Five Small Business Tips For Surviving The Economy

In case you didn’t know, the economy still sucks. Everyone’s affected, from big business all the way down to the individual. But there’s opportunity to be found, particularly in small business. The brands that are losing the least are the brands that have the least to lose. Seems weird, but it makes sense.

Whether you’re a core retailer, or a major player in the skate shoe game, you’re probably considered a “small business” (generally refers to “under 100 employees”). And one thing there’s no shortage of is “experts” that want to tell you how you can do better. A simple Google search unearths a dozen, easy. A lot of the ideas in these articles really don’t apply to our little corner of the universe, but maybe some of them do. The problem with “businessey” articles in general is that they seem cold and unfeeling, and discuss things like layoffs without regard for the people getting laid off. One of the things that makes our industry so desirable is that it shuns convention and seems a little friendlier than the rest of the world.

So here are a few principles pulled from these articles. Maybe they apply, maybe they don’t. That’s up to you.

1. Organize and Automate: One of the pitfalls of the small business is that it’s easy to cut corners. An article by Denise O’Berry shows some interesting small-business poll results.

* “66 percent of small businesses still handwrite invoices, use word processing programs and spreadsheets, or simply don’t have a standardized method.”
* “Nearly 20 percent of small business owners admit to forgetting to invoice or follow up on an overdue invoice. Over 50 percent of these respondents admit that they are simply “not organized” and “lack an automated system for creating and tracking invoices.”
The survey was conducted in October 2008, and included 751 small businesses

2. Adapt: A Wall Street Journal interview with business consultant Victor Cheng discusses the advantages a small business has when it comes to adaptation. “The big mistake in a recession is to not realize that things need to change and that they need to be flexible and adapt quickly. Unfortunately, bad news has this huge ability to paralyze people,” advises Cheng.

3. Reduce Overhead: This one’s fairly obvious and pretty much mandatory, and I’m willing to bet anyone reading this has already reevaluated costs and spending. In an article called How To Survive This Economic Crisis, Small Business columnist Jan Norman lists ways to cut costs: “Review company expenses starting with the largest and work down. Renegotiate the lease if the landlord is willing. Monitor all employee expenses. Ask employees for suggestions for improvement. Evaluate staffing. Consider temporary, flexible, reduced hours for employees. Lay off when necessary. Keep your employees informed. Review all salaries, including owners, to see if they can be reduced.” No one likes to lay people off any more than they like to be laid off, So it’s interesting to note that Norman suggests listening to suggestions from employees, and keep them informed, in addition to the “L” word. In fact, cutting staff too drastically can cause your business even more problems down the road, like burning out the employees you keep.

4. Customer Satisfaction: Everyone’s got customers. Retailers are scrutinizing their buys, and ordering smarter. Brands are scrambling to reconnect and solidify relationships with retailers to be part of that smart order. From 11 Ways Small Business Can Survive in Today’s Economy: “Work on retaining the customer base that you have built up with follow-through, good customer service, and quality control.”

5. Be Visible: There’s a great article by Havi Brooks called It’s Not The Economy, wherein she warns about scapegoating the economy for poor business planning. Brooks explains that, when times are good, an “invisible” store can do well, but when times aren’t so good, that hard-to-find place will suffer, while the well-advertised business will thrive. “The good economy was camouflaging everything that they [invisible store] weren’t doing.”