There are no "good" or "bad" economic times.

A client of mine was growing fast a few years ago and we worked to develop better project control within the company. A couple of years after that, the market took a downturn and he emailed me for a little advice. I have posted that advice below. Perhaps it's of interest to you in these times.

There are no "good" or "bad" times. There are just "the times." Since the current time is worse than the recent past, we call these "bad" times. Who knows, a few years from now, we might be calling today "the good 'ole days." Good and bad are relative and one exists because of the other. Don't let bad economic times change your thinking. Sun Tzu's Adaptive Response Strategy willl work right now. It's completely unaware of the "times."

You begin by understanding that you cannot create opportunities in the market. Opportunities come when competitors make mistakes. For this reason, you can make yourself invincible but you cannot make competitors create openings. Real opportunities are where your strengths match to a competitors weakness. A competitors weakness is often in the opposite direction of their strength. For example, if your competitor is large they cannot change quickly. Therefore, there is an opening for a company that can offer changes quickly. This is why as your company grew, smaller competitors could make new offers faster than you. Since you are large it is not economical to make quick changes for short-term gains. Now that you are shrinking you can take part in the fast changing opportunities. Until you find an opportunity you must concentrate on defending yourself. Focus on preserving your existing sources of income. The biggest mistake companies make is to concentrate on internal improvements when things are going well and look for opportunities when things are going poorly. The problem with this is when things are going well you have excess resources to find new opportunities. When things are going poorly you lack the resources to pursue new opportunities. Looking for a job after your unemployed is a bad strategy.

Sun Tzu does not advise going after crowded markets. You have to find customers others are ignoring. Empty markets are easy to make progress on. If you have bigger competitors they will always have unhappy customers. No company can make everybody happy. If you have a huge competitor simply find the niche of customers that are not happy with your competitors service and offerings and take them. Most of the time your competitor won't care because these people are the "problem" customers for them. If competitors work global you focus locally. If they deal in large volumes you offer limited release. If they use standard terms you create special ones. If your competitors focus on price, they must sacrifice some aspect of quality. If they focus on high quality, they are vulnerable on price. If they focus on doing specific things extremely well, they perform a broad range of services poorly. If they focus on a broad range of services, they lose the ability to perfect any one of those services. If they emphasize standards and speed, they must de-emphasize customization and personal service.

When you're limited in what you can do, you must use surprise. Momentum is created by doing what is expected and then doing the unexpected. You have to act in a standard way in order to setup surprise. This is like telling a joke where it starts off normal and has a twist. Innovation is important here but if it's too new, people don't trust it. Only innovate a little. There has to be enough "standard" in the offer to make people comfortable. Then add the twist to surprise them. A powerful method of innovation is simply to list the common offering and then rearrange it in a different order.

If you are successful your competitors will try to copy you. There are five ways that competitors will try to steal from you. You have to know how to defend against these attacks to stay in business.

  • First, they will try to hire your people.
  • Second, they will try to partner with your suppliers.
  • Third, they will try to duplicate your product ideas.
  • Fourth, they will try to undermine your locations.
  • Finally, they will try to contact your customers.