How Not To Get Run Over By The Recession Bus

I have a friend who has lived in a big city all of her adult life and has never purchased a car. She relies heavily on public transportation, and where she has lived, it has been provided.

But in recent weeks she has complained of how the price of her bus card has increased. I, being the low-on-empathy person that I am, really find that I provide little sympathy, seeing as how gas just went up this week, and I live 23 miles from my place of work (a 46 mile trip each day).

It was as part of that conversation she noted that previously grumpy or non-committal bus drivers, have–miraculously–in the past month or so, become joyful, smiling, “how are you today” kind of folks in her city.

That got me to thinking. Just the other day I went back to a market I haven’t frequented in some time to purchase some food shopping items. At the check out I was treated like I had just won the powerball and had decided to leave 1/2 of the proceeds to the store. I went home and asked my husband: “Have you been to X Market lately?” He had not. “Well, you should go,” I continued. “I think it would be good for your ego.”

Then, just today, I read an article in Susquehanna Business Life entitled “Color Outside the Lines…But Don’t Fall Off the Page!” written by Jeff Tobe (Spring/Summer 2009), and decided there were too many coincidental fonts of knowledge leading to the same path, and that I needed to share them.

Mr. Tobe discusses the value of being creative, especially in today’s economic environment, and the fact that businesses too often “commoditize” themselves, rather than seeking to break out from the pack in a unique and differentiated model of “how best we can serve you–the CUSTOMER.”

I think I liked Mr. Tobe’s article as much as I did because he was preaching what we at the SBDC preach every day to our clients:

(1) R-e-a-l-l-y p-l-a-n, and in the process take a look at your financial picture (income and expenses) in a timeline format (ie month-by-month cash flow). What do you need to do in order to survive expense-wise? If you don’t examine your expenses, you won’t be able to answer this question at all.

(2) Any new goals lately? Most people put a plan on paper and then forget they ever did it. No review, no measurement, no analysis. Did you even reach previous goals you set? If so, how? What were you doing right? Can you do more of it, maybe in a bigger way? If not, why not? Are you the same-old-same-old to your customers? Are you building great relationships with everyone who comes through your doors? Goals don’t have to cost much. Let’s say the bus driver wore a different funny hat every day. Heck, I’d want to see what s/he had on the next day and might not ride the subway in order to do so.

(3) Don’t become a victim. Again, maybe it’s my lack of empathy (I must confess I work on this every day….) but whining isn’t going to help. If you don’t take your business by the seat of its pants and give it a good shake, no one else is going to be able to help you. There may be tough decisions to be made, but you will have to make them. Don’t waste time. Time can be money. Examine what you do with a critical eye and how you might make your customer’s experience a bit more inviting….better.

(4) Showcase your strong points. In business and strategic planning lingo, this is called “competitive advantage” or “core competencies”. What do you do best? What was the rock, the foundation that your business was built on? How far away from it are you now? Have you lost sight of it? If so, head back full speed to that “what you are noted for” aspect of business management.

It’s not hard to realize that most of these things relate directly to the customer–how you treat them, their experience, and what will keep them coming back. Sometimes it’s not about price-cutting and discounts. Sometimes it’s simply about a smile, a helpful discussion and making them feel like they just won the lottery.

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