Two stories from last week.
I was making a couple of follow up calls to prospective clients. These are business owners who have expressed an interest in our peer group and coaching process.
The first was to a sign shop owner. He had been unable to talk the previous two times. For one he was taking an order, since “I am the only one working today.” On the second call, he was out on a delivery.
When I reached him, he said “I’ve decided I really don’t need any advice. My business is doing great, and I know all about how to run it.”
The second call was to a manufacturer. He has gone from 145 employees to 95 in the last 18 months. When we interviewed he said that he needed to talk to his controller, since they were meeting about another layoff and it didn’t seem fair to spring an added expense on him. You can assume I wasn’t expecting to sign this company.
I got him on the phone and asked how he was. “Not too good.” he replied. “We laid off another 15 yesterday, and I’m completing their paperwork.” I asked if he had talked to his controller. “Oh sure, I just needed to give him a heads up. I’m definitely joining. I’ve been through this too many times before, and I know that I can’t figure out how to do everything myself!”
Did I mention the manufacturer is 25 times the size of the sign guy? I’ll wager even with the size difference, he’ll double his business before the guy who knows everything.
I just returned from the semi-annual conference of Facilitators for The Alternative Board. It is an incredible opportunity to take the pulse of scores of US and Canadian cities from folks who see an unusually broad slice of their local economies.
Ironically, during the conference we saw dueling prognostications from our government. The Commerce Department declared that the economy would start to recover in June (of 2009!) Then Bernanke said that we were about to go over a cliff. A couple days later we found out why, as the Commerce department (those who said we were about through with the recession 2 days before) revised their Q4 08 figures to a stunning 6.2% retraction.
Adding to the irony, I read the first two predictions in the Rocky Mountain News, a 150 year old Colorado Paper. By the time the recession recasting was announced, that newspaper was out of business.
I guess I can’t fault the government too much, as my ad hoc survey results were just as mixed. Guys in Boston, Pittsburgh and Texas told me that their clients were doing pretty well. In San Francisco, Phoenix and St. Louis it was the end of civilization as we know it. Baltimore seems OK, as does Philadelphia. New Jersey is a disaster area, and Michigan is worse. (But then, Michigan has been worse for the last 15 years.)
Construction has come almost to a standstill in most areas. Small businesses, despairing of any bailout help, are trying to figure out how to do business with the government as a customer of last resort.
My previous “Triple Threat” post (see 1/24) has been spotted in and outside of TAB in North Carolina, Washington DC, Delaware, Indiana, Seattle and a bunch of other places, so that feels good. At least my efforts are helping someone.
So what should we be doing right now? I came back more convinced than ever that it’s about outrunning the other guy. Small business owners who are planning, paying attention to their metrics, and diligently collecting information and intelligence from all around them are thriving. (65% of our clients in San Antonio hit sales or profitability records last year.)
Those who think that they know everything are soon to learn that they don’t know what they don’t know.