Business conditions may be improving, but now is not the time to sit back and take a deep breath. Marketing and business experts are warning those who have made it this far to not let the recession go to waste. By that, they mean out of every major recession there have always been several companies that emerge as winners—on a national as well as local level.
Boris Pluskowski, founder of The Complete Innovator, which specializes in corporate innovation management, knowledge management, social media and collaboration, points out, “Recessions result in one certainty: big change. And the longer and deeper the recession, the more change there is—in your consumer/client, in your market, in your industry, in global business as a whole.”
And, while big change is scary, he said it is also good. “Big change means big opportunities. Opportunities to change the game, to take advantage of weaker competitors, to find new and novel ways in which to not only survive but to thrive.”
To achieve this, Pluskowski says companies need to innovate. By innovation, he is not talking about technological inventions. Rather, it is all about realizing and capitalizing on the opportunities available to your company.
In this sense, he explained companies intent on winning the game are now forced to look toward innovation to revisit past assumptions, norms and directions in a bid to become different from the competition in the eyes of the consumer.
“Winners emerging from this downturn will develop a strategy that looks at innovation in a very unique way from most companies,” Pluskowski said.
They will see innovation as something that can impact all parts of the business, in short-, medium- and long-term time frames. The end result, he added, is to “no longer be able to be compared on a like-for-like basis and to compete in a market of one instead of many.”
Winning strategies in the short term look to help companies with their [immediate] goals of increased efficiencies. This is done, he said, by developing new and novel ways for the company to achieve cost reductions, process improvements and business model changes that can “catapult them into a new league of efficiencies that are impossible with old- school models.”
The more sophisticated the efficiency developed, Pluskowski added, the more defendable and long lasting that innovation will become.
The key here is to focus on short-term strategic objectives and on areas that will result in ideas developed and implemented. In many cases, this means not looking to create new projects but rather to enhance existing ones by providing them with new and novel solutions to the problem they are already addressing.
As good as Pluskowski’s advice may be, for the small business owner this could be difficult. Why? In order for a company to even begin the process, it needs to have a system. And while every business has some form of a system, Travis Campbell, a professional online marketer, notes, “The problem with small businesses, especially entrepreneurs, is their systems are often informal or not well defined. This leaves businesses less productive, even hurting sales. Chaos in small businesses exists in large part due to the lack of well-thought- out systems.”
If you are just beginning, experts say to start simple. For example, in the area of training, there is no need to start with an elaborate system complete with online video and interaction. It doesn’t take much effort to improve what doesn’t exist.
Outline the main events in your business that need to be documented and create a single page checklist, make sure it is simple enough that a new employee can get up to speed quickly by reviewing the checklist. “Consider this for activities that are repeated often in your business and have a direct impact on sales or customer service,” Campbell said.
If you are one of those who already has systems in place, he noted, reviewing them can be a very simple process and should be done regularly. “Business changes quickly and your systems may need to change with it. Schedule time to review and refine [your] existing systems.”
Once you set things up and have the short term under control, Pluskowski said you can start looking at how to take advantage of some of the more obvious changes in the changing marketplace, what he calls the medium term.
During this stage, he advises not to “underestimate the benefits of working with your business partners. A large tech company ran an event on optimizing its supply chain with select partners. The resulting ideas picked for implementation realized over $2 million in benefits and saved over 3,000 man-hours.”
Finally, to not only survive but be positioned for the next “big change,” a store owner needs to think long term. These strategies “are all about changing the game,” Pluskowski explained, “finding new products, new markets and taking advantage of new concepts.”
Be careful when strategizing for the long term, he added, because success over the long haul “has to be driven by success in the short and medium term. Their ability to drive real value will give you the credibility and time to drive the big changes that will propel your company into the next generation.”