Be scared. You can’t help that. But don’t be afraid. ~ William Faulkner
One of the classic ways to find out what is really going on with a business owner or top-level executive these days is to ask, “What’s keeping you up at night?” Being a small business owner and a formally trained facilitator, I decided to take a different approach and asked 20 presidents of small businesses in marketing, interior design, insurance and a variety of other industries what’s allowing them to get a good night’s rest. Here are the highlights of what they shared.
1. Put in a good day’s work. Jumping out of bed, getting to work early, being productive an extra hour or two at the end of a normal day if needed and staying focused and committed to growing the business — these were, of all the pointers, the ones most commonly shared. No one wanted to be seen as a slacker, indecisive, depressed or out of touch with what’s going on in the world. The word “leader” came up in nearly every conversation or email, as did the importance of being looked at as one.
2. Connect with upbeat, enthusiastic, high-energy people who share similar business concerns and offer up a whole host of action-oriented solutions to extraordinary day-to-day problems. One of the things I heard time and time again is that it costs nothing to smile, and oftentimes we forget to do just that (not in a fake way) on a daily basis. When we don’t smile, it can bring a whole operation down into the doldrums — even when it needn’t be.
3. Communicate with the executive team and employees as often as possible to convey what’s going on and the steps that are being taken to keep the company strong. Actively seek input from every paid employee on how to improve the company’s performance while maintaining profit margins. These business leaders are involving everyone in everything, something they said they had not done up until now because they didn’t think the employees needed to know. Well, now they do. Their lifestyle or job is on the line.
4. Obsess over listening to customers, employees, vendors, colleagues and friends, and actually take action on what is said. The presidents even report back to those who shared their thoughts and ideas on exactly what they did differently because of the information. Of all the tools, this one has helped them the most to sleep peacefully at night. It’s very empowering to everyone. It shows they really care. It humanizes them. And that’s a good thing during a downturn.
5. Emphasize a back-to-basics approach on everything, from how they buy office products to choosing cleaning services (do-it-yourself mentality) to who gets wooed over lunch or dinner for new business initiatives. The key question to ask before spending money is: Do we really, truly need this?
6. Enhance everything they do, from response time to continuous improvement (quality) to total flexibility in how they manage projects. If they did something in fourteen days, they do it now in four days, with half the number of people. If a client says, “We’re not sure if this will be a marketing, advertising or PR push,” they say, “We can be flexible until you decide because we have the expertise to handle all or any one of those areas.”
7. Eliminate unnecessary expenses, from telephone bills (e.g., call waiting, call forwarding) to credit card balances to daily doughnut runs. They are squeezing out every last little penny to keep their organizations as lean as possible. An employee at one of their companies said, “We’ve put the business on a treadmill to trim waste.” No fat, no worries.
8. Learn to not just live with but love uncertainty, the unpredictability of what’s yet to come. There’s a certain strength (oftentimes you don’t even know you have it until in a crisis mode) that comes over you when you acknowledge that this might not pass and could be forever. The business leaders said they look at it this way: It’s not your last dance; it’s your first, so get in step.
9. Reconfigure how to become a more nimble, value-added, innovative product, service or market creator. You can’t get ahead in an environment like this unless you disrupt industries, trends or markets. Their intent is to get out there and fire away with untried and untested ideas. If they don’t work, so what? They said they’d fail fast and move on. The goal is to generate revenue with a profit wherever and whenever possible.
10. Deal with it. Don’t think of surviving. Think of thriving. Action, not words, says it all. Imagine yourself five years from now and where you will be. If you can envision it, you can do it.
As Faulkner says, you can be scared, you can’t help that, but don’t be so afraid that you cannot take appropriate action to move your organization forward. Sleep well, dear reader.