Owning a Business in a Tough Economy

I can’t control the economy, I can’t control taxes, and I certainly can’t read the minds of what the people in Washington plan on doing in the next year(s). I can certainly have an opinion on these topics but when I see reports that small businesses aren’t growing because they are unsure of how decisions in Washington might impact them in the future I call BS. I think this is just an excuse. There is an opportunity in every market!

When I started my company it was after 9/11 and new startups were popping up left and right in Northern Virginia as government offices had blank checks to start up new projects and do anything they had to do to protect us. It was easy. I saw this opportunity and pounced on it. Anyone can start a company and be successful when your customer has blank checks to give you. What shows that you are sustainable and a real successful business though is when you show an ability to grow during times when your customers are spending less and making cuts and when other businesses are shrinking.

Obviously it’s not easy to do and every industry is different but here are some tips I feel can  help you thrive in a tough economy….

1. Be specialized….be something that others are not. There are always going to be other businesses that do things similar to what you do. It is important that you can set your business aside from other ones. For us we are an IT company, just like a lot of others out there. What sets us apart from them is that we specialize in offering PMP certified Project Managers and also a very specific expertise in a project management software. That is what helped us get established and it is our bread and butter when large companies ask us what we do. They don’t want a company that does everything. They want to find small niche companies that can help round out their resume. Once we get the foot in the door then we can show them all of the other things we do but that niche is what is critical to get in the door.

2. Be Important…fill critical needs not all needs. One big mistake I saw companies make during the period of time after 9/11 when government clients had money to spend was that they were trying to be everything to everyone. I took a slightly different approach and I tried to find one or two spots on each contract that were critical roles that I knew would not be cut or eliminated. This helps a lot during the down times when cuts come your positions are not the first ones they look to cut. We have been very successful by filling critical needs, not just all needs.

3. Be ahead of the game….think ahead….expand to areas where others are not…stay up to speed on economy and rumors of spending etc. Move to to new areas before the money gets there…get out before the money leaves. Diversify as well. Our main goal this year is to really focus on adding new clients to protect ourselves against potential budget cuts or changing priorities. It is VERY important that small businesses are always expanding their networks and speaking to each other about potentially doing work together. It is almost like a fraternity where we look out for each other.

4. Ignore rumors and the doom and gloom – We have been hearing about drastic cuts now for 3 years. Who cares. If I did what I read about small businesses doing then we would not be where we are today. It is annoying to read that small businesses are not growing because of uncertainty of what they think the government might do. Just worry about what you can control and focus on what you are trying to do. If something comes along and forces you to change course or adjust your plan than deal with it but don’t be afraid to make moves because of rumors of doom and gloom.

5. Work Hard – complacency will catch up with you….If you don’t work hard, know that others are and you won’t be successful. This sounds funny but the Biz (co owner in case you forgot from last post), hates to go on vacation because he’s afraid he will lose his job because people will think they can survive without him when hes gone for a week. True story. Here is a very accomplished, smart guy that still has the hunger that hes worried to take a few days off out of fear that someone will replace him. Now granted that’s a bit extreme and Im working on the guy but that’s the hunger I am talking about. As an entrepreneur my family comes first and then comes the company. My phone is always with me, my email/voicemail always responded to promptly. This is my passion and I chose this course. Nothing makes me happier than being able to see the progress we have made and continue to make because of our hard work and dedication.

Last year was a terrible economy according to all estimates and even in the industry we are in a LOT of companies had terrible years. We enjoyed our best year ever as a company. In my opinion, it was no accident. We have a great team, great employees, and are keeping our eyes on the big picture. Time will tell I guess but my biggest piece of advice to people is to ignore the doom and gloom on tv and deal with real life.


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