Monday, October 06, 2008

It's all about belief

The current economic situation has to be a worry to anyone with a small business. We're the small fry who are easy to forget, to drop and to ignore when the going gets tough further up the food chain.

I've spent most of the past few weeks interviewing lawyers, bankers and senior business people on how the credit crunch is affecting them and what they see as the short, mid and long term prospects for recovery.

The bankers and financial services professionals are in the darkest place. Some I spoke to had already lost their jobs or were expecting to get laid off soon from the likes of Lehmans, UBS and a couple of the more boutique establishments.

The HR guys from the big funds and retail banks were looking at refocusing for a smaller, better regulated City. And the lawyers weren't talking about deals so much as restructuring and insolvency.

None saw the picture brightening particularly in the next 12 months, and many were talking about recovery taking three to five years, with a rather different financial community emerging at the end. Yet all saw this as part of the natural cycle of business. Confidence may be low now, but no-one really believed that this is the end of capitalism as we know it.

But the lack of confidence in the City is now affecting all parts of the economy, and those of us who service other industries rather than create from scratch are vulnerable, and it would be easy to get very down, very worried and start on a downward spiral. But worry sows worry, fear sows fear. A lack of belief is immediately evident and it causes confidence to fall further.

This is the time for the small and unsung to show that what we do is actually very good, very necessary and unaffected by an economic crisis we didn't create and are pretty powerless to resolve.

Nothing I do now is any different to what I was doing three months or even three years ago - so as far as I'm concerned, there's no need for me to worry. True, there are fewer opportunities in the market at the moment, and as more comms professionals get laid off and turn to freelancing, there may be more competition. However, I first went freelance in a recession some 16 years ago. For three years my business grew and grew until it was too big for me to handle alone and I folded it into someone else's organisation.

Now is the time for those of us who've been there and done that to be using our experience to help clients who've only done business in good times; to be a voice of reason against the panic I'm already seeing in some businesses and to be the cost-effective innovators who use communication skills to help clients navigate the choppy business waters.

It's easy to do well in strong economic times. But only the strongest will survive in this steep a downturn.

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