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Newsweek_recession Okay, so now you've heard the recession is over. I don't know what exactly what it means, jobs are scarce, credit card lenders are raising interest rates and banks aren't lending money to small businesses. I wonder what it would look like if the recession wasn't over? 

Maybe more of the same?

As the Newsweek article puts it: "When the economists proclaim a recession is over, they're celebrating a technicality: they mean economic output has stopped contracting. And while that's good news, you might wait awhile before adding Judy Garland's rendition of Happy Days are Here Again to your iPod."

What's the point? It doesn't matter whether the recession is over or not. What really matter is when will your customers be back and why aren't they buying from you? Most likely they're not buying from you or anyone else.  If you can acknowledge this, you"re on the road to recovery. If you're still in the unbelieving stage, your business is in trouble. There are still businesses out there that believe if they continue doing the same things the same way the customers will come. There are lots of businesses out there that believe it will all go back to the way it was. To believe this is to believe in fairies and warlocks.

Einstein's definition of success was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

Many of the companies that exhibit these behaviors are companies that have been successful. They believe that success still awaits them no matter what they do. Unfortunately they are wrong. You've probably heard the expression, "what got you here will not get you there." Clinging to the past and what worked before will not move you forward. What will get you there there will be your ability to change, not your ability to cling to the past.

I speak to business owners every day; I admire the ones who call and say, "I don't know about that kind of stuff, meaning the Internet, but I hear it's where my customers are congregating."  These are the ones who will probably survive and grow to be different companies. They will be lean, mean and accountable.

I spoke with a business owner the other day who apologetically said,"When this is over, we won't look like the same company." I asked why he was upset and he said because his company was always looked upon as leaders and now they would have to  downsize. Let's face it, there are fewer customers in the marketplace and probably more businesses than ever who are chasing these customers. As a country we have never been here before and there's no blueprint for success. Smart business owners will have the guts to look the problems in the eye and say, it's time to move on. The bottom line is the bottom line and that's  pretty much it. I know that doesn't sound revolutionary, but neither does "we're waiting around for them to change" or "I'm waiting for the customer to come back." 

By the way, in case you didn't know it, customers haven't been on vacation. Customers are just apprehensive.  

So how do you change? Change is never easy; in fact, the more you know the less you think you have to change. While times are good many business owners stood waiting for their "payoff." Unfortunately it never really came. In fact, many of those who sold their businesses had to scurry back to reclaim what was left of their failing business. Why did this happen? Most of them sold the business to someone who was like the: running the business the same way. The new owner didn't think about changing either. 

One of the things that happens to owners is what Marshall Goldsmith calls the Paradox of Success: "I have succeeded, I can succeed, I will succeed and I choose to succeed." It reminds me of another powerful expression: "veni, vidi, vici" — I came, I saw, I conquered. Why doesn't it work? Because it's not that simple. What is happening in the marketplace requires a new mindset and can't be conquered by old strategies such as dropping prices or selling cheaper merchandisers. It's too late to try and do it faster and better. It's time to do it differently.

There are some things that might help but ultimately the answers to this problem have not been written.

  • It's time to seriously start talking to your customers. Ask them what do they think about the economy, how has the economy changed their behavior, are they spending the way they did prior to the recession? Everyone I know — even those with good jobs — is apprehensive about spending money. Ask what they're doing to enjoy their lives, probably staying home. This is a good reason to make some changes to the interior.
  • Ask your staff what' they're feeling: if they're apprehensive you can be sure this is influencing their interactions with the customers. It's called "misery loves company" syndrome. It feels good but neither party actually benefits. Coming up with solutions works, suffering together doesn't work.
  • If new customers are scarce, call your old customers. Offer them an incentive to make a purchase or invite them in for a party. We can all use a little fun.
  • Hold a networking party and invite neighboring businesses and past customers. I recently spoke at a networking party in New York City where all types of business people came to make new friends.
  • Meet with other businesses and find out what they're dong to get new customers. Partner with them and hold an event; any kind of event, just bring in customers.

This is the season to be jolly and raise money for your favorite charity; collect toys, coats for kids and adopt a needy family. When your customer gets ready to shop you want to be noted for something other than the lowest price. If you don't do something, you'll be out of sight — and out of mind. 

Remember that one?

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