"We few, we happy few, brave, fit and luckynow
get to enjoy the just desserts of our survival."
My paraphrase of Shakespeare paints business survival
as some sort of glorious battlefield victory, but Woody
Allen once said that 80 percent of success is just showing
up. And, really, our survival is a bit of both. After
getting through 2003, Ive begun to appreciate
the insight in Allens seemingly flip remark. After
all, winning the battle and surviving the bad times
in business is partly accomplished by simply showing
up ready to competeday in, day out, year after
Ive been working on the idea for this article
for the past few months. The idea for a survivors
piece occurred to me when I attended an Oregon Entrepreneur
Forum (OEF) committee meeting and an SAO (Software Association
of Oregon) seminar about weathering the downturn. Many
Oregon-based tech companies have been pretty well trashed
over the last year and a half. Hardly a week goes by
without reading about a once-proud, fast-growing company
that has gone out of business, reorganized or been purchased
for a pittance. Too often I attend networking and business
events that were once energized by talented, enthusiastic
entrepreneurs bragging about their next big thing, only
to find that now Im greeted by the sad, dull eyes
of the walking dead or the almost guilty survivor
syndrome look from those who have made it through
the tough times.
Well, I for one am tired of it. Maybe because Ive
been in tech so long and have seen at least four major
downturns, each following an era of booming tech growth.
There was defense in the early 70s, integrated circuits
in the mid-70s, personal computers in the mid-80s and
the Internet in the late 90s. (1) I also went through
a mini-bust in the mid-80s in the robotics industry.
The only real surprise is that we were surprised that
it happenedagain! But after each of the blowouts,
like Yosemite after a devastating fire, we recover and
begin to find new, healthier growth. Cmon, admit
ityou knew it couldnt last long, that irrationally
exuberant roller coaster ride. With the exhilarating
ups must come the breathtaking downs. But we wont
be down for long; in fact, I say weve bottomed
out and have begun to rebound.
Like an Oregon spring
It looks like weve turned the corner on the recession.
Retail sales and consumer confidence continue to be
strong. Manufacturers are ramping up to refill supply
chains. Even advertising is starting to rebound. Thats
good news to us at Sanda, home of the Ad Man. Even technology,
semiconductors and the stock market are starting to
show signs of new life. Of course, the signs are still
a bit mixed. Unemployment continues to be a problem,
and the U.S. economy still feels uncertain and fragile
and to some degree is still held hostage by international
politics and threats of terrorism. Nonetheless, the
upturn is comingslowly, hesitantly, teasing us
with the promise of better timesand like an Oregon
spring it will gradually warm its way into summer, but
not all at once. (2)
So lets say youve made it through the toughest
economic downturn since the 70s. Youre battered
but not beatenyouve made it. Many of your
competitors are gone or amongst the walking dead. It
looks like the worst is behind you, and the phone is
starting to ring again. Now is the time to start positioning
your company to increase market share and grow revenues.
Im writing specifically about whats happening
right here in the Northwest, particularly to business-to-business,
high-tech companies. And lets face it: High-tech
is important to the economic well-being of Oregon; high-tech
plays an increasingly important role in all companies.
To research this article Ive talked with some
of the best local minds in the business and combed the
relevant literature to present what I believe to be
some of the smartest moves you can make before the other
guys make their plays. What follows is the list so far.
But I believe we can do better, so I want to ask for
your help. Once youve read what Ive come
up with, I challenge you to come up with a better idea
to replace whats here. If I use your suggestion,
Ill give you credit in the published version of
the article and Ill send you a Sanda Survivor
T-shirt or poster. See the end of the article to learn
how to submit your entry.
The list so far:
Ten things smart companies should do to get ready
for the upturn
- Hire the best sales people around. Start interviewing
them and other A players early so you
can shorten the hiring process when you need them.
You may find some wholl be willing to work for
a while as independent contractors until there is
sufficient business to bring them on full time.
- Contact all existing and past customers. Let them
know youre alive and kicking. Ask how theyre
doing. See what plans they have for growing their
businesses. Ask how you can help them. Ask if they
know a business or two that may need your product
or service. Can they give you a referral?
- Go after your competitors customers. Maybe
your competitors have gone out of business or have
cut back on services to their customers. There may
be an opening for you to win away some new business
from your opponents.
- Talk to your competitors and friendly companies
about M&A, collaboration or other kinds of joint
ventures. Smart executives are looking for new ways
of doing business and are seeking relationships that
will help them go after new markets or go after old
markets in new ways.
- Invest in some preliminary marketing, advertising
and PR programs. Sanda has been contracted to do a
number of market research projects in recent weeks
to help clients target new market segments and customers.
Its an excellent way to find out what companies
are thinking about buyingand when.
