On March 24th, I attended Navigating Business During a Financial Crisis put on by Scott McIntosh, an experienced businessman, with Ben Bottner and Jon Deiter to discuss tactics and attitudes for winning during a recession. Here are 7 attitudes and actions I took away from the conversation.
What do a serial entrepreneur, a mining magnate and a business consultant have in common? They’ve all been through a recession. And they survived. I was lucky enough to be on a call with these guys and a few other folks as they shared their stories. The advice that emerged in that conversation was both practical and hopeful.
In a day when everyone’s blame-shifting and politicizing current events or trying to convince us that bad things are ahead, it’s nice to get advice that points us to actions we can take from people who’ve survived. So Scott McIntosh of MAC6, Jon Deiter, EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System) Implementer and Ben Bottner, CoFounder of Steady Install, jumped on a Zoom meeting with about 12 of us attending. At first, I thought it might be a feel-good, rah-rah session. I should have known from the organizer that it would have much more substance than that.
Scott jumped into it by sharing his experience in the mining industry, with Ben sharing his experience starting a business in a recession and Jon Deiter offering his experience and tips about weathering a recession. Here are the takeaways.
Positivity without Arrogance
The truth is, we don’t control the chess pieces. The following section are only possible when you maintain positivity without arrogance; you believe in the future without any belief that you can control it or that it’s gonna turn out exactly as you envision. As Dwight D. Eisenhower put it “Plans are useless. Planning is indispensible.” Your positive attitude will keep you active, and your diligence will keep you moving forward.
No good thing comes from worry or desperation. We’re all riding this wave, so don’t fight it. You can’t change the wave, but you can ride it.
Caution: There’s an ugly side of optimism. Jon shared with us the danger of arrogant “optimism,” and how that hurt people in previous recessions. In other words, those who survived may have stayed optimisitc, but they also calculated and planned. I don’t think he meant that they weren’t optimistic or positive on the contrary it sounded like he meant that people who were how their heads in the ground their heads in the sand were not the ones who came out well. More on that further down.
Takeaway #1: People Want New Ideas
Ben brought up a few of my favorite observations. Why are they my faves? Because they’re doable, they’re generous, and they connect you with others.
In a recession, I always think of people who just want the status quo. They’re worried and scared, and the only thing they can think of to do is to play defense. But Ben’s experience is different. People want new ideas right now, and they’re ready to hear them.
Create new ways of doing things and then introduce others. And this got me thinking. What if you have old-school clients who aren’t aware that there’s a better way to do things? Maybe now they’re ready to listen?
You can really help people to move forward by offering a better way and a new idea. People have time to listen. Use it.
Takeaway #2: People Want Optimism
Ben reminded us that that optimism makes people feel good. Especially when you seem to have a reason for your optimism. It’s encouraging. And encouraged people think, work and act more boldly. Remind people that things will get better and that there are things they can do. Remind them that this isn’t the end and that creative, clever people who slow down and hold their nerve (cooler, creative heads) will prevail.
- Don’t panic
- Enjoy the work without rushing yourself (to fight desperation)
- Ignore speculative news (not useful or concrete) you can’t control
Be that sober voice of hope.
Takeaway #3: More People Can Talk to You Now
Ben pointed out that people you’ve been trying to talk to, or that you should connect with, actually have time for you now. So who is that? Who should be your client or vendor? Now’s the time to start those convos and get to know people. Find those who share your values and think like you and find out how you can help each other.
Takeaway #4: Look for Opportunities
Scott not only brought the meeting together, but also contributed from his mining-industry experience. He mentioned using extra time to find creative revenue sources based on related competencies. Is there demand that you can fill? Are there competencies you have within your org that can help you pivot?
In his case, as a mining company, he knew how to properly deal with wastewater. Although mining was slowing down, he was able to pivot and keep jobs at his company by providing wastewater services, which is something that he would never have thought of when mining was going well.
Takeaway #5: Maintain Your Values
Another theme during the conversation was to stick with your values. This is a time when your values will be tested. Not only that, but the world will see your values on display. So, a question I used to ask undergrads during their ethics session of Principles of Advertising, “Write down the dollar amount that would cause you to give up your values.” The point is, existential threats cause us to question our values. In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl — a holocaust survivor — suggested that we could captain our own souls even in the face of death.
Allow this time to strengthen, not weaken, your values. Find out if they’re true. Then build a courageous commitment to the things you know are true and right. Consider even getting into conversations with others you know share the same commitment, so that you come out of this as the quality of person you want to be, regardless of your bank account.
Diligence without Worry
On the more practical side, once we’ve decided there’s hope and direction by committing to values, relationships and helping others, let’s talk about the practical advice that came through.
Takeaway #6: Elicit Honest Conversations
Scott advocated talking with people let them know where you’re at. Push for increasingly honest conversations. Go back to Ben’s advice about talking with more people and having more meetings, maybe this is a time where people can decompress a little bit because they have a little more time but they also have a little worry so get those things out and I know from.
- Are your employees worried? Find out.
- Are clients wanting to change gears? Slow down the conversation and ask a few questions.
- Are vendors having issues? Maybe it’s time to start talking negotiating how to maintain during this tough time.
In all of these cases, your palpable patience and lack of judgment will demonstrate your trustworthiness and character. You’re someone they can trust. This opens up better conversations about how to renegotiate things given the new situation.
And discussing problems demystifies them. Give a problem a name, a description and a worst-case scenario, and you’ve taken much of the mystery and emotion out of it. You’ve removed much of the anxiety. Now, you’re poised to gather courage and move forward.
Takeaway #7: Conserve Revenue
Somewhat obvious, but practical enough to say. Jon and Scott both echoed this. Jon recommended a 13-week cash flow calculation. Jon touted the value of sober optimism (rather than a reckless optimism), pointing out that it was those people who planned well and who acknowledged what the reality of the situation who were most likely to come out of a recession intact.
So if you’re serious about making sober plans with what you have, set your foundation with a 13-week cash flow projection, giving you the advantage of knowing how and when to talk to vendors and in what order, how to invest in marketing and sales given the new reality, and how and when to reduce hours or lay people off.
If you don’t, you may miss opportunities for marketing, you may miss favorable tradeoffs and you may ruin valuable relationships. After all, what if you’re able to simply lay someone off for two weeks or two cut their hours, allowing them to keep their job in the long term? Without honest conversations and knowledge of your cash flow situation, this is much tougher to navigate.
Solid Advice from Guys Who’ve Grown through a Recession
I wasn’t really sure what to expect of this conversation. I mostly joined the call because it was a chance to support others and our MAC6 coworking space. But in the end, I found the experience to be encouraging and worth sharing.
To tie it all together, and to echo Ben’s words, now is the time to lead with optimism and confidence. People will remember that when this is all over. They’ll remember that you’re the one who ran toward gunfire when everyone else was running scared. And that mindset is what enables you to create a default mindset of aggressiveness toward problems and optimism toward the success of your actions.
Because this will be over at some point, and our economy will come roaring back. The question is, will you have built your business, your character, your leadership and your market share, or will you have squandered it in fear and ignorance?