Despite the inherent optimism of most small business owners, the reality is that many are continuing to struggle mightily. When you discuss just what steps they have taken and what are their plans, a very disturbing yet consistent element creeps into the conversation.
Speak to any small-business owner and he or she will be able to give you a detailed and long list of all the expense-saving and cash-conserving steps they have taken. From personnel reductions to cuts in personal income to tighter inventory control to more attention on getting paid -- all these are traditional textbook steps that every entrepreneur can pursue.
Indeed, if you talk to business consultants or academic advisers, these steps and a myriad of others are tried-and-true remedies for dealing with this current malady. The problem is these are not working sufficiently.
The previously mentioned element of concern is the inability to increase revenues.
Again, most entrepreneurs are well versed in the mechanics of selling and marketing. They understand that the more qualified leads that you generate, all things being equal, the more sales should follow.
The root problem here is what magic potion or special offer or prayer is going to generate these critical qualified leads? This solution, unlike the mechanics of expense reduction, is unknown.
This is where successful entrepreneurs separate themselves from unsuccessful peers. As necessity is the mother of invention, desperation can be the father of creativity. Either or both works, but it requires two very important traits for any entrepreneur.
The first is a clear picture of a desired outcome with the associated connected dots of cause and effect. This simply means making sure that the steps being taken are in direct support of the goal being pursued.
The second is the discipline and framework of metrics to quickly evaluate the effectiveness of any initiative. No matter how good you might think an idea is, if it isn't generating what you want, you can't afford to keep pursuing it.
Talk to successful entrepreneurs and you notice that they are the walking embodiment of the maxim that there is no such thing as a bad idea. These folks intrinsically know that their success is rooted in their ability to come up with more and better ideas than their competition and they are not parochial in their regard to sources.
Consequently, their openness, receptivity, and general enthusiasm for new thoughts separates them from their dispirited counterparts, who always looks to last month and never to next week.
I believe that idea generation "get togethers" can be a very cost-effective process for every entrepreneurial business trying to survive. Basically this is just a gathering of a few creative people who are given a one-page summary of the business and the market with the request for ideas to drive sales.
Whether you use pizza to entice participation or everyone in the group helps everyone else, the goal is quantity of ideas.
I'm often reminded of that old cartoon of a kid selling lemonade for $10,000 a glass. A well-dressed businessman, a banker no doubt, cautions the youngster that she probably won't sell a lot of lemonade for $10,000 a glass. To which the kid responds, "Thank you, sir, but I only need to sell one glass." You only need one good idea to get that revenue picture turned around.
John F. Riddell Jr., director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Growth-Hamilton County, writes every other Tuesday about entrepreneurs and their impact on companies and the marketplace. Submit comments to his attention by writing to Business Editor John Vass Jr., Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN 37401-1447, or by e-mailing him at email@example.com.