Business Darwinism – Why tough times are a good thing for business

Why tough times are a good thing for business

Why tough times are a good thing for business

“How is the state of the economy affecting your business?”. I asked this question recently to a large number of people while conducting research on behalf of my client.

As you’d expect, we received an array of responses – but one response resonated with me more than the rest.  A wise soul at a major financial institution agreed that times were indeed tough, adding “but the gold will be found in the creativity, not the engine room.”

This idea – that financial success would be found through innovation and intelligence, not hard graft – sums up the opportunity in the current economic climate.  Quite simply, we are facing a form of business Darwinism.

When times get tough, the people and businesses that do well are those that look at things differently.  They evolve and innovate, rather than worrying or complaining that things weren’t what they used to be.

In fact, prosperity often insulates companies from market realities.  Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen says, “the breakthrough innovations come when the tension is greatest and the resources are most limited. That’s when people are actually a lot more open to rethinking the fundamental way they do business.”

Few people around Australia will argue that our manufacturing industry is in decline.  And yet, we can lay claim to some inspiring innovators who are making it work.  Take Jubilee Springs on NSW’s Central Coast, which has been manufacturing springs since 1938.  Co-owner John Guest has been at the helm since he was 15, when he had to leave school to take over the business after his father died. The factory makes everything from components for Cochlear ear implants and heart pace-makers, through to mining, bulldozing, sewer and aviation equipment.  What’s truly inspiring is John’s ability to see potential everywhere.  When Woolworths and Coles were unable to source enough mouse-traps, Jubilee Springs invented a recycled, recyclable mouse-trap.  Today, they sell up to two million mouse-traps a year.  In an interview recently, John explained his motivation.  “You have to diversify. If you don’t diversify in this industry you’ll never survive. You have to do anything that’s thrown at you.”

Traditional businesses facing the greatest obstacles are often the ones that also provide the greatest opportunities.  The questions we must ask ourselves in these tough times are:

  • Am I operating in a highly competitive sector?
  • Are margins getting squeezed and is work getting less abundant?
  • Is my business a dinosaur in a dying market?

If you answered ‘yes’ to one or more of these questions, it’s not time to slit your wrists.  But it might be time get creative before your business crumbles.

When a new client comes to me, the first questions I tend to ask, as a marketing strategist, are:

  • Does your product or service have a point of difference?
  • What makes it compelling?
  • Who are your competitors?
  • What are they doing?
  • Who are your clients and what do they want?

These may seem like simple questions, but often, simple is good. You need to be able to answer these questions honestly and objectively. The answers to this can’t be ‘we provide strategic solutions’ or ‘we provide quality’.  It’s not that strategic solutions or quality products aren’t important – it’s that everyone else is saying the same thing.

Sometimes, it’s impossible to answer these questions objectively.  When you are immersed in a business or sector, it’s often very difficult to see the issues or opportunities clearly.

In times like these, it’s essential to step back from your business, get perspective, get the honest viewpoint of key people around you, and then take a long, hard look at your business and where it’s likely to be in five to 10 years.

If you don’t have a point of difference, then get creative. Examine your market, look at what others are doing around the globe, seek out the trends and understand how you can position your business with both eyes on the future, rather than one on the past.

Remember, as Charles Darwin said: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”  Those companies willing to embrace change are those that will survive.

Nicole Smith has spent nearly two decades helping professional services firms to grow their businesses.  A strategic marketing expert, Nicole established the Tin Shed marketing co-op in 2010.  See:

This article was  originally published in Summer issue of New Wealth Creator magazine. To see the original article, click here.

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