How to Build Your Business in Tough Economic Times

This write up is a synthesis of New Jersey presentations given earlier this year to the Madison & Chester Chamber of Commerce.  Plus, I would like to thank my friends Ken Toumey and Vincent Blazewicz for their thoughtful input.

Let’s face the fact, you can’t read a newspaper or listen to a newscast without mention of how bad the economy is and what a poor environment it is for business.  When you’re surrounded by bad news stories, pessimistic conversations about double-dip recessions, and concerns about the direction of the overall economy, my advice to you is don’t participate.

Don’t spend your time worrying about things you have no ability to change.  Instead, focus on your own business and the things you can truly influence.  Be excited for your business and share with others your vision of growth and success.  Be infectious with your positive vision and have a positive outlook for your business future.  This will bring you more customers and energize you.

The best way to handle today’s toxic business environment is to not participant in the negative conversation.  Instead, revel in improving your own business.  Include folks in your vision for your business’s future success.  Given an invitation, people like to patronize enterprises working towards a positive future.

In addition to your positive attitude there are seven fundamental areas you should consider paying attention to:

Client & Customers

They are the most important part of your business.  Focus on keeping them delighted.  Listen to what their needs are and learn what solutions they need.  When you think you have listened enough and know everything you need, this is when you really need to listen more.

Stew Leonard's Policy

I’ve always liked Stew Leonard’s two customer rules that are etched into a 3-ton granite rock at the front of the store:

  • Rule #1 — The Customer is Always Right
  • Rule #2 — If the Customer is Ever Wrong, Re-Read Rule #1.



While your customers are the most important part of your business, your employees represent your business.  My advice to business owners is, don’t motivate your employees, INSPIRE them!

Managers motivate, however, leaders inspire.  This is time for you to be a leader.  Inspire your employees to have an owner mentality and to be excited by growing the business and exceeding customer expectations.


Look for complementary partnerships.  This is the time to be creative and work with others to share costs and ideas.

For example, a small company I know partnered with another small company to share new offices.  This allows both parties to move into nicer offices, share common areas and ultimately pay less in rent.  Another benefit is that they are now experimenting with sharing advertising costs.


Network with other business people to get new customers, obtain new leads, and learn what’s working and what’s not.  The most successful networkers are the ones who first listen to the needs of others and actively try to help them.  In networking, the golden rule is to, “Give to Get!”

Have a plan with measurable benchmarks

Every time you develop and implement a plan, you need to establish measurable benchmarks of success.  If you implement a plan and you exceed your benchmarks then consider doing more of that activity.  However, if your plan is not meeting your benchmarks, then quickly either stop or improve it.

When you are measuring the success and failure of activities live by the axiom, “fail early and often and succeed in the long run.”

Always Nurture Advocacy

Your customers can be your best source of new customers.  Sometimes the easiest way to turn loyal customers into advocates is to simply ask them to refer your business to others.  When asking loyal customers to be your advocate, provide them with the talking points they can use when talking with others.

You can do something as simple as putting these talking points on the back of your business cards and giving a bunch of business cards to your loyal customers when you are asking them to be your advocates.


Review your expenses and put plans in place to bring your overhead down.  Keeping your overhead low is an ingredient for business longevity.  Additionally, watch your account receivables like a hawk.  Don’t let invoices get past due.  If you do have past due invoices nicely and firmly go after payment.

Promptly pay your vendors.  If it looks like you may not be able to pay a vendor on time, contact your vendor early, and let them know that you need to push back payment.  Vendors are motivated to help you.  Since vendors are dealing with many customers, ask your vendor for suggestions and help.  Your vendor just may have some really good advice for you.

Remember, in the long run, more profit can result by providing a product or service that is of higher quality and price than the competition rather than a me-too product and market price.

In conclusion let me end with one of my favorite quotes from Jerry Garcia, “You do not merely want to be considered just the best of the best. You want to be considered the only ones who do what you do.”

Tom McMillian
President, Techtao, LLC –  (973) 610 5057

This article has also been publish by US Entrepreneur Today, where I am an active guest contributor.

2014 // Category : Advocacy & Blog // No Comments

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