Four years ago, just as the economy was digging itself out of the recessions caused by the dot-com bust and 9/11, our friend and contributor, the columnist Harvey King at MyBusiness Magazine, wrote a column in the form of “a letter to himself in the future.” He wrote it, he said at the time, to remind his future-self what to do during the inevitable economic slowdowns he would go through in the future. As we seem to be heading into that territory, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on Harvey’s letter to the future, which, with his permission, follows.:
It’s me, Harvey. I’m writing to you from way back in 2004. I’m hoping you are older and wiser, but I’m afraid you may be getting a little fuzzy with your memory. So I wanted to send you a letter from the past to remind you of some lessons you said you really wanted to remember the next time the economy started slowing down. Good times, the kind I hope you’ve been enjoying lately, tend to dull one’s senses a bit, don’t they? Well, I hope this expensive, painful advice from your past will jog your memory a little and serve as a checklist for the economic slowdown on your horizon.
1. Do it now. Whatever it is that needs doing, do it right now. I hope you don’t have to downsize, but if that’s what it is, do it. If it means dealing with that confrontation you’ve been putting off, do it. It’s a lot fairer to all parties involved if you’ll just get it done.
2. Take care of your customers even more than you already are. I know you said you would never take any of them for granted, and I hope you haven’t. But nothing else will get you through what’s about to happen except the mutual respect, trust and loyalty you have with the customers you are serving (and profiting from) now in the good times.
3. Love your bankers. I don’t care if you really don’t want to, get on the phone with those bank folks and tell them how wonderful they are. I know Mom taught us not to lie, but do it anyway. If you timed this right and you’re still a few months from the downturn, use flattery and your current fiscal soundness to lock down the best and longest terms they will commit to. I know you think it’s crazy to get a bigger line of credit when you’re not even using the one you have, but is your memory that short?
4. Brace yourself. I know you don’t want to remember the pain, but get ready to relive some failures. You’re about to rediscover what your face feels like when the door hits your nose.
5. Be patient. You’ll hate this one, but get ready again for the world to move in slow motion. Remember, during a recession it takes a company six months to approve purchasing a package of pencils.
6. Do not panic. Hunker down, maybe, but don’t panic.
7. Read and study and learn. While you’re waiting for that pencil order, take up a new hobby.
8. Get ready for some great opportunities. When things start looking really bad, take those resources I know you’ve stashed away during the good years and start marketing when your competitors go silent. Get on the road when the airlines report that business travel has plummeted. During this recession, turn on some lights when things get their darkest.
9. Forgive yourself. Remember, you are not personally responsible for the entire economy, just the stewardship of your microscopic slice of it.
10. Write yourself a letter to the future reminding me (and you) how to make hay while the sun shines.
P.S. How are those shares of Google doing?
(Note: That P.S. is a joke – Harvey was not that smart in 2004.)