In our attempts to be polite, everything recession-oriented has the strapline 'survive and thrive'.
My book, workshops run by accountants and seminars run by banks. Business support organisations and consultants now give everything the S&T tagline and sometimes we reverse the letters so it is T&S!
Survive and thrive, my foot. The reality is 'grow or die'.
Businesses are either growing or dying, moving forwards or moving backwards, up or down. Maybe it is time that we were a bit more honest with our clients.
I found some 'middle of the night' notes from the last recession. I know that they are pretty much identical to the panicky notes being written all over the country right now:
"What am I going to do about:
- Collapsing profits
- Vanishing cash
- Ineffective marketing
- Improving competitors
- Increasingly demanding /price sensitive customers
- Busy fool syndrome: working harder with less results"
- Lack of direction
- Unable to find the solution by myself."
The answer is in the last bullet point: "unable to find the solution by myself".
Most of us are as much a part of the problem as we are a part of the solution. As part of the problem we have to look outside ourselves – it is our (relatively) limited thinking that has got us where we are today. So get outside help to unstick yourself.
I met Dennis about two years ago at a seminar I was running. The next I heard of him was a desperate email grumbling about profits, cash, marketing, competitors and so on. Winter 2008 had been truly grim as the reality of a real recession was dawning on everyone. But he thought he could sort it out himself (so why was he writing to me?).
Last week I received an email from his wife. The story is truly tragic.
Dennis inherited his family business consisting of restaurants, cafes and two pubs. Everything started going wrong when the first indications of the credit crunch created an overnight slowdown in customer spending.
Sales collapsed last Christmas and, with no outside support and a wife fed up with his moaning, Dennis ending up staying awake for two nights, a full 48 hours, literally worrying himself sick. So sick that the doctor signed him off with a sick note and a ban from going near the business for a month.
He returned to work, before the allotted time had elapsed, to try to rescue the ailing business but it was all too late. The business owed to much, had run out of credit and watched profits crash spectacularly. Dennis felt trapped.
Dennis hid the impending doom scenario from his wife and children on the first occasion when the bailiffs banged on the door to collect some debts. When Dennis’s wife opened the door to them the following night she let them in. Fed up with the Dennis’s lies and deceit she packed a bag and took herself and the kids to live with her mother in north London.
In a desperate attempt to get some professional help, Dennis visited his accountant and begged for forgiveness and some kind of a magic silver bullet. The accountant realised that Dennis wasn’t going to pay his outstanding bill and went to court to make Dennis bankrupt in a bid to minimise his firm’s loss. Nice one.
When Dennis told his wife about the summons she realised that they would lose the family home; she told him to expect a letter from a divorce lawyer.
Dennis’s entire life (and mental sanity) is falling apart all around him. He sees no future and is in a very dark place indeed.
As a distant observer I feel for Dennis. His pig-headed belief that he could find a DIY solution that would solve his problems was misguided to say the least. There are times when you need to recognise that every part of you and your business has become stuck... frozen in the headlights.
And to get unstuck you need to decide to take massive action.