The Art of Business: Seven Steps to your Economic Recovery.


It may be too early to say for sure (and with this economy, optimism is best kept in check) but economic indicators seem to suggest that the recession is finally coming to an end. And while it may be a painfully slow recovery, at least the ice is starting to melt from corporate spending accounts.

Here's the evidence: According to the American Bankers Association Economic Advisory Committee, the economic recovery is expected to accelerate through the rest of the year, with the GDP growing 2.3 percent for all of 2003 and 3.6 percent in 2004 -- the fastest pace in four years.

And a little closer to home, the National Association of Printing Leadership expects print sales -- a major graphic arts indicator -- to grow 1.0 percent to 2.5 percent this year and as much as 4.1 percent next year. For 2005, the organization is predicting "sales volumes robust enough to restore pricing power and profits -- the hallmarks of real recovery," said Andrew Paparozzi, vice president and chief economist of the NAPL.

But wait, you've just completed all the steps necessary to survive the downturn. Well, business is nothing if not unpredictable, and now it's time to at least think about turning the boat around. Here are seven steps to prepare yourself for the boom ahead.

1. Invest in technology. Even though you may not have cash at the moment, interest rates are so low and technology companies so eager to sell equipment and software that the stars are aligned perfectly to purchase new products. As one analyst put it, "Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne can refinance their mortgage and get the rate that Ozzie and Harriet Nelson did." The same holds true for business loans. Computers, scanners, printers, software, whatever it is you need, think about putting it in place now and running it through the paces so you're comfortable with its operation. You can even use your new capital expenditures as a selling point for prospective clients.

2. Create new partner connections. Before you're too busy with projects, take the time to reconnect with designers, developers, engineers, printers, and prepress partners with whom you may have lost contact due to lack of work. At the same time, seek out new potential partners both for the purposes of co-marketing your services and for co-creating deliverables.

3. Begin the hiring process. You may not need additional help at the moment but it may be cost effective to hire now, and here's why. There are plenty of talented people out there who unquestionably will be hired within the next two years. If you go out on a limb today and hire early, you'll be in the envious position of having the largest talent pool from which to choose. You'll also in a better position to negotiate salary (remember how high they went during the height of the last boom?) and lock in at lower salaries. At the very least, start putting feelers out and let people know that you may be hiring soon and want to start conversations. This way when the big jobs start rolling in, you'll at least have completed the preliminary talks and screenings.

Concurrently, identify the best people in your company, and have a plan to keep them in place when other firms are hiring again. Begin discussions with your top employees and find out what would make them happier. It usually boils down to money, challenge, responsibility, or autonomy. Go out of your way to satisfy their needs; it costs far more to hire and train somebody new than to keep a good professional on board.

4. Develop new ideas. If you been in "safe" mode for the last few years, you've probably pared down your company to its essential elements. Now is a great time to create new ideas, services, and products. Set the stage by taking all your employees on an off-site retreat. If you're a solo show, invite people you know and trust and who have an understanding of the industry to act as your board of directors for a day, or even a long lunch. Ask them to help you brainstorm new marketing ideas, identify new industries or prospective clients, develop new ways to package services, and identify your weaknesses. The only dumb idea is one that isn't examined.

5. Ramp up marketing and sales efforts. Companies might not be ready to contract for your services just yet, but contact them now, and when they're ready, your card will be in their virtual Rolodex. Use the traditional methods of networking, advertising, prospecting, and marketing. When things start getting busy, it will be hard to allocate the time necessary to conduct these business development activities. Do it during the current downtime. Business development helps you maintain a deep pool of clients -- necessary even in good times to avoid a boom-and-bust cycle.

6. Put a fresh coat of paint on your company's image. Do a thorough review of every client touch point you have -- Web site, brochure, letterhead, phone system, email address. Make sure your value proposition is current, accurate, complete, and incorporated across all your communications tools. Naturally your clients will judge you on the image you project for yourself, so take a fresh look at your image and determine if it's time for a visual image enhancement.

7. Check in with your clients. Spread the good word that the economy is turning around, and help your clients prepare for boom times ahead. Help them set up a plan of attack that includes some of the points listed here. Let them know about the steps that you're taking to get ready for a rush of new business, and assure them that you'll have new creative ideas and the person power to handle their needs.

Maybe it's all an illusion, and the economy will stay in the doldrums. Maybe not. One thing's for certain: If the economy indeed turns around, the spoils will go to the primed and ready.

Read more by Eric J. Adams.

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