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Looking Up in a Down Market

(October 2008) posted on Tue Oct 14, 2008

Keys to ensure your business stays afloat through tough times.

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By Craig Miller

Let’s say you’ve been doing business with a big client, BT (for "Big Time"), for a while. BT makes the best widgets in the world and dominates every market where widgets are sold. In the past, this customer thought nothing of dropping $10 million on a single trade show and it exhibited at multiple shows a year. In 2008, however, the markets that bought their widgets are all in deep recession and BT’s sales have plunged. BT marketing managers know they still must have a presence at every major trade event, but now they are reluctant to spend money and they have to justify every cent. They just got smart.

Guess what? BT marketing managers will now listen to proposals that promise cost savings. They are even more concerned about their image in this hyper-competitive time. They are interested in having serious discussions about "bang for the buck" and innovation. Fearing the loss of this business, your staff scratches their heads and comes up with an idea for a hugely cost-effective way for BT to keep its "Big Time" image at shows. This now-smart customer buys the whole package.

In fact, BT not only enjoys an overall cost savings of half, but your net profit from BT doubles at the same time. It’s a win/win situation. The customer spends less; the innovative print shop gets more. This happy ending may not have been possible when the customer was "fat, dumb, and happy."

Swimming to shore
If you look at your current situation and determine that your company might be at risk, you may want to look at the situation like this: Imagine you have been dropped in the middle of a big, remote lake without a life vest. The chances of being rescued by someone else are slim; therefore, it’s strictly up to you to get out of this perilous situation. You are faced with three choices: Swim forward to what you judge to be the closest land and salvation; tread water and hope for the best; or say "Oh well" and drown.

To me, the best choice is obvious. Doing nothing and drowning is not an option, although I’m surprised by how many times I have seen this "strategy." Treading water is at least going through the motion of staying alive-and you can hope someone will save you if you keep your head above water long enough (or the lake will drain, or something). To me, however, the odds are not with you in simply trying to tread water in this scenario.

Your best bet is to swim forward. It’s true that even if you choose to swim, there are still no guarantees. You could miscalculate what direction to go and swim away from shore. could run out of energy before you reach shore and drown. But determining a course of action and actively seeking a positive outcome is the right decision. Plus, the strength, skill, and confidence you’ll gain by reaching shore may turn you into the entrepreneurial equivalent of Olympian Michael Phelps. The crisis may become a blessing in disguise.

Here is to all of us finding the shore-stronger and smarter than before.

Craig Miller is president of Pictographics ( in Las Vegas, a large-format-graphics service bureau that excels in digitally dyed textiles, wall coverings, and custom applications.