If Hollywood was going to make a movie about the coming Fiscal Cliff, it would be called "Economic Zombie Attack!!!" The drama and horror the media is laying out for small and mid-size business owners is of epic proportion.
Ok, let's take a deep breath, back away from the horror-hype-mongers and talk about what you can control. Take off of the list things like the currency policy, congressional influence and other macro moves. We have to just use our own decisions to preserve our business and react to the economic world as we see it. Let me offer four ways you can be prepared to effectively deal with whatever happens in the coming year economically.
- Flexibility—You have to be as financially flexible as possible. This means avoiding any types of financial obligations that are fixed and long-term. That means hiring permanent employees, buying big equipment, signing long-term leases and building new buildings. Flexibility is the watch-word. No one, not even the President or all of his advisors really knows what is going to happen. When there is this much uncertainty, you need to be ready to react and that is hard to do when all of your costs are fixed and your obligations long-term.
- Cost-controls—Who can sign for what? All the way down to ordering lunch, you need to understand all of your cash vampires that drain off operating funds. There are a ridiculous number of online subscription services that you have agreed to, service charges you are carrying and other money bleeders that you have allowed to sneak up on you...(me too). Go through all of your expenses, fixed and otherwise, with a fine-tooth comb and make certain you have your costs and cash under control.
- Line vs. Staff—Look at your organization as objectively as you can and determine who is staff, (not directly revenue generating) and who is line, (directly revenue generating). Convert as many of your staff to partially or totally line functions. You need to revenue-optimize your business and when you consider your people, each one of them is either producing revenue or contributing cost. It's time to make certain that you have the most productive revenue/FTE ratio in your industry.
- Sell like crazy - During this period of economic uncertainty, there will be a lot of churn in the customer base. I suspect that you are saying to yourself, "The last four years have been that way." Well, it's going to get worse before it gets better. Major financial impacts of legislation passed in the last 4 years were not a reality until the end of this election. Now they are going to take effect and there will be another round of economic reaction followed by stabilization. That means that you cannot count on your current customer base to buy at the same rate as they have. You cannot count on the contracts you have in place to hold. There will be strain. If you want to not only survive but grow in the next few years, you need to accelerate your sales efforts because organic growth will probably not be enough to sustain you.
It's not all bad. Economic turmoil often creates great opportunities for companies who are: revenue optimized, lean in their cost structures, cash hawks, and who sell hard. Turn the tumult into opportunity by following these core principles.