I'm sitting in my home office about to write this month's column when, bang! The lights flicker and the monitor goes dark. I look out the window, and see that the power has gone off all over my neighborhood (at least, all the parts I can see). So I light some candles and toy with the idea of drafting this New Year's column by candlelight, using pencil and paper.
This solution does not appeal. My PDA is fully charged, and even its miniature keyboard is more attractive than handwriting a draft that will need to be keyed into a computer later. So, with a deadline looming, I set myself up on the couch with my trusty Blackberry in hand and prepare to transcribe my thoughts onto the tiny screen. But the only thoughts that come to me, as I stare down at the useful little instrument, is how far we've come –in terms of technology, at least – while, at the same time, the fundamental rules still apply in important ways.
Sometimes in an effort to find inspiration to write, I flip through the collection of business magazines that roost on my coffee table. But as I skim through the pages, every article seems to point in the same direction. The advice would not have surprised a reader at any time during the past three decades, at least – in fact, they wouldn't have been surprising at any time during the last century, and most of the one before that.
• Make yourself more valuable to your clients.
• Build trust and rapport.
• Hone your selling skills.
• Communicate more effectively.
It all sounds so familiar because it seems (to me, at least) that refocusing on the essentials has become the favorite approach for most proactive companies today. And as I've often observed in these columns, this back-to-basics mindset may turn out to be this industry's salvation. Other kinds of business now are relearning what operators have never forgotten.
We are, indeed, at the dawn of a new age; but we've been there for quite a while now. That age surely will redefine our industry, but we can't put off planning for long-term success while we wait for the dawn to break.
Merely hoping for prosperity to return is not a strategy. The recovery is going to be painfully slow, and the unprepared probably won't last that long. By now, most of us have cut all the costs we can (and a few that we couldn't), so the focus in 2010 will be on topline growth. Remaining aware of the market and consumer's needs, and possessing the ability to service those needs in an exceptional manner, have driven and always will drive that growth.
Yes, the economy is difficult; this topic has been beaten to death. So let's move on and do something about it. And don't beat yourself up if you don't get it right the first time. It isn't realistic to believe that anyone person (or team) can envision something as complex as forming a company – or reinventing one – and then implement it precisely as it was conceived, without getting some of it wrong. When you find that you didn't get something right, what you do about it determines the outcome. If you give up, make excuses, blame someone else, you're done for.
Perhaps sitting in the dark with a task to complete and a wireless PDA is not unlike steering an operating company through the present economic gloom. Using technology that speeds and simplifies the basic tasks can position us to take rapid advantage of the new opportunities that will appear when the new age finally dawns; but we have to focus on those basics, and use the best available technology to help us.
Twenty Ten will be better. Maybe through economic recovery, and maybe because we've hit bottom and there is nowhere to go except up. Most likely, though, by sheer willpower, resolve and strength of character. A savvy businessperson recalls Eleanor Roosevelt's observation that "Courage is more exhilarating than fear." Keeping that in mind can help us recognize opportunity in any business climate.
To be entrepreneurial requires taking risks, seizing initiative and managing uncertainty. If passion is a skill that can be cultivated, then now is the time to hone it, and to be passionate about our businesses. As the former First Lady advised, when dealing with fear, "You must do the thing which you cannot do." No one else is going to do it for us.
With all this in mind, and because the New Year is a time for resolutions, below are a few wishes for all us of in 2010:
• To have the strength and determination to persevere.
• To have the courage to stay the course.
• To live by the old process mantra of: Think, Plan, Do, Repeat – better than "if at first you don't succeed, try and try again."
And of course, all of us at VENDING TIMES extend our very best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.