While I was getting ready for work this morning, one of the local news anchors on the radio station my wife was listening to said, “Now that the recession is over…” and went on with the story. I have to admit, I was caught off guard by her lead. Although we seem to be scratching and crawling our way out of the worst financial climate since the Great Depression, I don’t think I’ve heard too many reporters suggest that the recession is over.
My professional career started about the same time as the recession that hit the country during the early 80s. I had friends out of work and remember how difficult it was for a lot of small businesses. I also remember hearing a commentator talk about how news media typically covers a recession. He suggested that when the media starts talking about the end of the recession, it’s a pretty good indication that things are getting better. Along with a little bit of historical perspective, most of his argument was based upon anecdotal evidence, but I’ve observed it to be a pretty good indication since then.
I know there are a lot of areas across the country that are still struggling with employment. Part of that is likely because Main Street business owners have gotten very skilled at making do with what they have and being very creative with how they leverage their workforce. I know that doesn’t help my friends who have been out of work for a long time, but it does speak to the resiliency and ingenuity of the average small business owner.
Whether or not the recession is really over, I have noticed that there are some businesses that seem to do better than others during difficult economic times. When I was younger, I always attributed it to the nature of the particular type of business rather than the nature of the small business owner. Today, I want to give a little more credit to how some of the small businesses owners look at the situation and run their business.
A great example of this took place on October 23, 2001. Right smack in the middle of a pretty significant economic downturn, Apple revolutionized the way we listen to music with the introduction of the iPod. Since that time, over 220 million have been sold. What’s more, in my opinion, there isn’t another electronics vendor that has been able to duplicate the iPod/iTunes combination.
On a motorcycle, as you take a turn or wind up a twisty canyon road, your first instinct might be to pull on the brakes. That would be a mistake. You have much more control of a motorcycle when you are accelerating (even if it’s just a little) through the turns. Experts would teach you to slow, lean, and roll.
- Reduce speed going into the turn
- Lean the bike around the corner
- Roll on the accelerator
I think this is good advice when dealing with the curves tough economic times throw at us:
- Reduce speed going into the turn: Take the time to make sure you understand and really appreciate the situation. There’s no reason to stop, but caution is in order and a savvy small business owner will need to see just far enough ahead to know that there isn’t a huge bolder in the middle of the road. A twisty road isn’t a time to panic and pull on the brakes (that will pop the bike upright propelling bike and rider uncontrollably into the guardrail.) The tendency for self-preservation encourages many business owners to slam on the brakes when times get bad. They hunker down, cut costs, and hope it won’t last long. Sometimes slamming on the brakes can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
- Lean the bike around the corner: A motorcycle is designed to lean over in the turns. It’s a little counter-intuitive for the beginner, but it’s one of my favorite things to do on the bike. It helps keep your balance and the forces of the turn in perspective. Leaning into the turns is like adapting to the conditions instead of trying to force your way through. When economic conditions change, it’s important to adapt to the change (lean into the curve), rather than fight the changing conditions, to stay in control and come out the other end successfully.
- Roll on the accelerator: When power is going to the rear wheel the bike is more in control than when it is coasting or breaking. Once you’re into the turn and you know the conditions of the road, rolling on the accelerator digs the rear wheel into the turn and propels you safely out the other end. Apple’s iPod is a great example of rolling on the accelerator through the turns. What’s more, accelerating through the corners is incredibly fun. I think the same is true for small business owners. However, to effectively accelerate through the curves, business owners need to make tough decisions about which initiatives are worth accelerating.
How has your company held up through these tough economic times? Do you see a light at the end of the tunnel? Did you accelerate through the corners or did you slam on the brakes?
Small business evangelist and veteran of over 30 years in the trenches of Main Street business, Ty makes small business best practices, tips and advice accessible by weaving personal experiences, historical references and other anecdotes into relevant discussions about leading people, managing a business and what it takes to be successful. Ty also shares his passion for small business every week on Forbes.com.