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Three counselors offer what-to-do now advice
By Jim Kendall | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 9/9/2010 11:49 PM

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Use your business line of credit - or it may not be there when you need it.

Find your spot of blue ocean.

Stick to your knitting and execute.

Three different pieces of advice from three different small business advisers who understand small businesses and their environment and were willing to share ideas when I asked.

The three, in order of the opening comments: Dean Holland, principal, Holland & Co., a Naperville CPA firm; Elisa Spain, a Vistage adviser and president, EKS, Ltd., an Evanston consulting firm; and Sharon Joseph, principal, Spectrum Consulting Services, Inc., Hoffman Estates.

Their thoughts on what to do now:

"We need base hits, not home runs," says Joseph. To her, the approach today should be "Execute. Execute. Execute. Remember the promises you made to your customers. Great customer service" is what she recommends.

The good news is that Joseph is "seeing some green shoots. It's steady as you go. My clients haven't cut off marketing (expenditures), but they're focusing on their websites, SEO and e-mail. It's tactical marketing, more guerrilla stuff.

"I'm doing that in my own business."

Spain's key issue is to "differentiate yourself from others in the marketplace," she says. "Find your blue ocean opportunities."

Blue ocean management, popularized in a 2005 book by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, suggests that the goal should not be to outperform others in an existing industry but to create a new market space - i.e., a blue ocean - that makes competition irrelevant.

Most advisers who recommend marketplace differentiation focus on marketing, which is important. Spain looks first at management's ability to find and then capture uncontested opportunities.

"Its not how do we suffer through this period," Spain says. "It's how do we prosper."

Her Vistage members "encourage each other to focus on growth." (Based in San Diego, Vistage offers several management-related support services, including peer discussion groups, to small businesses.)

A CPA, Holland's advice centers on numbers. He's serious about drawing on your line of credit.

"Banks are in business to make money," Holland says. "You have to show activity even if you simply draw the line down and pay it back. If you don't use your line of credit, the bank will take it away; and you won't have (the money) when you need it."

This also may be the time to renegotiate your business lease, Holland says. "Landlords need cash flow. Many times, it will be better for the landlord to lower your rent than to have empty space."

If the facility and numbers work, think about buying the building. "You may get a great price because the owner wants out," Holland says.

• Questions, comments to Jim Kendall, JKendall

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