03/30/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Owen Wilson vs. Matthew McConaughey

A few months ago, my husband, Robin, started working with a personal trainer. When he came home from his first session, he mentioned the trainer asked him to name a celebrity that had the body type he was going for, and Robin told him "Owen Wilson."

I almost spit out my water. "Interesting choice," I said. Not that there's anything wrong with Owen Wilson -- he has a perfectly good body. In fact, I thought Owen Wilson was a fair analogy to Robin's status quo. You know the type -- skinny, not-so-toned guy. I just wondered why he needed to enlist a personal trainer for this.

Robin asked, "He's the guy who's always hanging around Lance Armstrong, right?" I said yes, but that doesn't make him fit by association, and I dropped the subject, suspicious that this was too easy a goal.

A few days later, I was flipping through an US Weekly and came across a picture of Lance Armstrong, with Owen Wilson to his left. Robin said, "THAT'S the guy I was thinking of," and pointed to the right of Matthew McConaughey (rippling pecs and six-pack abs glistening from his recent bike ride).

At his next session, Robin told the trainer his mistake, and the trainer replied, "Well, then, I guess we have some work to do after all!"

I thought of this story recently, when asked how my goals for my business had changed, in light of the economic crisis. At the start of the year, they had changed dramatically, preparing for the worst. I was only hoping I could keep my head above water and maintain my status quo from the year before. (Call it the Owen Wilson Plan.) I was looking at my operating expenses with a fine-toothed comb, figuring out anywhere and everywhere I could trim them. Renegotiating rent, reducing labor and marketing costs.

However, the more I planned for these reductions, the more I saw my business shrinking before my eyes. If I reduce labor and marketing, how can I meet my existing customer's needs and expectations? My sales would start to shrink even more. In this economic environment, even status quo takes a lot of hard work.

So I thought to myself, if I'm going to be spending so much time in the gym (to continue the analogy), why stop at Owen Wilson? Why can't I have the Matthew McConaughey body? Yes, it will require a lot of time and hard work, but unless I'm ready to call it quits, I'm in for that this year anyway.

The profile of my growth plan has changed -- last year at this time it was additional stores, wholesale opportunities, ancillary product lines -- but I am still pushing for growth. I have just changed my "workout regime":

* If existing customers are each spending less, try to capture more customers: I am fortunate because I have a "local" business, but with products that can reach customers nationally. Blogging, email newsletters and Internet marketing are inexpensive ways to drive people to to order treats, even if they can't make it into the store.

* Give customers more reasons to buy our products: I plan on adding selective additions to our menu and packaging things in creative ways that will meet my customers' needs that aren't already being met. Further, we will be extending our hours of operation to include Sundays, offering our customers an additional day of the week to enjoy our treats.

* Cut costs without effecting our value proposition: We wouldn't even consider reducing our food costs by purchasing lower quality ingredients, but renegotiating our shipping costs with UPS? That's a saving that can be directly passed on to our customers and hopefully gain us more Internet business.

American Express OPEN recently polled small business owners to gauge their sentiment and future plans. 50% of respondents agreed that over the next six months they expect the economic climate to negatively affect their business. Only 25% agreed that they expected to grow regardless of the economic climate. As owners of small businesses, we have the livelihoods of our families and those of our employees in our hands, so we do have to think realistically and set our goals accordingly. But this does not mean hunkering down and preparing for the worst.

So set your goals -- Owen Wilson, not bad; Matthew McConaughey, even better -- and know that it will take a lot of hard work to achieve them. Also remember that setting goals and accomplishing them are two different things, so celebrate each achievement that gets you closer to your goal. In the end, those companies that have weathered the storm will come out even further ahead.