Good Business Practices for Surviving (and Thriving) in Tough Economic Times

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Sue King
Independent Consultant

As part of my investigation into the consequences of offshoring, I sought out a friend of mine, Debra Hodgens, who is the president and CEO of her own privately held business, Quality Partners. Quality Partners is US-based and presently centered on software and system level testing of wireless telephony devices and applications. She has developed this business over the course of the last ten years, successfully steering it through the high-tech and internet business downturn, as well as the migration from PDA devices to smart phones. Her business is an acknowledged leader in its field and highly sought after by offshore companies as an acquisition target.

Here are the key business tenets she has used to survive and thrive:

    1. ANTICIPATE CHANGE: Continually look at your business model and anticipate how the “market” (internal and external to your business) is likely to change and affect you. Plan ahead for change and move to meet the changing “market” before it is too late. For example, my friend anticipated the shift from PDA devices to smart phones and started to shift to “new” customers for her services when they had needs her company could address. In 2001, 36 of her 38 internet business customers went out of business, yet she was able to sustain her business and ultimately grow it because she had anticipated this shift in the industry. Remember, you can apply this idea whether your external customer changes or whether your internal organization changes.
    2. KEEP ABREAST OF NEW TECHNOLOGY: This includes both the technology your customer is employing as well as the tools you must employ to address customer needs most effectively. If you are the most knowledgeable supplier and you repeatedly deliver quality results in a timely and cost effective manner, you will remain the most reliable source to your customer. Know the technology and when it is applicable to your customers. To this end, my friend insists on keeping her team’s training up to date in the telephony and related application technologies, as well as testing technologies and good program management practices.
    3. BE A PARTNER TO YOUR CUSTOMERS: Establish and maintain an excellent working relationship with your customer decision makers as well as the lead technologists. Put yourself in the shoes of your customer and ask what he or she expects from an excellent, reliable business partner. Ideally, you should be an indispensable element of your customers’ success, working side by side with your customers through difficulties and in making future plans.
    4. FOCUS ON YOUR CUSTOMERS’ PERCEIVED AND REAL NEEDS: You must always understand the customers’ needs and be prepared to meet them. For example, if the customer is under pressure to cut costs, you must respond to this as a real need—by demonstrating how you can deliver appropriate value within their cost constraints.

By keeping up to date with your customers’ daily needs, you can be responsive to immediate changes. Your responsiveness gives you a sustainable advantage against offshoring.

  1. BE ABLE TO SUPPLY SIGNIFICANT VALUE ADD: This activity may be in the form of a content or a process technology. My friend has developed several core test beds for the technology elements of her business and is able to offer this or to consult with companies that have their own internal test beds. Further, she supplies the total test service for her customers, including project management and tracking. By doing so, she has been able to demonstrate repeatedly to her customers that she can fulfill their testing needs with higher quality and as cost effectively as the offshoring competition.
  2. CONTINUOUSLY OPTIMIZE YOUR BUSINESS MODEL: Regularly review your business model and look for ways to be more efficient. Look for ways to remove redundant activities and “right size” the results you deliver. Find ways to reduce the number of steps in your processes or other unnecessary overhead. To do these things, you must continually measure what you do with an appropriate yardstick for your efforts. For example, when the tech stock bust occurred a few years ago, my friend had to redesign her company’s consulting model to dramatically reduce her overhead.

You might well say that all of these tenets are good common sense business practice, and you would be right. If you are in business for yourself, these are basic to survival and profitability. In the heat of daily work, however, we often forget that we need to continuously work at them. So, whether or not you are in business for yourself, I think you will find them valuable guideposts to assure continued success in your work endeavors. Remember that ultimately we are all in business for ourselves, even if we are employees of a company.

For more information about Quality Partners, visit their web site at www.qpqa.com.

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