While I was getting a coffee during a recent visit to St. George, Utah, a sign from a local business caught my eye. It said that the store needed to close because they didn't get TARP money from the government. The reality that a lot of businesses like Jolley's Boot Town are facing is that it's not business as usual and to survive they can't rely on the government for help.
Don't get me wrong, it's a shame when long time local businesses fail. You feel like a piece of your town/city dies with it. As tragic as this is, businesses need to adapt themselves to a changing business landscape. It's not enough to just put up a storefront and run a few ads in the paper and on local TV and think that people will flock to your store.
Today, consumers can buy from retailers all over the country. Geography isn't nearly as important as it used to be. So how do business owners take advantage of this? One of the first things to do if your business is struggling in tough times is take a step back and look at your business from a 30,000 ft. viewpoint. Where is there waste? Are there product lines that you have been thinking about adding but haven't? Are there dead product lines that you just need to kill? Are there employees that need to be fired?
You get the point, leave no stone left unturned.
Another consistent factor with small businesses that have failed in the past couple of years is their stubborn refusal to get active on the web. With customers moving more and more towards making purchases on the web and engaging with each other and the places that they do business with, if you don't have a website for your business, you have no chance to make those sales or get people engaged in your business. Social media is another avenue to explore although not critical but what about creating online content about your particular niche? Most small businesses that fail don't engage in online content creation and their business ultimately suffers for it.
We are a social society today. We want to engage with the businesses that we patronize. We get excited when a business engages us online through Twitter or a blog post. Old school businesses like Jolley's have a hard time with this concept. They see conversing with people online as a waste of time. Seth Godin refers to emotional capital in his most recent book Linchpin and how emotional capital is the way that we separate ourselves from other businesses and people. The key is finding your voice and your platform for delivering your message in a manner that works for you.
In times when your business is struggling it's time to take hard look at where your business is at currently and how well it is positioned to do business in the current landscape. Don't hold onto antiquated business practices and keep an open mind about what the future holds. Business is constantly changing and evolving. A Taoist principle that comes to mind when I think about this topic is that of keeping yourself formless like water so that you can overcome the different obstacles that arise because you haven't attached yourself to any particular way. The government isn't going to help you do that. Smart, flexible business owners do that for themselves.