Sunday, January 10, 2010

5 Ideas for Small Business Staying Power in 2010

Ky Ekinci : Co-Founder Office DivvyLisa Schenone Ekinci : Co-Founder Office Divvyby Ky Ekinci & Lisa Schenone Ekinci
Co-Founders & Managing Partners,
Office Divvy

2009 has been a tough year to be in business… Where to find and how to secure funding to working capital changed. The possible outcomes for preparing a strong business plan to meet with your banker, or angel investor, changed.

While the administration has helped Wall Street tremendously (and we’ll never know what would have happened had they not), the government’s intention to help Main Street has not yet been put forward in a meaningful way with a strong formula.

Signs, trends, economical statistics can be great for creating confidence, particularly if you are well funded and your dilemma is limited to how to get the best return on your dollar. But if you are a small business facing real decisions you have to make today, encumbered by tight cash flow, and worried about how to stay afloat, the same positive signs, trends and stats mean little.

Like in most places across the United States, locally we have seen businesses and shops close their doors throughout 2009 in Palm Coast and Flagler County, with closings seemingly increasing particularly just as the year was concluding.

The City of Palm Coast and the Flagler County enjoyed their reputation as a center of growth and wealth between 2002 and 2007. Economic stalling and then stopping through 2009, the area is now famous for an unemployment rate of over 15%.

Yes, there are good indications ahead for 2010: The administration is applying pressure to banks to ease up funding for small business. Real Estate values are up slightly, economic indicators show improvement in 2010, which are all signs of the start of an “uptick”.

With the likelihood for a slow recovery in 2010, "staying power" will be critical for most Startups and Small Business.

We believe “Staying Power” is driven by purpose. Many businesses used last year’s slow down to re-evaluate and re-focus their purpose. In some cases it may mean diversifying, in others narrowing your offering. Whatever the purpose, make sure your whole team would answer the question “What is our purpose as a company,” the same way.

By the way, your whole team must include your banker, your accountant, and your lawyer. If your professional team cannot describe your business, that's a problem. If you have not seen any new business or retention of existing business as a result of the efforts or partnership of your professional team, you may also want to use this time to re-evaluate the quality of those relationships.

If you want others to speak positively about your business, it must start with you. A positive outlook that is authentic (a core belief of good days ahead), self confidence, determination, stamina and endurance, are not only all part of your identity but also "must have"s for staying power. Making sure that you allocate time to spend on critical thinking may indeed be critical. A paradigm-shift for the way you are doing business may also be required…

Here are 5 ideas to consider, based on what we’ve metabolized from serving small business, startups, and entrepreneurs via Office Divvy, and observing those who thrive:
1. Reduce Your Overhead: Don’t loose your small business battle to overhead. To stay alive in these times you need to be lean and mean -- look at possible investments and options that would reduce your monthly overhead. Office Space, Phone Systems and Plans, and Payroll are all on the table. Be open to an examination of spending. Because business owners are so often times intimate with the details of their business, they can be fooled into thinking they have it all in their head -- and they might. But a proven best practice is putting all numbers to paper (preferably a spreadsheet, to allow for more views). It is certainly a good activity for discoveries such as an overcharge or a fee you did not notice you were paying, but better than that, it is a ritual that should not be missed. One of sitting with your numbers and attempting to look at them differently could yield new results.

2. Be Where The People Are: Look at social media, twitter and facebook to make sure you are getting in front of your prospects and customers, listening for keywords, learning from others, including your colleagues and competitors, and building strategic relationships. If social media tools seem alien, find someone to work with until they are not. Don’t miss out on a brand-new, low-cost way to reach potential customers you may not otherwise have access to because you are more “real” than this new trend. While you are working on your social media jokes and justifications (“If I want to talk to someone, I don’t tweet, I pick up the phone.. Ha Ha"), and while you're laughing and enjoying the joke, your competitor is already online, staying visible, offering customers a great new article he/she just read; or RT (re-tweeting) a great post by a thought leader in your industry, building a community and followers.

3. Take another look at your website through your customer’s eyes: Go to Google and type what you think your customer or competitor would type if they were looking for your services or product. Is your company's website among the results on the first page? Being found matters!.. What is your customers' experience when they first visit your site?.. Having a realistic, maintainable, online strategy is part of most marketing plans today and they matter. There is no shortage of places to turn for online services. Don’t let your lack of technology or design understanding put you at a disadvantage. Treat online services like any other product or services your company buys: Take multiple bids; request references; ask for greater detail in a proposal that is not in your language; make sure a success metric is established (i.e. visitors to your site; an improved user experience for your website visitors; X-amount of increase in sales; etc.)

4. Outsource: It’s easy to get bogged down with day to day activities of running and managing a business. With that said, there is no substitute for "having your ladder up against the right wall" (wink to Steve Covey). When it makes sense, outsource projects and job functionalities that can be easily outsourced. Require a project estimate before any work is started. Don’t be afraid to structure a payment schedule based on deliverables rather than time.

5. Consult with people who can help you: Most companies and professionals will offer a free consultation to assess your needs, and present a plan, options, and pricing as to how they can help you. All you have at risk is the couple of hours' investment in the exchange. The upside is of course increasing your network, and the potential for hearing a professional perspective other than your own. For Office Divvy, it is in the consultation, that we are both listening and assessing the problem, while working to determine if we are the best match, given the need, budget, timeline, and intended outcome. We are looking for engagements where we can deliver our best work and make our clients shine.

Nested in each of these 5 ideas is the question of how we are using our time. The wink to Steve Covey, who offers the rich metaphor for “Having your ladder up against the right wall”, is perhaps more than a wink. We are each getting 24 hours a day…no more, no less. We have to be choosey about what we work on. A few hours, or days on the wrong activities does matter. A few rungs up the ladder on the wrong wall is a set back.

If strengthening and growing your business in 2010 is your focus, zeroing in on the core business has to be a priority. From what we see in our peers and learn in ourselves, this kind of tough decision making will yield staying power. And with Staying Power comes the opportunity to keep growing and evolving our business over time...

Name one business activity that does not require you specifically, could be done by others, yet you continue to perform the tasks?

If you were to offload the tasks, what core business activities will you apply the X # of hours to?

What result would be achieved in what time frame with this switch?

What is the first step of making this change? _____________________________________________


Are you on twitter? To see what Office Divvy is tweeting about go to @OfficeDivvy. Lisa can be found on twitter at @LisaFLA, and Ky is at @KyEkinci


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I'd also suggest that tighter times mean a greater need to focus on something else... what are my clients going through and how can I adapt my offerings to ensure they still use me as a provider.