While the Washington Monument has re-opened, the government shutdown's ripple effect continues across the nation. According to the financial ratings agency Standard & Poor's, the shutdown has taken at least $24 billion out of the U.S. economy. Consumer confidence also took a hit with the latest survey from the National Retail Federation indicating cautious consumer spending this holiday season.
The recent government shutdown won't be the last storm that small businesses have to weather. Those who kept their heads above water will take the lessons they learned and put them to use in future storms. And yes, there will always be another crisis, so the key is to be ready for it. Here are the five things that small business owners can do to stay afloat in rough waters:
1. Think globally. Any business is more competitive and less susceptible to risk if it is selling in more than one market. (That's right. Why do you think your financial advisor constantly tells you to diversify, diversify, diversify?) Small businesses are never too small to do business internationally. Look at the success that the U.S. cherry farmers had with the Chinese consumers this summer. Now is the time for small businesses to put a plan together to start exploring and testing international waters. They can start by assessing the potential demand for their products or services in foreign markets and then identify the marketing channels to target. Selling overseas allows companies to increase their brand footprint and have somewhere to turn if the domestic financial situation becomes less rosy.
2. Reprioritize. If government business makes up a significant part of your revenue, prepare early and redistribute your resources. For example, Betty Mills, a U.S. cleaning supply company, shifted their marketing spend into product categories that are less dependent on purchases by the government. They reprioritized to focus on promoting other strong categories including medical supplies, workwear and break room snacks for better returns.
3. Be resourceful. There are plenty of sources for help no matter what's open and what's shut down. SCORE, Y! Small Business Advisor, American Express OPEN Forum, SmallBizDaily, and many other private resources are available 24/7 -- and many of them are absolutely free.
4. Be creative. A little creativity can take you far. If loyalty programs, refer-a-friend or late-night or weekend-only offers are particularly effective for a small business, they can be made to sound very timely to fit the current situation. Sometimes all it takes is a catchy phrase such as "Yellowstone is closed but we're not" to let customers know your special promotions will be there to help even if the government isn't.
5. Help each other. They may not realize it, but small business owners are part of a large community of entrepreneurs. Supporting and lending expertise to other small business owners can create lasting relationships that can help business owners weather storms in the future.
For 16 days in October, the federal government may have been shut down, but creative small businesses kept right on ticking. America is built on entrepreneurship and resilience. And there's never a shutdown on that.