Small businesses have an advantage that can really help them survive, and even thrive, in these challenging times. That advantage is flexibility. Huge corporations, which operate much like the huge cruise ship QE2, are impossible to turn on a dime. Small businesses can make decisions and implement changes necessary in fluid conditions. A small business owner can review the business plan and quickly decide a new course to steer the ship of business.
Small businesses can seek help from supporters, friends, family, and even other small business owners. Small business owners have closer connections with their customers, making it easier to talk and ask for their ideas. It's also an opportunity to sell existing customers new products or services.
Other advantages of small businesses include an ability to offer exceptional customer service (they have a smaller number of employees to train) and the ability to use networking opportunities. Who isn't impressed when the business owner greets you, the potential customer, by name? A small business owner can use these times to reach out to former customers and rebuild a relationship. Unlike big business which requires formal approval processes for decisions, the small business can offer special sales pricing or incentives quickly and efficiently. A small business can be innovative and entrepreneurial in packaging their services and products. They can beat the larger businesses to the market with new ideas.
Whether in business or in our personal lives, we can spend a lot of time and energy lamenting the downturn in the economy. Or we can look for ways to streamline our operations and run a tight ship when it comes to our budgets. Practicing "back to the wall" management can be exciting and can refocus our efforts like no other situation can. In good times we all tend to get a little plump and lazy. When times are good, it's easy to add people, to get fancy, and to assume that the ride will continue to be smooth. When times get tough, successful businesses (and successful families) take a critical look at what they are doing, what needs are essential, and how to get the most of the dollars available.
So take advantage of this time to really look at how you're doing business and how you might be able to trim some fat. Just remember that marketing is an essential part of keeping your existing and prospective customers. If your name isn't out there, customers may assume your business is gone. So don't cut to the bone this critical component. Look at all the options for marketing your business. As stated earlier, use this time to explore networking opportunities. "Word of mouth" is still the most effective advertising. But you need to get people talking about your business. The Chamber offers a focused networking group, called B2B, or Business 2 Business, to help people connect who provide services and products to business. For general networking, each month the chamber works with a local firm to host Business After Hours. These monthly gatherings offer you a way to meet lots of people, and discover more about our local business community. This month on Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m., the new AEP Marietta Service Center will be our Business After Hours host. Come see the new investment in our community and talk to the AEP folks as well as meet lots of area business leaders and owners.
Need other ways to get your name out to the community? Talk to the chamber about our newsletter, our weekly e-news bulletin, our Web site with over 21 million hits in the past 12 months, and our chamber meetings. All ways to stay connected, get informed, and become more visible in our community.
There's a saying that rings true today, "Tough times don't last, but tough people do." Stay tough, stay focused, and take advantage of these times to refocus.
Charlotte Keim is president of the Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce, The Riverview Building, 100 Front St., Suite 200, Marietta. Chamber Viewpoint appears every other Monday on the Opinion page