and they’re full of ideas.

Share with them more about your business. Don’t assume they already understand it; your knowledge comes from a big picture view of your company’s parts and pieces, a perspective that staff rarely has the luxury of experiencing.

Talk to them about what’s changed. Explain how the strengths you’ve benefited from are no longer creating the same results. Ask them what they think should be done with old, established services and products, and what new ones they would like to be offering in today’s environment.

Think of your employees as a group of business students. Ask them to write their ideas into a plan for the coming year — and, while they’re at it, write a marketing plan too.

Find out what they’re good at that’s not being leveraged by the company and look for ways to put their strengths to good use. Not only will you find out about talents and knowledge you aren’t aware of, you’ll also create a sense of ownership. Morale will soar, which can be priceless in tough times.

But you have to ask and then enlist their help to make their ideas a reality.

• Tap into external talent. One of the benefits of the current unemployment crises is that there are a lot of really smart people looking for ways to make a living. It’s not difficult or expensive to find people with experience and knowledge in almost any area you want to pursue.

People are so hungry for the chance to prove their talents that you can find a lot of stars who will be grateful to find work. Recruit them and ask them to show you their stuff.

The same goes for your vendors. After all, they have a vested interest in your survival too.

Find out what they need to succeed and find ways to give it to them. Then ask for help with marketing, inventory management and special order processing. Look for ways you can give your customers what they want by leveraging your vendors’ strengths to get it for them.

Above all, don’t be lazy and get pulled into the ‘just buy more’ or ‘please lower prices’ traps.

• Work with your customers. If your customers don’t cringe at the thought of your company going out of business, then you aren’t important enough to them. It’s time to reach out and partner with them to help make your business — and theirs — the best they can be.

The magic word is collaboration. Everyone wants to feel wanted. By asking your customers to partner with you, you’re telling them they’re important. If they say they want more business, help them reach out to their networks to get it.

Be bold, be creative and don’t be embarrassed to ask for help. For example, if your business is retail, have a contest where customers come up with new ideas and reward them for their efforts. Make it a public competition and get some free media, both online and in print.

You can either come to grips with the need to make serious changes or your business will fade away. Don’t just sit on the sidelines and watch. Get out there and play the game. After all, that’s what business is, and it’s time for you to change your game plan if you plan on winning.


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