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I had the pleasure of listening to Darren Shirlaw this week – founder of Shirlaws business coaching. He shared his thoughts on the current economic climate and what businesses could do to come out ‘one top’.

He noted that there is nothing ‘unprecedented’ about the current cycle. In fact, by reviewing the ASX over the past century he was able to demonstrate how this recession follows a similar pattern to those of the past. He was very careful to outline that this in no way represented ‘financial advice’, just his views on the world.

I remember Keating saying back in 1991 that we were having ‘the recession we had to have’. We did have a downturn primarily driven by the technology sector in the early part of this century too – that many seem to have forgotten. One of the differences in this recession is that it was not manufacturing or retail businesses failing that caused the ‘needed’ restructure. It was, of course, the banks and financial institutions. This has not been the case historically; usually, it is the banks that fail after business does.

There are four phases of the macroeconomic cycle.

  1. Downturn (share market plummets)
  2. Drag (share market stays constant)
  3. Release (a 30% lift in share market before a sharp decline again)
  4. Up (share market rises)

The ‘Downturn’ has passed – we are through that phase, again looking at history, to predict the future the share market is probably at 90% of how far it could fall. February may have even shown signs of recovery – but the media is not yet reporting this.

It is a bit late to tighten the belt if the recession is past. In fact, this is a great time to invest in growth… the point, of course, being that we need to know where to invest strategically in the business to take advantage of the ‘Up’ phase which in all reality will be late in 2010.

So now that I know the markets are in the ‘Drag’ phase I can begin to plan the future.

Shirlaws Five Mistakes of business Owners in a recession:

  1. Timing – they cut back during the ‘Drag’ phase rather than getting ready for the ‘Up’ phase.
  2.  Risk – when everyone around you is gloom and doom then business owners are likely to become more risk adverse.
  3. Unwind – when we think our business is on the rise we set the P&L up for growth – yet if an external event aka recession hit’s then we begin to unwind the longer term strategy and change to a P&L focussed on saving money rather than making money.
  4. Macro/Micro view – we need to stay focused on where we are to be five or ten years from now. That is being strategic rather than operational.
  5. Sector Cycles – the recession means that some industries simply must restructure – they are inefficient and not sustainable… it is important to be aware that some sectors can be completely marginalised and a recession will flush these out really quickly. Don’t assume that all sectors will come back.

Shirlaws Five areas to maximise opportunities during a recession:

  1. Product innovation – in reality, much product innovation is in fact ‘packaging innovation’ that is the things around the product improve – ie service gaps, pricing gaps etc.
  2. New channels – with product innovation you must look for new ways to come to market. The way people purchase, consume and acquire is constantly changing. Whole distribution channels may have been restructured.
  3. Functionality – ‘doing more with less’ by improving efficiencies. This must be a relentless pursuit to get better and smarter.
  4. Capability – do you have the right resources and the capacity to build the foundation for growth? What vision, skills, talents, and resources do you need in all the functions of the business to make sure that you have the foundation to support the ‘Up’ phase.
  5. Succession – an absolute focus on relationships – not just with customers but also more importantly with employees. When the ‘Up’ phase comes upward of 30% of employees will be ready to move to another employer who treats them better than their present employer. Now is the time to invest in training, recognition, and development – so that you have a total team of ‘A Graders’ who are going to want to stay and be part of delivering on the growth in the future.

I urgently have things to get done, to make ready for the huge ‘Up’ that is on its way. This is the third recession of my business career… and I know it will not be the last. So I am learning wherever I can and investing to make the most of the ‘Up’ times.

Are you ready for the ride?

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Comments

  1. You’re not quite right in that this is not unprecedented, we are so well protected in Australia that we don’t get the full impact that other countries due to our floating exchange rate and its ability to soften the blow to the economy.

    As for Paul Keating’s "the recession we had to have", it’s probably one of the few statements he would love to have had. Bad policy and late action caused more of the damage but that’s a whole different story.

    The basic truth is, when times are tough laser focus on what makes you money and find existing channels that have been unexplored, due to focuses elsewhere.

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