Ask an Expert: Do this to ride out the recession

BySteve Strauss for USA TODAY
July 13, 2009, 10:38 PM

— -- Q: What are you telling people these days with regard to staying afloat and even getting ahead in this tough recession? — Steve

A: Recently, I was chatting with my friend Rieva Lesonsky about what a challenge it is to own and run a small business in this economy. The topic was especially salient because, as we are both small business owners as well as writers and speakers on the subject, the Great Recession is effecting us in numerous ways.

You may have heard of Rieva. She is one of the top small business experts out there, but even if you have not, you have no doubt seen her work — for many years she was the editorial director of Entrepreneur Magazine and she wrote the bestselling book Start Your Own Business. When I look at her resume — being on The Today Show, Oprah, etc. — I get jealous. These days she is the CEO of GrowBiz Media, a content and consulting company specializing in covering small businesses and entrepreneurship.

So Rieva is someone who really knows her stuff, and that is why I was happy to hear that she is conducting an online chat at Bank of America's online small business community on the subject Navigating Your Small Business Through the Great Recession. The chat will be July 16 at 2 p.m. ET.

Sensing an opportunity to share her insights with my readers, I asked Rieva what she is telling people these days with regard to staying afloat and even getting ahead. (So you see, the question above. .. is mine!) She mentioned four things that she thinks can really make a difference right now:

1. Work smart:"Do not waste your time doing things you don't have to do. Use your time wisely and concentrate your efforts on getting the biggest return on your investment of time," Rieva counsels. "So, to the extent you can avoid it, avoid getting caught up in minutiae, especially minutiae that does nothing to help you grow your business."

Rieva echoed the point made by Michael Gerber in his great book, The E- Myth. "Don't spend your time working in your business," she said, "work on your business." As such, she thinks one of the smartest things you can do is to "use your time on things that make you money, and to the extent possible outsource or automate the other stuff."

For example, she noted that something like doing payroll is probably not the best use of your time in times like these.

2. Remember, cash flow is king:In recessions, it becomes more and more commonplace for customers to pay later and later. "You have to try and avoid having that happen to you," Rieva said. Yes we have to be cognizant that people are having a difficult time right now making ends meet, but it is equally important to keep "your cash flow flowing."

So get those past-due invoices paid. Call up the tardy customers, be kind and firm, and keep the money coming in the door.

3. Surround yourself with people who can help:"So many small business owners consider themselves the 'lone wolf.' While admirable in many ways, that attitude can be problematic in tough economic times like these when we can all use some help," notes Rieva.

Her solution? "Join an online community." There are no shortage of excellent online communities that allow small business owners to meet up, share ideas, get feedback and the like. Finding and joining an online group is a free way to brainstorm, get advice, give advice, and get valuable feedback.

Right now, it does not behoove you to be a lone wolf.

4. Save money and shop for bargains. Keeping your overhead low is always excellent business advice, but is more pertinent now than ever. Says Rieva, "And there are lots of bargains to be had: Look for and use rewards, shop for great rates, use online shopping portals. The important things is to be extra smart about where you spend your money right now."

Sage advice my friend, sage advice indeed.

Today's tip:The Franchise Maid Brigade is offering veterans a very unique opportunity: The chance to win their own franchise. The Maid Brigade Veteran Franchise Giveaway is a contest that will give up to 100 qualified vets their own Maid Brigade franchise.

The Giveaway is open to all United States military veterans who are no longer on active or reserve duty. The criteria for entry are:

• Provide a "Certificate of Release or Discharge of Active Duty" (Form DD 214).

• Complete the Maid Brigade Veterans Franchise Questionnaire which includes an essay: "Describe in 100 words or more: What aspects of your military leadership, training, and experience would you apply to your own Maid Brigade operation?"

Good luck!

Ask an Expert appears Mondays. You can e-mail Steve Strauss at: sstrauss@mrallbiz.com.And you can click here to see previous columns. Steven D. Strauss is a lawyer, author and speaker who specializes in small business and entrepreneurship. His latest book is The Small Business Bible. You can sign up for his free newsletter, "Small Business Success Secrets!" at his website —www.mrallbiz.com.

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