Well here we are. I just wrote about us sucking it up and getting past these tough economic times.  Some people thought it was a bit harsh while others praised and agreed with me.  Instead of reprimanding everyone and complaining about this crisis, I figured I’d give you some tips on weathering these times.  I’ve pretty much given tips for career women, but now it’s time to help out our entrepreneurial sisters.

I believe obstacles are really opportunities and God’s way of telling you to take another road. Every time I had an obstacle, I tried to rise above it or go through it. Some times I managed to do it.  But some times I couldn’t.  I learned that I needed to step back and let God guide me the right way.  Always follow God. For every obstacle you encounter, search for new opportunity because He may just be leading you to the right opportunity.

Disaster and crisis can hit at any time out of no where with no warning. It is up to you to create a disaster plan way before times of crisis so you’re not caught off guard.  Make sure you share this plan with your staff or team and make sure they understand it.  The last thing any business owners wants to to be totally immobilized during a crisis. Make sure you create a printed document and keep it onsite, online and someplace offsite that you or a staff member can get to if necessary.  Be sure to outline policies, directives for key staff members, how to handle client concerns, where to find critical data that will keep the business going, and a location for your staff to go to regroup and await direction. In addition to a written disaster or crisis plan, it is vitally important to keep data secure and accessible offsite.  For instance, I keep my data on two computers (one is used as a server) and on a few flash drives.  I also have a company that backs up my data offsite.  So I know that I can access my data should any number of crisis occur. Now a financial crisis isnt the same as a natural disaster, the ruleso engagement are different.  But it helps because you never know what can happen during a crisis.  An employee can go rogue and steal data.  People can make mistakes that are costly. Be safe rather than sorry.

I went to the Black Enterprise conference in May 2008 and the CEO of Liberty Bank & Trust, Alden McDonald shared his experience during the Katrina tragedy.  He lost several branches of his bank, which had been doing outstanding from a financial and business standpoint.  Six branches were lost under water and two were vandalized.  80% of his customer base was under water and his entire computer system was shut down.  Nobody could have ever predicted the disaster that Katrina would cause, but a lot of businesses ended up destroyed and/or closed.  What saved Mr. McDonald was not a disaster plan, but his overall treatment of his employees.  He lives by the premise that loyalty to employees gets loyalty in return.  His employees remained dedicated to the company. As an example of loyalty, Mr. McDonald guarantees a summer job for employee’s children 16 years old and older. Employees with five or more years of service are guaranteed home ownership.  He invests in trainers to make sure employees stay healthy.  So while a solid disaster plan would have made sense, the fact that he had loyalty made a bigger impact than a plan.

For people who have “been there before” understand the logistics of having no capital.  Nothing beats the experience of being poor or broke (two words I don’t allow in my home or in my presence).  You are forced to make things work on limited dollars.  So those of you who have been there before, you understand. Nothing trumps the experience of bootstrap living than actually going through it.  For those who haven’t gone through it, it may be a little tougher for you because you are not equipped in dealing with these economic times.  But I’m telling you that you can make it through.  Now is the time to think about multiple streams of income.  That insures that money will be coming in from somewhere. Now is the time to start thinking about complimentary products or services that work in tandem with your existing products or services.  For example, someone who owns a salon may look at adding products.  If you or someone on your team makes outstanding hair products, work on developing them and offering them to clients.  If you are a recruiter or own a staffing company, think about offering resume development services or training in whatever your area of expertise is.  If you are a caterer who also bakes like nobody’s business, think about adding desserts to your menu.  There are always ways to make additional money.  You just have to tap into your inner passions and expertise and bring them to fruition.  Don’t let the fact that cash flow is low deter you.  Bartering (if done responsibly and fairly) can get you over the hump of a cash crunch.  But be sure you can offer something of value in return when you barter.  But whatever you do, don’t get stuck in being broke.  Let that serve as your motivation to make money and keep cash flow going in your business.

There are a lot of snake oil salesmen out there trying to get people to spend money on “Business Opportunities”.  They feed off the fear of people with cash problems by promising you can make tons of money with no money down in real estate, you can make tons of money by joining an MLM program, and my favorite are the seminars that lure you in under the guise of giving you some earth shattering secrets of becoming wealthy.  Only thing is they are the only ones who get wealthy because people think by buying these seminars, books, tapes and “coaches” that they too can become wealthy.  Not all coaches are unscrupulous.  But you must be careful.  Starting a business is not as easy as people make it seem.  Why spend money on books when you can surf the internet for free to get all the information you need.  If you’re going to start a business, I would much rather you take your money and invest it in your own business, not someone else’s.  So beware of the “call to stop being poor” by these snake oil salesmen.  Do you research and make the decisions based on your needs and gut feelings.

Don’t be afraid to trim the fat.  This is the perfect time to get rid of dead weight.  Demand that your employees step up and reach their true potential or be let go.  You are throwing good money out the window by keeping people who under perform.  They are depleting your cash and not doing anything to help improve your business.  Cut that expense loose and don’t have an ounce of remorse about it.  Remember, your business pays your bills.  You wouldn’t just give money out of your pocket to just anybody.  Protect your business.

Look for low cost ways to market your business.  You don’t need thousands of dollars to market or advertise your business.  Look for tie ins and niche mediums (websites, social networks, magazines, etc) to have a platform for your business.  Sit down and create a marketing and public relations campaign that will get you maximum exposure for the least amount of dollars.  Take advantage of You Tube and podcasts to showcase your expertise and never let an opportunity go by where you don’t mention your business.  Make your staff your campaigners.  Barack Obama has one of the most phenomenal marketing campaigns ever seen in a political race.  Fast Company Magazine featured a story about Brand Obama.   It is definitely worth reading.  He has taken to new media and social networking and created a hard hitting strategy that has worked for him.  Take a page from his book.  Whether you’re voting for him or not, the one thing you have to agree with is he has been very effective and has phenomenal momentum.  Remember, this is the age of the new generation of technology.  Embrace it and use it for your own business.

Finally, I would tell everyone keep a cool head.  Now is not the time to take big risks if you are not equipped to handle the outcome (good or bad).  Find ways to budget better and don’t spend money recklessly.  Invest in the technology and people who will help grow your business.  Treat your people right and they will stick with you through the bad times. Stay true to your clients and give them the truth coupled with exemplary service.  You stay true to them and they will reciprocate that loyalty to you.  Don’t panic and stop watching the news.  This crisis doesn’t have to be as detrimental to everyone as the media claims it is.  As long as you remain calm and use this as an opportunity to stretch your creative mind.  And most importantly, when this crisis is over, and it will be, keep this experience in mind and take the new skills you learned and keep them in practice.  That way if a crisis were to hit again, you’ll be well prepared to handle it.

Til next time.

Adrienne Graham