The OPEN team at American Express was generous enough to host some of us at their office last month. Aside from exchanging feedback on the new website, we also discussed some of the challenges facing small business owners in this rollercoaster economy. I found the research statistics that AmEx shared to be particularly interesting, and, in some cases, downright shocking. Among them:
- Nearly half of the small business owners surveyed (45%) report that they are open to bartering with customers and vendors
- 48% of the small business owners have instituted hiring freezes
- 30% of small business owners report that they are no longer taking a salary, and 27% of the respondents have a family member working pro bono
- 18% of the entrepreneurs report that they are also working a second job
But how do we make objective business decisions amidst the emotional ties we have with our business creations? How do we make sure our sacrifices (and the sacrifices of family members and others) are, in fact, investments rather than desperate measures to cling to a sinking ship?
I pondered this for a while and really struggled to find an answer. The best I came up with was collective judgment. The only way we can truly understand the costs and benefits of our decisions is to involve others. Our constituents – employees, clients, and even competitors – can help us gauge the market and decide how much more we should reasonably invest in our endeavors. Actually, the Open Forum community that American Express has created is one of many ways to capture the benefits of a like-minded community.
The trick is to be transparent when you are least likely to be so. When times are tough and you’re making a hefty sacrifice, you should engage in more outreach and discussion with your team, customers, and competitors to see what they are experiencing. And you should share some of your struggles as a way to solicit feedback, ideas, and context. Ultimately, your informed perspective could make all the difference in your judgment and ability to thrive over time.
***This article is adapted from the research and writing of Scott Belsky and the Behance team. Behance runs the Behance Creative Network, the Action Method project management application, the Creative Jobs List, and develops knowledge, products, and services that help creative professionals make ideas happen.