Business Planning in Difficult Times.

These are most assuredly times of great economic uncertainty, and many organizations and individuals are retrenching into "safer waters". A problem is, when everyone does this, as it seems many are right now, individual standards are lowered and ethical lines are crossed. We start to fulfill the doom and gloom prophecies we tell ourselves when we're thinking about "what might happen". So if you are determined to retrench to safer territories, let me give you the three top things that are guaranteed to kill a great company ... maybe your company.

1. "We're good enough". Being "good enough" keeps innovation at a minimum. It keeps expectations low for both yourself and your customers; it keeps you around the average level. "Good enough" allows you to hide in a flock of companies. It makes you just like everyone else. So the only thing you can do in a "good enough" marketplace is lower your price to try to recover or gain market share. You're now really looking just like everybody else. If you're looking just like everybody else, and acting just like everybody else, all you have you can do is loosen your standards of performance. Be willing to accept less profit, less innovation, less risk, less growth, less customer service or support. This is the number one way to kill a great company.

2. "We're going to save our way to profitability or we're going to save our way out of debt." Second best way to kill a great company is to start slashing people and services. You'll start finding yourselves in this self-destructive cycle when you try to hold high standards but do it with fewer people. This may work for a bit, but what you soon find is your standards start to lower again; just don't have enough staff or time devoted to keeping them at the old level. Your services become average, staff-people get tired and overworked and under-appreciated. And, because you're providing less, your customers start to expect less from you. If you do not want to kill this great company or family you have, try flipping the situation around to a more balanced approach with a reasonably reduced list of expenditures, but still sufficient to continue the great service that brought in and kept the customers you have.

3 "We've always done it this way." This is the subtle killer. Complacency. As the world rushes by "you're not moving". You're holding fast. This method guarantees that when you do open your eyes, you're going to be behind. So if you want to destroy the great company just do what you have always done; "change nothing". OR you could realize the world of today is much different than it was even a month ago. You always have a greater capacity to give, create and change. Regardless of the economic conditions, change is imperative. It is the lynch pin that ties the old way of doing it to the way you're doing it now. Change requires careful analysis and understanding of where you are and where you want to take your company. It demands constant attention too - finding a better way of doing business, a better way of communication or a better way of involving yourself, or working on the relationships which matter. Trying to stay complacent by not changing is a losing battle ... a company-losing battle.

So, what to do? The Challenge is to understand where you are now, and decide which path to use to go forward. Obviously, "Good enough", "Saving your way" and "We've always done it this way" are the paths to destruction. The path out is: Take time to better understand your particular local market and their needs and desires, then change your store's direction or focus - or just sharpen up that focus. Look at the overall changes in the bigger/macro market, and bring to your store the things you see out there that have potential. Like feeding the desires rather than the needs of your customers. Perhaps try running classes in the best use of the products or services that you offer. Look at "alternative" markets work with local community groups or charities to assist them to use your products or services at the same time giving something back to your local community.

The final word - Don't give up. Don't take down the shop sign. Get a cup of coffee, an A4 pad, a sharp pencil and draw a line down the middle of the top sheet on the pad. On the left side write down the changes - one per line -you've always dreamed of making, all the things that will make the business grow and prosper, all the things you learned while studying what you could do as outlined in the paragraph above. Study this list. A lot ! Then, on the right side of the dividing line, copy over those items that make sense, you can figure out a way to afford, that will give you the most bang for the buck spent. Then, my friend, get to work and make it happen! Because by now you really are getting an understanding of your business and how to make it work, to survive and to grow.