A Positive Approach is Right for All Conditions


Small business owners are experiencing a range of situations just now. Are we, in Western Australia, at the tail end of a boom, is business activity as strong as ever, or did the so-called boom never help at all? The answer is “yes”, depending on to whom you are speaking. Arguably, this range of responses is the same throughout any period; they are just weighted differently.

One of the responses I get over recent times is that some business owners do not believe that they should be thinking about growth, when they’re doing their best just to keep their heads above water.

I ask them to think about the alternatives; surely, they are twofold only – wither grow or contract. Staying still is not an option; sink or swim. That is a good analogy; when you are in water out of your depth and stop swimming, you sink. Yes, you can tread water, but that is a finite option and literally, does not get you anywhere.

There have been instances where companies have had to take stock and to re-evaluate where they stand in the market. I have spoken to business owners who have said that, in doing so, they used that time to look at other appropriate market segments or to become more effective by developing their internal  systems and processes so that can deliver an improved service.

This is not standing still. From whatever “downturn” these business are experiencing, they come out of it stronger, more resilient and better-placed to take advantage of the upswing, when that eventuates. This is effective business leadership as it should be.

It could be argued that busy market conditions are the very worst times to be considering growth, expansion and internal development. This is when customers are demanding services and demanding them at increasing rates and in shorter time frames. With all of this frenetic business activity, how can there be an effective focus on internal growth?

On the other hand, there is often a temptation for business owners to “batten down the hatches” and “retreat into their shells” when business activity slows. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy and demand slows even further as a result of business going to more proactive and progressive competitors.

The sad fact remains that, in times of economic downturn, the two areas most likely to be cut in the budgets of small businesses are marketing and business development. The business owners who commit to this fateful strategy are confining themselves to a worse situation than they would experience had they showed more confidence. This is not to say that such times do not call for caution and prudence; of course, careful judgement is required. However, it is far too easy to deem “advertising” and “business advisory” as unaffordable in these circumstances.



Times of uncertainty and even downturn are, in fact, opportunities and it is the mindset of the business owner – the leader – that will determine how the business comes out at the end. The true leader will look at the opportunities for business development and have a laser-like focus on implementing for the longer term benefit. This is the difference between seeing the bigger picture and being overwhelmed by today’s apparently negative conditions.

The fact is, the attributes for business growth no not change, irrespective of conditions. The long term vision for the business should be relatively stable, while being brutally honest about the reality of the day; the strategy could well change, but its goals not change; there is even more reason to tap into the intelligence of the workforce; also more reason to fully understand the needs of customers and to communicate effectively with them; engaging with employees, recognising accomplishments and appreciating effort is just as vital to be displayed.


Having true faith in what is possible in the long term, but at the same time, being totally aware of the brutal facts currently being faced is a necessity for business owners. On the one hand, if there is not a total belief in what the business will achieve long term, what’s the point? On the other hand, blind optimism in that vision without confronting today’s reality is as equally pointless.


If times are tough, true leadership is required to make the right decisions and to retain belief in the long term; if business conditions are good, it should be realised that they will, in all probability, have turn for the worse at some point. Whatever the case, the same consistent approach to good management and leadership should be maintained.

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What John Matthew believes about small business

That the owner has risked many things that others take for granted;

That there is no guaranteed income or reward for the considerable effort that is required;

That often, the family home is on the line to support the business and its constituents;

That there is a dignity and self-respect that is earned;

That entire communities would be better places if there was an increased appreciation and respect for small business.

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