When business is good, many business owners barely have the time to manage current growth, let alone plan strategically for the future. Ironically, economic slowdowns offer owners and executives something incredibly valuable: time to think. Change can seem risky, but it is equally risky not to improve and grow. The purpose of this article isn't to advocate for risk-taking; rather, it is to suggest steps to follow in taking measured risks with your business. Although I am no expert, I have practiced what I preach — I recently merged my company with one of my main competitors, and I am happy to share what I've learned along the way.
ARE YOU A RISK-TAKER?
Yes, you are, whether you realize it or not. As a small-business owner, you've already proven it. The decision to leave the world of salaries, office hours, vacation days and group insurance is a big risk in itself. Presumably, you weighed the pros and cons, measured the probabilities of failure versus success and decided you could live with it. You are already predisposed to embracing uncertainty if the potential benefits are worth it. In my case, my friendly competitor was an even bigger risk taker than I--she came to me with the idea, which had never even crossed my mind. I was open enough to consider it, but needed to do some research first. I am, after all, a planner.
RESEARCH: LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAP
Maybe you didn't do much research before starting your business (e.g., your business plan was in your head or scratched on the back of an envelope), but you should do it before making any dramatic changes now. As is standard in planning an event, the first step in managing risks is recognizing what they are. In considering the merger, my colleague and I met with business consultants, read books on mergers, and talked over all the issues we could think of that might cause us problems (choosing a name for the new company being the most obvious!). The experts all told us what we already felt intuitively — that the merger was a great idea.
PREPARE: LAY THE GROUNDWORK
Once you make the decision, you'll be raring to go. Change is exciting, and if you are confident in your decision, you won't want to wait to implement it. Take your time to put everything in place, and your plans will be more successful. We knew that the launch of the new company would be infinitely more powerful if we had our new branding and Web site ready when we announced it. So instead of immediately telling the world our big news, we recognized the value of the publicity we could gain by assembling a strategic launch plan first. Over the course of the next four months, we re-branded (name, logo, Web site, etc.) and re-strategized (mission statement, HR strategy, sales, marketing, etc.) all under strict confidentiality in order to attain maximum impact at launch.
DO IT: EMBRACE THE ENERGY
While it is good to research and prepare, don't use planning as a way to procrastinate. Set a date and stick to it. As we approached our launch date, we found many things that we could have used as excuses to push the date off: many of our forms and procedures hadn't been consolidated or aligned, we didn't have company T-shirts printed yet, etc. But what really needed to be done was done, and we went with it. One of the most amazing byproducts of a big change in your business is how much it energizes you and your staff. It feels like a start-up again.
BE PATIENT: BABY STEPS
Once you've taken the risk and embraced the energy, now you need to manage it. The excitement can motivate you and your staff to become change junkies as you think up more and more great new initiatives to undertake. At best, this can be frustrating, as you can think of new ideas much more quickly than you can implement them. At worst, it can be dangerous — focus too much on what to do next and you forget to excel at what you're doing now. This has been the hardest part for us — the momentum has been so strong, it's hard to slow down. We are frustrated that we haven't been able to consolidate our SOPs faster while decorating the new office and hiring and training new staff. And find interns. Every day, someone on our executive team has a really great idea of what we should be doing. My new mantra is, “Let's put that on the three-year plan.”
The main point is this: If you have researched and planned for a big change in your business, it doesn't feel risky. It feels like the most logical and obvious move in the world. It just looks like a risk to others. The biggest challenge, once you've made the decision to go for it, is learning to embrace but manage the momentum. We haven't mastered that yet, but we're working on it. Maybe in three years.
Name: Tanya Posavatz, CSEP
Address: 606 E. Third St.
Austin, TX 78701 USA
Web site: www.clinkevents.com