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*&%# Obama or McCain: My Bulletproof Secrets to Insulate Your Small Business from Bankruptcy

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It's funny, when the economy is robust, people spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about getting another job or wondering whether they should change careers or rethink what they're doing. But when the economy is stressed, the question that I get asked over and over again is, "How do I protect my job?" Gone are those daydreamy questions filled with what-ifs and replacing them are concerns about layoffs and cutbacks and how I can keep my job. Meanwhile, employers and managers of companies ask me, "What can I do to get more from my employees?"
Bulletproofing one's job is built around four simple notions that will maximize your value and prospects for today and tomorrow. Small business owners, managers, and human resources executives should also master these tips that can be passed along to your employees. They are: Be visible. Be easy. Be useful. Be ready. That's it. Pretty easy to understand, aren't they. But you can't choose just one or two areas to work on and ignore the others. Being visible won't help if you're not being easy. And being useful won't do you any good if you're not ready for what might come next. They work only in tandem. But they do work.
Here are a few tips to get you started.

Tip #1. Identify your objectives
• Set a clear goal
• Rally the troops
• Reduce costs
• Add value to the bottom line

You're wasting your time if you don't have a clear goal or understanding about what you want to achieve. Why exactly do you want your employees or team to be more productive? Do you want to increase your speed to market? Improve customer service? Get your employees to respond faster? You need to set a measurable goal and get everyone on board and work toward it.
One positive thing about the economic crisis we're in is that you can make it into a motivational tool for your workers. Let it serve as a rallying tool for them to put aside their individual concerns and join forces around a common goal. You can use the economy to drive home the fact that quality service to customers and greater efficiency are the best ways for employees to help your business get through the downturn, and therefore keep their jobs.

This fear and desire to keep the company going can get everyone working together if you, as the leader, don't become paralyzed by that same fear and present a solution that everyone can support. I talk about this more in my book, Bulletproof Your Job (HarperCollins).

Now, anyone can find ways to cut costs or increase revenue, but not everyone immediately thinks like that. You might need to get your employees to realize that they're in this, too, and that they can play an active role. I'm not talking about discovering gold or coming up with the next big idea. You don't have the time or resources for that right now, and neither does anyone else when they're fighting to stay afloat. It really could be as basic as finding a way to pinch some pennies or identify or improve a source of revenue that doesn't require a capital investment.
The best way to add value to the bottom line is to protect it. Essentially, this means doing anything and everything you can to keep your current customers and clients satisfied so they don't go away. Do what you need to do to keep them happy.

Tip #2. Improve communication with vendors
• Evaluate your suppliers
• "Am I getting the best price?"

A bad economy is a big equalizer. It puts everyone in the same boat. You, your employees, your customers and your vendors - those people whose services you hire out. Now is the time to put your negotiation skills to work. Are you getting the lowest price? Make sure you ask your suppliers for the best rate possible for whatever service they're providing you and negotiate for something lower. It doesn't hurt to ask, does it? If their situation is similar to yours, they'll probably come down some. This is the time to really look within your own business operations for cost savings. Shop around to ensure that you're always getting the best price.
Now, you may have to threaten to cancel a contract if someone won't give you a better deal. However, on the opposite end, don't give up on a supplier whom you've used and really like just because of price. Cost should be just one of the factors you consider when evaluating them. If you're happy with them and have identified measurable ways to evaluate their service, don't go jump ship now. You may be able to chalk up their cost in some other way that is saving you money. Read more on this topic in my book, Bulletproof Your Job (HarperCollins).

Tip #3. Invest in training
• Reverse mentoring
• Improve customer responsiveness

Training a new employee takes patience. Every job should have a handbook written by an existing employee that describes tasks and responsibilities associated with the job. Special instructions should be noted, as well as recurring challenges that can be expected. Get each current employee to write the handbook so it can be passed along to the new one. Information associated with training can be overwhelming, so share it gradually. Give the employee time to learn, make mistakes and ask questions.

As I discuss in Bulletproof Your Job (HarperCollins), another point to push with your staff is the notion of reverse mentoring. Even junior team members can play mentor - in reverse - by sharing knowledge that is unique to their age group and experience. Teaching older employees some shortcuts on their computers or how to navigate social networking sites is a way they can showcase their distinctive skills. So, if you or someone is struggling with some new technology or system, put out a call for assistance. Someone is sure to speak up.

The other thing to remember is that much of this training doesn't have to be done in person anymore. These manuals can actually be an audio file or a series of online videos. With an integrated communications system, you have the option of using Web conferencing to bring together a geographically diverse group of people.

All this training work is going to pay off for you and your team because you'll have employees who know what they're doing and they'll be able to do it better and more efficiently. Projects will get completed faster, and your customers will thank you for it.

To review:
• When times are tough, think outside the box
• Stay connected
• Communicate more efficiently

Before you do anything, make sure you have a clear goal and understand what you're trying to achieve. Then map out a plan and do it. Set a measurable goal and get everyone on board. You might need to get your employees to realize that they're in this, too. That way, you have a win-win situation: your employees can bulletproof their jobs, and you can bulletproof your business.

Stephen Viscusi is the author of Bulletproof Your Job (HarperCollins) and can be reached at Stephen@viscusi.com. Visit his website at www.bulletproofyourjob.com.