Check your internal compass.

I don’t know a business owner/leader who hasn’t, at one time or another, felt adrift in the sea of change. It’s inevitable. Why?

Business, like everything else in life, evolves and devolves. One day we’re riding high on the wave of a strong economy, the next we’re underwater trying to get back to the surface for a breath of air.

There is one constant though. Each stage of the cycle produces new opportunities –  opportunities that can cause us to lose focus and drift aimlessly. Let’s take a look at how this happens.

Good economy

In good economic times opportunities abound. New markets surface. New uses for our offerings appear. Customers ask us to add new products and services. Employees, whose minds are free of economic worry, are coming up with exciting, new ideas. We have all of these wonderful sources of new opportunities. It’s a great time to be alive.

It’s also one of the most dangerous. Often these opportunities lure us into markets in which buyers only have a modest interest in what we offer. Buyers are willing to buy our offerings because they have considerable discretionary income.  They won’t, however, remain with us during tough economic times or when their interest is captured by the next shiny object.

Then there’s the siren song of customers’ requests. Things that customers desire that don’t fit our  either our passion or strength.  Yet it’s a heck of an opportunity. Right? Maybe it is a capability that we need to develop. Or so the thought process goes.

Challenging economies provide their own opportunities. Are they any less dangerous? Let’s see.

Tough economy

During difficult economic times opportunities present themselves as challenges. Yet these challenges offer great insights into what our customers truly value – what is really important to them. Important enough for them to part with their cash when cash is in short supply. It’s a great time to reevaluate our business model to see that it fits our ideal customers’ desires.

The danger lies, not in reevaluating our business model, but in the mindset employed in that evaluation. It’s natural to experience fear and anxiety, especially in the initial stages of a tough economy. After all, the economic wave took us under and we’re disoriented, not quite sure where the surface is. It’s the fear, anxiety and sense of scarcity that prevent the objective analysis that so vital for your company’s future.

Internal compass

The question is “How do we navigate these waves so that our businesses continue to grow in both economies?” The answer lies in our internal compass, the mission (purpose) that has provided direction since the inception of our businesses.

In good economic times, the question you need to ask in evaluating any opportunity is “Does this further our mission?” If not, don’t pursue that opportunity. After all, you’ve built your entire operation on this premise. It’s what drove your marketing and staffing decisions as well as your customer and vendor relationships.

When we stray from our mission we position ourselves to provide products/services that we’re not passionate about, much less capable of providing effectively. We risk our company’s brand for short-term gains. We also intensify the impact of every economic downturn that we’re going to face. We, both, know that economic downturns are as inevitable as death and taxes.

On a more positive note, companies that remain focused on their mission during good economic times also experience less fear, anxiety and scarcity during economic downturns. They’re more confident in the customer/client relationships because they’ve remained true to their passion and strengths. They’ve focused on customers who value what they offer enough to pay premium prices to get it. Finally, they’ve positioned themselves so that don’t really have any competitors – anyone who can do what they do as effectively as they do.

The confidence that comes with maintaining mission focus during good economic times allows these companies to grow even during difficult economies. Panera Bread is a prime example. They raised prices and enjoyed growth at a time that most companies’ revenues were shrinking. Ron Ameln, the owner of St. Louis Small Business Monthly, told me that, in the heart of the recession, he raised his prices by 5% and experienced an 8% growth in revenues.

It’s counter-intuitive, but if you want to experience growth in good economic times and bad, evaluate every opportunity that presents itself against your company’s mission. If it fits, go for it! If not, walk away comforted by the knowledge that you’ve positioned your company for growth in challenging times.

Author: Dale Furtwengler