Spectators Will Kindly Remove Themselves from the Playing Field

For probably the last 20 years or so I have had two framed signs hanging on my office walls. When I moved offices they were usually the first things I find a spot for. I make sure that they are both clearly visible to all who enter.

The first reads, "He who hesitates is lunch." The other reads, "Spectators will kindly remove themselves from the playing field."

I am sending a message to my colleagues, guests and myself.

I read a great deal about the business climate in daily newspapers, journals and periodicals. I spend a great deal of time with the business news on in my office and the Internet "updating" me on the current happenings and moods in the commercial and political environs. And most days I meet with three to five business executives and have the opportunity to hear their perspectives.

From all of this input my conclusion is that more people should take to heart these two messages, now more than ever. In my 25 year business career I don’t recall experiencing a time of more hesitation and spectating. There is hope, but not confidence. There is anticipation, but only modest action. There is a seeming presence of "will," but little identified "way."

Every business person with any experience knows that the greatest opportunities are those that are seized on the heels of a downturn. Although he has little business experience, Rahm Emanuel, Chief of Staff for President Obama, summarized the situation perfectly when he said, "Never let a serious crisis go to waste." His intention of the comment was much different, but the message should resonate with us in business.

Today is the perfect day to begin transforming, strengthening and repositioning your business. There is an absolute abundance of outstanding talent for hire. These are people who wouldn’t have considered changing jobs three years ago. Today, they will come running and many times for a lower compensation level than they would have demanded not so long ago.

Your competitors that have been weakened by the downturn and have gone into their bunkers are leaving their customers vulnerable. Now more than ever customers want attention and reassurance. They want to know you are forging ahead and coming up with new solutions to their problems. Relationships are cemented in times of trouble. It is a golden opportunity to move to the head of the class with your imbedded customers and insert yourself as the better alternative with your weaker competitors’ customers.

The strategic path is wide open as well. The best companies are doing a great deal of new and innovative work at this time. For the rest there is a lot of talk, but little action. Those that are pushing, testing, launching and validating new ideas will be swimming in business when the turn-around comes into full view. All the others will be playing catch up.

And there are deals to be made in acquisitions and investments in companies that need your help. I doubt there has been a better time in the last 50 years to find great businesses to acquire that can augment your strategic position. Good companies that are struggling to stand on their own yet have solid technology, process, procedure and talented teams are looking for partners. These are companies that will sell for multiples well above today’s "buyers" market in a few short years. The time to move is now.

And yes, there is credit available. Don’t believe the doom and gloom the media thrives on. It sells TV ads, but nothing more. There are private investors searching high and low for great opportunities to deploy capital. If you can’t find capital you either don’t have a solid plan or you aren’t trying.

As you are reading all this you are probably thinking, "But how do I know now is the right time?" Well, you don’t. And you won’t know now "is" the right time until the opportunity has passed. And then, by definition, you will have missed it. But who decides the "right time"? Maybe you and I do.

Recoveries, business surges, high growth GDP, lower unemployment, and consumer and business confidence all start with one thing: not government stimulus (which we have clearly proven doesn’t work), not demonstrated trend lines that show the surge is well underway, not a tax rate of "x" or "y" (although lower taxes most certainly are a great support of ongoing business activity) and not some external assurance of success. A robust economy starts with belief, courage, will and action from business leaders and entrepreneurs. The business climate is a function of people and what they are saying and doing. Stock markets, interest rates, growth, etc. are all a result, not a cause, of confident activity. The time for waiting has passed, now is a time for doing.

And that confident activity comes from us, most of us relatively small business owners and employees. It is as simple as today deciding that we are done being in recession mode and we are now in growth mode. We are done playing defense and we are going to play offense. We are done finding the things to make us fear the future and we are going to find the opportunity that is right in front of us every day.

Hesitate to adopt this mentality and hesitate to begin taking action at your own peril, for you will undoubtedly be "lunch" for those who are already engaged and authoring the recovery. And if you do chose to spectate while the rest of us take advantage of this great opportunity and lead the our communities and ultimately the country out of this slump, please stay out of the way while you watch us succeed on this great playing field.