Find opportunity in crisis
Business owners of companies of all sizes are seeing a completely different economic environment today than we have seen in several years. We have seen a trifecta of historic and unpredictable times that started with a pandemic and lockdown, shifted to a government-funded Covid economy, then downshifted to rising interest rates with inflation and likely an official recession.
There’s no easy “one size fits all” solution for how to navigate these challenging times, but calm and a little common sense can help business leaders survive and even thrive. The cliché is true that every crisis presents an opportunity, but you have to be in the right frame of mind.
First, let’s assess the current climate. It doesn’t take but a quick trip to the gas station to see how inflation is driving up the price of everything. For business owners, it’s only one commodity that costs a lot more than it did a few months ago. Throw in the search for employees, being forced to pay more for your existing labor force, and inflation’s doubleedged sword of driving down economic demand for all things large and small, and it’s easy to understand why there could be a mild stage of panic in some board rooms in New Hampshire.
Our current state of affairs has put businesses into a pinch; they have to pay more for their expenses and are seeing less in sales. But there are things business leaders can do to offset some of the negative and wait out the price wars and inventory shortages:
• Double-down on the personal connection. Provide customer service that is dependable, make it easy to contact a live person who can immediately help their customer solve their product problems. Too often, customers are put through the “call menu maze” and find it next to impossible to speak to a live person who speaks clearly to help. Good, reliable customer service makes any business grow.
• Triple down on the personal connection. Your employees are your lifeblood and the best investment you can make right now. Keep them happy and keep them from leaving for a better option somewhere else. This doesn’t mean blowing your budget on salaries; it doesn’t have to cost a lot to make sure people feel valued and appreciated. Be intentional with your workers.
• Focus on what you CAN do, not what you CAN’T do. Ensure that the business has the product in stock and can deliver fast. I realize that there is a shortage of products due to the causes of the coronavirus, but there has to be a way to get products into inventory to satisfy customer demand. Even in inflationary times like these, there are many people who want to buy if the product is available. If products are available and quickly delivered, business, especially small business, can thrive.
• Cut costs. This is likely already happening, but as you do so, keep in mind what is essential and what might not be as important to your business RIGHT NOW. Temporary cut backs can be restored when you, your business and/or the economy are on more solid and predictable footing. Look to consolidate workspace, perhaps sell off extra product and material that you aren’t or won’t use. There are ways to save if you look hard enough.
• It’s easy being green. Might sound like a simple thing, but turning off the lights, improving the recycling, cutting waste all reduce expenses and can offset what we have all been warned will be the highest electric and power and waste rate hikes we have seen in many years.
• Refinance the debts and deals that still carry interest rates higher than what’s available right now. I would be remiss, given my own background, if I didn’t remind everyone that rates are typically lower at a credit union than at traditional financial institutions. There’s always an option for taking pressure off your expenses; explore every option thoroughly.
Not all of these will fit your needs or answer your challenges, but the key is to be focused, calm and a bit creative in reducing cost and protecting the revenue flow. Focus on what you can control and buy time for the economy to recover.
Gordon Simmons has over four decades of experience in the financial services industry and is the former CEO of Service Credit Union.