Beat the recession blues

April 1, 2010

With the down economy, a reasonable first response is not to buy into a panic mentality.

Great Falls, VA-If the current down economy has you down, rest assured that things will get better. Then worse. Then better again. Then-you guessed it-worse. Again.

Just because recessions have occurred before and will occur again, however, doesn't mean there's nothing you can do to help your practice or your business fare as well as possible during one.

Plan your work, work your plan

It's also very important to have a plan and to stick to it. "During a recession, those who are barely afloat sink, those treading water drown, and those without a plan get confused, and lose their focus, their brand identity, and their connection to their primary customer demographic," Elkin warned. "Preparing and planning now can insure that you thrive, no matter what the economic climate."

The key to a good plan is to concentrate on profits.

"Opticians and optometrists may wonder if they should attempt to increase sales, revenues, or customers. The real answer is to focus on profits, and everything else will take care of itself," Elkin said. To do so, follow the "Four M's" of profit: management, money, marketing, and merchandise.

• Management is the process of getting activities completed efficiently with and through other people. It includes planning, organizing, staffing, budgeting, coordinating, reporting, and directing. Although absolutely vital, it's the most neglected task of small business owners.

"Profitable companies are well-managed, period," Elkin said. "Picture yourself as the conductor of an orchestra. You must have a plan of what you want people to do, and guide them to a goal. And you must monitor along the way to make sure everything is going according to the plan."

At the very least, Elkin said, this will require employee training, keeping a good database of customers, having a budget, and using good accounting systems and practices.

• Money Audit your costs regularly and set and follow a budget. Know your break-even point, where sales equal expenses, and make sure your employees know it, too. "If your employees know where you want to go, they can help you get there," Elkin said.

• Marketing Understand that people don't just stop spending in a recession. Learn your market, understand its needs, and provide solutions to those needs, Elkin advised.

"There are resources available to you to help you understand your market better than your competitors do," Elkin said. "Web resources such as http://www.zipskinny.com/ and http://www.mybestsegments.com/ provide tons of info on demographics by zip code. Someone has already done the research for you, and it's fascinating what you can learn."

A key to marketing is to remember that a recession is not the time to stop spending on advertising. Once you know and understand your market's needs, it's important to let potential customers know that you can meet those needs for them.

• Merchandise A recession is a good time to take a hard look at the products you're offering, and to choose products based on their potential profit margins. Consider selling exclusive lines other opticians in your area don't offer, or look into private label products.