How are you spending your advertising dollars? Is
it working? There is the axiom that companies that
invest in advertising during downturns are in much
better position when things turn around. I cant
find any reports or studies that document this. It
may be trueit makes sense, but maybe its
just an Urban Business Myth. If you know of any credible
studies that address this question one way or another,
let me know. (Ill send you a shirt!) Make sure
you measure the effectiveness of your ad dollars so
you know what works for you. (Be sure to read Scott
McCannells "Scientific advertising"
article in this newsletter, too.)
Certainly, keeping your name in front of customers
is a good idea, and you should consider some level
of advertising or direct marketing now that we're
getting ready to rebound. PR is another good way to
keep your name in front of both customers and future
employees. PR can be a very cost-effective way of
creating a buzz and getting the phone to ring if you
have new products, company wins or other newsworthy
items you can pitch to the media. Build and maintain
a presence in your market and your local area.
- Negotiate low ad rates. Publications are very hungry
and willing to cut deals. Many other vendors and suppliers
will listen to creative terms and conditions. Suggest
they kick in with some co-op ad dollars to support
your new marketing campaigns.
- Freshen up your Web site. Send out email newsletters
driving customers to your new site. Make sure your
collateral marketing materials are sharp and current.
- Attend SAO and OEF meetings and other networking
eventsschmooze and learn. These events are a
great way to keep your ear to the ground to find out
whats going on. When you talk to your customers,
find out which meetings they go toand be there.
Encourage your staff to go, and give them some pointers
on how to network.
- Nows a good time to get smarter and more agile.
Your competitors will be back; even the dead ones
will reappear in new forms, wiser and hungrier and
looking to get a fresh start in life using your customers.
Re-engineer and streamline your company to better
serve customers. Youve eliminated deadwood and
waste from staff, and you should also go after policies
and procedures to clean them up. Make sure your operations,
like the rest of your organization, are built to better
serve your customers. Teach all your employees to
ask, How does what I do add value to the customer?
They should optimize the things that do and eliminate
or reduce procedures that dont add customer
Invest in your people: coach, mentor, provide effective
tools, train and educate. Nows a good time to
make corporate culture changes. Employees and managers
will be more amenable to positive changes in their
work environment. Change legacy behavior so you can
get the most out of new ways of doing things, with
a new emphasis on customer satisfaction. Read The
Agenda by Michael Hammer and other business
- Check out the recently created incentives for investment
in new technology. Is now the time to invest in new
productivity tools that can free up your valuable
staff from doing grunt work and let them use their
high-level skills to improve customer service? In
addition to watching your cash flow in these lean
times, ask yourself this: When things pick up, will
you have the staff, capacity and financing in place
to take advantage of market opportunities?
Oregon is a great place to do business, and even though
it has been a tough 12-18 months, things are turning
around. The U.S. economy looks like it will rebound
faster and with more vigor than had been originally
predicted. And even though Oregon has been hit harder
than other states, it too will return to economic vitality.
Its not likely to return to the irrational
exuberance of the mid-90s, which was unrealistic
and unsustainable. But good times are ahead, and even
though the dot-com and e-com boom was a bust technology,
the Internet will have a long-term positive impact on
business in Oregon, the U.S. and around the world. Productivity,
our modern alchemy that makes us more from less and
serves as our best weapon in our losing battle against
entropy, continues to improve, thanks principally to
technology. We in the tech business will once again
be rewarded for our contributions to a growing global
So I say the smart money is getting ready to make the
best of the coming rebound. How about you? Darwin talked
about the survival of the fittest. Youve survived
the worst, so nows the time to get ready to expand
So, OKnow its your turn to add your tips
on how to get ready for the coming upturn and earn yourself
an original Sanda Survivor T-shirt or poster.
to enter your suggestion.
Thanks to those who have already made contribution
to this article. Bill Conerly; David de Fiebre, chairman
of the OEF/ESC committee; my SAO Board of Directors
buddies: Larry Wade, SAO president; Rich Bader, president
of Easy Street; Jim Cochell, president of J.P. Davis;
Bob Newhart II, president of the Oregon Innovation Center;
Tasha Zahn, manager of Oregon Public Networking; Mona
Westhaver, president of Inspiration Software; and Marty
Schulz, LBCC business counselor. And thanks to others
who have helped put this article together.
- Theres a superb white paper,
"The Next Silicon Valley: Riding the Waves of
Innovation," that examines the recent boom/bust
cycle along with its consequences. It was prepared
by The Next Silicon Valley Group of Joint Venture:
Silicon Valley Network.
- A recent presentation sponsored by
the Bank of the Northwest featuring Dr. William B.
Conerlys sharp and funny take on Oregons
economy provided useful data and charts on where we
are in the recovery. You can find Bills handout
- Other current favorites include: The
Future and its Enemies by Virginia Postrel and
The Company of the Future by Frances Cairncross.