Design your own stimulus plan

No more denial. By now, we’ve all accepted that we’re in a recession. And it’s not a simple, short moment. This mess of a meltdown is revealing every weakness in our economy, and even our own businesses. And while the upticks make us hopeful, it’s a long ways up to get back to where we were.

Everyone has cut expenses and/or staff. Who do you keep, and who do you lose? If you’re looking for a partner to help you see things from a new perspective, keep the creatives on your team. Designers are trained to be intuitive, inventive and insightful.  They could make the difference in whether this period will be one of new growth, or a slow demise.

Engage your designer to do some strategic work with you, and you might be surprised at what you discover. His or her creative thinking can make a big difference in your future.

So what can you do about the mess we call our new reality? Plenty.

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Seek Clarity: This is the time to define exactly what you are selling, who is buying it, and why they value your organization. What is distinctive about your brand? And if it costs a little more, why are your customers loyal? What does their dollar buy them, besides the product?  Why should someone spend money with you, rather than the next guy, who, by the way, is cheaper?  You may have done this work years ago. If so, revisit it.

Ask, listen, document, and evangelize throughout your company. Everyone should know the answers. And if you’re a sole proprietor, make sure you can articulate them in your sleep, when you’re on the train, or at your kid’s Little League game. Your designer can help you define and design the message to make the information accessible and exciting to everyone on your team.

Perpetuate Partnerships: Who cares? To start, your staff, vendors, trusted advisors, and your longtime clients. Use them all for advice, contacts, and ideas. Your partnership posse might include the shop owner next door, the competing consultant, and your accountant (and, obviously, your designer). Ask them what you could do differently, and better. Listen closely to their answers. We’re all in this together, and there is no better time for clear and direct feedback. You might consider a survey, but a phone call, a long walk, or a cup of coffee could garner important insights you can use right away.

Explore and Expand: What can you add to your offerings that will expand your services, your territory and your market?  Delivery? Follow up? Consultation? Would your services be valuable to a different industry?  What are you good at, by virtue of your business, that isn’t part of your offering? Maybe it should be. One of my favorite boutiques now offers clothing RX clinics. The athletic store down the street offers women’s running groups. I received a mailer from a well-known law firm offering a workshop in human resources policy and law.  The next new thing might not be the next big thing, but it could be the transitional thing that takes you someplace new.

Negotiate Nicely: I’ve been surprised at how much printing, rent, advertising, and even my water cooler can shift in price, based on an honest conversation.  Trade and barter–as long as it’s fair to both parties–is the perfect answer to get us through these months. Flexibility may enable a new customer to work with you, and it may allow you the chance to use another’s services. A little humility, coupled with honesty, can create terms that are healthy for everyone.

Evaluate Your Assets: What do you have in your back room or closet that can be repurposed for a sales promotion?  Photos, postcards, testimonial quotes? Can you create a case study and send it out on letterhead, or by email? Is it time to write a white paper or article that shows your expertise and enables others to learn about you? Your designer will help you use what you have, literally and figuratively.

Show Up: It’s quiet out there, so if you show up, you’ll be noticed. Refresh your website and your collateral, consider a business-focused blog, sponsor a key event, and you’ll get attention just for being visible and optimistic.  The competition is quiet, so grab the spotlight while you can. You’ll help kick start others, and that’s good for everyone.

Muster Up Some Energy:
When business is slow, the one commodity you do have is time.  Host brainstorm breakfasts with your posse of partners. Call your clients—all of them. Get out and meet other folks in your industry. Meet folks in a parallel industry. Meet students. Check in with the faculty at the university you wish you went to. Host gatherings so your clients and partners can meet each other. If you’re really brave, call some ex-clients. Your down time will transform into time to connect, learn and prepare for 2010 (which has a nice, optimistic ring to it, don’t you think?).

Turn Green: This is a great time to turn your business green and help your clients go green. Most cities and industries now have certification programs, and this is the perfect opportunity to take advantage of yours, and make some good out of this.

Flat Is The New Up: The reality is, if we have made it this far, we will survive. But if we want to thrive, we need to behave differently, and that goes far beyond cutting costs.  Be bold, be happy, be humble, be brave. Be creative and we will all be here, working together, next year. And the year after that.

Your designer can help. I promise.

Illustration by Steve Barbaria

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