Being in the business of brand development and marketing – not only do you witness budget cuts first-hand but, more importantly, you are privy to the behind the door discussions and the real business sentiments. And while no-one has come out and said it, yes denial is a strong motivator, it’s clear that we are nearly, if not already in a recession. Certainly, it’s the big ‘R’ word nobody wants to hear. However, the economy always has and always will have its ups and downs – it’s how you weather the storm and knuckle down that makes the difference.

Reports indicate that South Africa is stuck in the longest business-cycle slump since 1945 and it’s hard not to see the impact. Job losses and halts on hiring. A slow-down in production. Budget cuts all round. Markets are shrinking, debt deficits are increasing, disposable incomes are decreasing, and investors globally have become more cautious. And with the situation equally volatile offshores, I’m sure it’s hard to stay optimistic – especially when confronted with it on a daily basis.

So, what should businesses do during the ‘ugly’?

• Evaluate the business: It’s a good time for reflection – what works, what doesn’t. Look at ways to diversify, repackage and innovate.

• Don’t cut prices: Many businesses will be tempted to lower their prices just to make a sale or win new business, but it will become harder for customers to justify paying the regular prices when things turn.

• Focus on customers: Put effort into retaining relationships. Focus on maintaining quality service.

• Maintain ethics: Businesses may be tempted to cut corners or due diligence in order to save costs or keep a contract for example. Business ethics and integrity cannot and should not be swayed.

• Don’t spin: Transparency is key. With staff, customers and suppliers. Keep lines of communication open. Be honest. Be human.

• Don’t make kneejerk decisions: Don’t close your brand off to the market. Now more than ever is your time to demonstrate your innovation, showcase your expertise and commitment to the market and build your reputation. Bill Gates’ famous quote; “If I was down to my last dollar, I would spend it on PR” really highlights the importance of PR – in good and tough times – and that there is nothing more valuable than a good reputation.

• Most importantly remember to look at the positives. Some businesses are thriving, others are supporting local, enterprise development is happening, people are learning from challenges and others are paying it forward. The positive are there if you know where to look.

There’s a great saying that when you really think about it makes an incredible amount of sense: “it has to get ugly before it gets pretty”. Think about it! After the storm, there’s a rainbow. After fire, new life grows. After failure, learnings. Things are bound to get ugly, but when it turns, the positives shine. And it will turn. Get ready for the pretty!

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