Why Challenging Times are Good for Business

The Up-Sides of Down-Sides

05 February 2018

There’s no avoiding challenging times. When they come, and you feel terrible, self-help books are full of positive thoughts you can repeat to yourself to get through them. While beneficial, tough times still suck. To cheer you up, here are three lesser-mentioned (and great!) outcomes of downturns:

They help get rid of your bad competitors:

If you’re facing an issue at a macro level (not internal to your company), chances are your competitors are facing similar challenges. Every business has a different degree of preparedness for problems, and  – sad but true – many are just hanging on by a thread.

Downturns, whether local, regional or global, take a lot of bad players off the field. (By ‘bad competition’, I refer to the cowboys and briefcase-traders that bring bad reputation to a respected market, from financial advisories to logistics companies)

  • Takeaway: be prepared for the dips, and don’t get wiped out when the waves come – not if, because they will come!
They make clear what doesn’t work:

There’s this famous line: “50% of my marketing works, I just don’t know which 50%”. This level of ignorance is an unforgivable mistake to make. And the punishment for this willful ignorance comes during tough times: businesses are scared to invest in marketing, because they don’t know where to put their money.

Unsurprisingly, this leads to further reductions in revenue, and compounds the problem. It’s easy to overlook inefficiencies during good times.

  • Takeaway: Create tiers of marketing strategies: those that give you consistent, reliable ROI, and those that are experimental, ‘let’s try it and see’ types. When your competitors stop marketing out of fear, you’ll know what to keep going and what to cut.
  • Bonus: use KPIs to track everything – from sales team performance, to marketing channel conversion. Use these numbers when making tough decisions.

Related: Why You Shouldn’t Compromise on Your Marketing During a Recession

They give you a reason to say: “Screw this, I’m going in!”

Complacency is a silent killer. Everything is fine, ticking along, steady… and suddenly there’s a business-threatening issue looming over you. Downturns force you out of your comfort zone, throw you head-first into the deep-end of an existing problem. There’s no time to assemble a committee, have 18.5 useless and 1.5 useful meetings, and come up with a 62-point list of ‘recommended actions’ (which – conveniently – no member of the committee is willing to stake his reputation on).

Challenging times make you roll up your sleeves, grab your gear and get into the trenches. Few battles are lost in the war room, most are lost at the front line. Conversely, the same applies for battles won. Getting out of the boardroom and onto the shop floor is perhaps one of the best solutions I can offer to businesses facing difficult circumstances.

  • Takeaway: when you have your back against the wall, you think faster, better and clearer. The more often you put yourself outside your comfort zone by choice, the easier it is to get into it when circumstance demands it.
  • Bonus: When your team see you on the floor, they buy into you better. That means they will get more passionate about your vision, be more willing to stick with you, and be more willing to take ownership of their roles – all because they don’t want to let you down.
  • Bonus bonus: get your management team used to being at the front line too. Disconnect between management and operations is  one of the most common reasons for under-performance.

Remember: Tough times don’t last, but tough companies do.  Make your business willingly sweat now, and it’ll be easier for your when everyone else is sweating.

As featured in Entrepreneur Middle East