For most business people, 2009 has been a year to forget. Quite simply, the economy has been as bad as any of us can remember. Sales are down. Credit is hard to come by. And the only people who seem to be enjoying direct benefits from the government’s various rescue plans are Wall Street bankers.
But if I might play the contrarian for a moment, here’s a list of 2009 silver linings for the small business owner:
- It could have been much, much worse. This one conjures up the joke about the psychiatrist who, when asked by a patient why she was still crazy, responded, ‘well think of how crazy you’d be if you hadn’t been coming here!’ But as in the joke, just because this seems like a dodge doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Last fall, remember, people were talking about another Great Depression, and a full-scale meltdown of the global financial system. By these standards, 2009 was not too bad at all. Unemployment of 10% may seem like a shock, but it’s squarely within the realm of contemporary economic cycles. The bailout and the stimulus package have for the most part done their jobs.
- Good help got a lot easier to find (and keep). No one likes to say this, but if you’re an employer, high unemployment isn’t all bad. You can pay people less, and they’re more appreciative of the job. And you don’t have to worry so much about your best people jumping ship.
- The economy reverted to a more “normal” and sustainable state. The frothy economy that was driven by the 2003 – 2006 housing bubble might have seemed like a blessing, but it’s actually not so easy to operate effectively in a period of irrational exuberance. You can’t plan rationally, you can’t keep employees happy, you’re always trying to time the market. Steady state is much more relaxing.
- The rise of social media created huge opportunities. Facebook and Twitter were undoubtedly the business stories of the year, with unbelievable growth in usage and influence. Along with the iPhone, each has created a whole ecosystem of entrepreneurs all its own, and some of them – see Zynga – are making tons of money. Even if you’re not an Internet company, Facebook and Twitter have created a slew of new marketing opportunities and means of setting your company apart.
- Interest rates stayed at all-time lows. Low interest rates don’t help if you can’t get a loan. But I suspect I’m hardly alone among entrepreneurs in holding a home equity loan that helped fund my business, and the interest rate on that variable rate loan is less than 3%. I count that blessing every day.
- The stock market held up pretty well. After a deep swoon early in the year, the stock market recovered and is trading at levels about 20% lower than the over-inflated peak. (In the Great Drepression, stocks declined by 85%). That was good not just for owners of stock, but for everyone, since the stock market has a huge impact our economic psychology.
- Buy local, eat local and go green all gained momentum. Without straying too far into the political here, I’d submit that it’s generally a good thing for small business owners when people become more mindful of what they consume. If you support a local farmer or retailer or toy-maker, they will probably return the favor. And consuming less energy is a smart thing to do, whatever you might think about global warming.