Dr. Guido Quelle, owner of Mandat Management Group in Germany, bought his company from his boss during a difficult economic time in 2005. He was deeply convinced that his company had a future and did whatever he could to grow the firm. He invested in marketing -- not classical marketing like advertising, but in the development of products, books, and surveys that relied on engagement with his clients. He tripled his revenues from 2005-2006 and grew by double digits for the next several years.
Quelle says, "When things go south, it's very important to have the momentum to go uphill again. It's like a roller coaster. You need the speed going downhill to go up again. That's our philosophy.
"When you study business administration you are told that growth is present when the market is there. But, there are companies growing in a poor market and companies not growing in an intense market.
"At the beginning of 2009, the automotive industry in the U.S. was really down. Almost every automotive company had negative growth, but Hyundai grew by 9 percent in January 2009 compared to January 2008 because they offered an insurance to pay the lease for people who lost their jobs. What is the risk when you lease a car? You have to pay it whether you have money or not. Well, they said, if you lose your job, we pay the lease for a few months. We take this risk. You can take the car to get a job if you have appointments. If you are not able to get a job within a certain time, you can give us the car and you have nothing to pay. They grew by 9 percent with this strategy!"
Quelle and Hyundai are not alone. In fact, many well-known companies started their ventures in tough times. FedEx began operations in 1973 during the most severe recession since World War II in the U.S. So did LexisNexis and Microsoft. CNN and MTV began in the difficult economic climate of 1980. Burger King, Hyatt and IHOP all began during the dramatic worldwide economic downturn of 1958.
What makes tough times a good time to surge forward in business? Here are six reasons:
1. When times are tough, your clients are looking for those who can make a real difference in their lives. Value is at a premium. People are desperate for real solutions and will pay accordingly.
2. While everyone is retreating, you can move forward just by holding your ground.
3. You have the most to gain, and can often count on a multiplier when the market comes back.
4. When everyone else is surging forward, your progress is minimized by the successes of the surrounding market. Similarly, your successes are much more noticeable in a difficult time.
5. When people are hunkering down, you can leverage your activity.
6. You are forced to focus, be selective in your investments. Your efforts tend to count more, to be more valuable to you.
So, how do you move forward decisively in tough times? Every surge has five components:
1. Timespan. Start with a launch and end with a deadline. Creating a solid beginning and end makes it possible to push hard, giving you the time boundaries you need to create leverage.
2. The anchor. Strong surges are connected to a real event such as a holiday, a news event, or a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
3. Bundles of value. Provide multiple ways for your clients to get in on the action and get the results they yearn for (e.g., a symposium, a webinar, a book, an engagement, a retail sale and a wholesale event).
4. Multiple media. Reach out to people through several channels: screen-to-screen, voice-to-voice and face-to-face.
5. Progressive calls to action. Make it clear what your clients can do to get access to the value they want, and if they like what they get provide them with a path that generates greater and greater reward.
Follow-through is particularly important. After your surge is launched, be ready to jump in when your clients respond. They expect immediate response and when you deliver it, they are in your hands.
The economy is coming back, but it’s not back yet. Use this opportunity to initiate new value. Surge forward aggressively, make your mark, and build your business.
Seth Kahan is the author of the Washington Post bestseller, Getting Change Right: How Leaders Transform Organizations from the Inside Out. He provides strategy consulting to business owners and mentoring to independent consultants. More information can be found on his website, VisionaryLeadership.com.