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When times get tough, what do we need to do?

I’m sure most of the WFOL readers would agree with me that business has become, and is, pretty hit and miss right now.
Aside from those in the industry that have long term contracts or regular income streams, for the majority, especially the smaller businesses, the work – life balance is getting a bit lop sided.
I know from my own experience that regular clients are holding on longer between maintenance visits or are considering short term cheaper products when probably 2 or 3 years ago it had to be branded products and warranted materials.
New clients seem to be more and more focussed solely on the cheapest price they can get.
The popular media prefer doom and gloom as it sells papers. Journalism is less about reporting the news these days and more about manufacturing it.
It can get demoralising and cause some anxiety. In what is one of life’s mysteries, this negativity then feeds more negativity, snowballing to the point that people have taken their lives because they see no way out.
In most cases sales reps are usually the first to see the decline in customer standards, and it takes a truly professional sales person not to radiate negativity to his or her client base. It’s not only relevant to our industry of course.
This same issue relates to selling houses, cars, windows, whitegoods and of course signs. Sign industry wholesalers are not exempt either. A negative approach to a sign shop client can quiet simply kill any positivity the shop owner had in his own survival. Make the client uneasy, they start believing the negativity and before long they lose motivation. They then start on the slippery downward slope, often ending with them closing their doors.
Staff will also quickly see the owners’ motivation waning, his or her resolve becoming less resolute. They will pick up on the negative vibes and before you know it, everyone begins to feel the end is a forgone conclusion. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But, let’s be realistic. Things ARE tougher than they were a year ago. Business confidence IS at an all-time low. No one it seems believes our Federal Leaders when they sprout on about our ‘exciting’ economic growth, our ‘outstanding’ competitiveness, and our apparent lack of appreciation that we really are the lucky country.
True, by world standards it can be argued that we are better than most. It’s hardly encouraging for those in our own industry that have closed up shop in the last few months. Locally, I’ve had 5 of my opposition shut their doors in the last eight weeks alone.
I should be happy with less opposition? Probably, but 5 shops closing is more about the people who are now out of work. Staff, families, livelihoods and dreams have been distinguished. That is the sad reality to an environment of negativity.
In a political sense, the public have lost faith in their elected leaders. Negativity is a cancerous by-product of distrust.
So what do we do?
Probably one of the most successful men in turning around business fortunes was Lee Iacocca. He said “In times of great stress or adversity, it's always best to keep busy, to plough your anger and your energy into something positive.”
It is sound advice. In essence, you need to keep motivated.
Lack of motivation is a major liability when running a business of any size. Every business, from a one man band to a corporation, simply will not grow or function effectively without motivational forces within the organisation.
It is no coincidence that the best managers of staff are the motivated managers. The best small business owners are the motivated owners.
Over recent weeks I’ve spoken to a number of shops, sales reps, clients and contractors. They, like me, have been in danger of falling in to this trap of negativity. I know myself that it’s fairly easy to want to throw the hands in the air and say ‘enough is enough’. I’ve also seen a few take this view in recent weeks.
Employers need to be aware of the pitfalls that may face them too. We need to address the motivation of all our staff as a matter of urgency. These members of our business are at the coal face. If they can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel, the burden that is negativity will make sales harder. Then they may decide to skim margins which mean lower profits. The business will seem busy but not making enough money to weather an extended storm. The last thing the industry needs is lower margins. History has proven that it is not the answer.
The ‘cowboys’ in the industry, those out to make a killing quickly will take this approach. Every unregulated industry has them. Lowering yourself to their standard is not going to help you long term.
So how do we motivate our staff?
It is reasonably simple.
1)    Don’t keep secrets. Let your staff know your business concerns and how you see it can be resolved.
2)    Maintain a positive work environment. Trust, Open Communication, Team Spirit, Recognition, Appreciation, and Positivity all contribute to positive motivation and a team ethic.
3)    Be honest with your staff. Weekly Sales meetings are a great place to start. Let them know it will take a team effort to resolve the issues facing your company.
4)    Don’t panic. Panic solves nothing and just makes it hard to gather your thoughts. With the co-operation of your staff, operating as a team will get you closer to riding out the rough patches in business.
5)    Don’t play the blame game. It is no ones fault that the economy has taken a dive. Foster a team spirit to overcome to problems the company is facing.
6)    Set goals; give incentives to meet those goals. One company I worked for set goals that involved taking all the staff out to a restaurant evening meal including their partners when certain goals were realised. It may have been sales, deadlines, or an increase in client turnover.
The key is to foster a team environment and be open and transparent in terms of the situation with your business. When a team member voices a concern or an idea, address it quickly and acknowledge the team members concern. Remember ‘Trust is difficult to gain and easy to lose’
Melany Gallant in her article ‘How lack of motivation is killing your company’ details how lacking understanding in managerial practises can kill your company. (halogensoftware.com/blog/how-lack-of-motivation-is-killing-your-company/) It is worth a read.
For a small business too, motivation is still a vital element in remaining buoyant, both in personality and in business. How so?
I think it’s fair to say that if you are not a naturally motivated person, negativity can take hold pretty quickly. Motivation can be especially difficult if you work on your own and perhaps don’t have the luxury of someone else taking an interest in what you are doing. Our wives or husbands may not be interested in our business for instance, so it can be difficult to get our mojo back once it has gone, without someone giving our ego a stroke from time to time. Talk to these ones, tell them the issues you are facing, let them know you need their help and support to remain focus on the job at hand.
It is hard, but without getting back our motivation to overcome the difficulties in business, closing our doors is the next step.
For others of course, the state of the economy and the difficulty in business these days makes early retirement look far more attractive. That is a path a few are looking at from my recent experience, and indeed some of those shops that closed recently took that option too.
Make no mistake, whatever your situation, reigniting that fire in your belly and finding the motivation to ‘tough it out’ until the economy comes around, is going to be an integral element in our business strategy if we want to survive the present economic situation, no matter what the red head wants us to believe.
As someone said to me today… ‘the industry will survive’, but we will have to be proactive, rather than reactive, if we want to survive with it.
It is always sad when we lose talented professionals in our industry. No one wants to see that. It really only leaves one last question I guess.
Will we survive?

 

Shane Drew
www.dsi.net.au

 

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