Cringe inducing business survival guide to the recession


BOOK REVIEW: FIONA REDDANreviews  Beat the 2008 Recession: A Blueprint for Business Survival

AS THE global recession starts to bite, an increasing number of self-help tomes have started to appear on the shelves of book shops, aiming to equip businesses and their managers with the tools to weather the economic downturn.

One such book, Beat the 2008 Recession: A Blueprint for Business Survivalprovides 176 recommendations to help small business owners recession proof their businesses.

While the book purports to offer "the best of current thinking on how to survive - and with care, thrive - in the impending global economic downturn", and asserts that in it "there is absolutely no padding, waffle or theory", after a couple of pages, readers will soon recall a very famous television personality, famed for his management insights.

It is hard not to think of The Office'sDavid Brent, when you read advice such as "be the best version of you"; "get sleep . . . get exercise . . . keep hydrated . . ."; "think expect and create fun" and "look after what is your greatest asset by far in this recession: your brain".

And perhaps the most "David Brentish" of all of the author's advice is to ensure that the office is a fun place. "Fun is a stand-up spot at the monthly meeting", he asserts, and recommends that employers hold onto a great joke or anecdote for a company meeting, so you can "let them leave feeling really good".

Moreover, the author is also a bit fond of stating the obvious. For example, he recommends that business owners should become "canny recruiters"; should "ask the right sort of questions at the right time"; "create a strategic plan"; "create a brilliantly simple and basic website" as well as reinventing their businesses. But he offers no advice as to how a "brilliantly simple" website might be developed.

Unfortunately, the David Brent speak takes away from the more valuable pieces of advice the book has to offer, which may have been more suited to a long article, rather than a book.

While there is nothing new in his advice, which is actually suited to a business at any stage of the economic cycle, rather than just in a recession, it may help executives reassess the strategic priorities for their businesses.

For example, it is still worth remembering the importance in business of elements such as pricing strategies, particularly when it might be very tempting in the current environment to slash prices to get a sale.

"Don't panic and slash prices, because you don't necessarily need to change them. What you need to do is build value," he advises, adding, "talking price is a downward slope - talk value".

Bate recommends thinking carefully before you cut your prices, particularly with regards to profit margins and the importance of preserving these, and advises that instead of doing deals to accommodate certain customers, you might be better off finding difference customers.

His advice for coping with a recession can be summed up as; keeping a close eye on credit control and profit margins. "A recession means that attention to your lifeblood - cash - and an eye on the ultimate goal - profit - cannot be half-hearted. Focus on getting cash in, stopping money wastage and building profitability. That way not only will you survive, you will also thrive," he says.

With regards to costs, the author recommends keeping a very close eye on what you're spending on, and to consider introducing expense guidelines and asking people to stick to them.

He does warn however, that employers should be "rational" when it comes to cutting costs, and in the long-run it can cost more when the cuts significantly annoy staff members.

He identifies training as being a "real win-win investment" and recommends that employers don't cut back on training schemes as "good training motivates and makes people work more effectively".

Bate also encourages employers to have a look at themselves, and to "to make tough decisions about your previous vanity, ego, foibles and history", which includes re-evaluating paying over the odds for office space just to have a prestigious address.

Appropriate and timely decision making is vital in a recession he says, and urges employers to make the tough decisions with a careful balance of short and long-term consequences. "When you make a decision for now think - what does this mean for the future?".

However, at the end of the book the author reverts once more to his cringe inducing persona, and those readers who make it to the end of the book - taking time along the way to write down how they can implement its "key messages" in the many blank pages provided - are rewarded with a final gem of advice from the author.

"So now you can see why you can relax - you are ahead of the game. You are at an extreme of the bell curve. You know what you are trying to do. You are in control. You have plans and you can and are getting the support of those you need. Get back to work. Get back to life. Relax. It'll all be ok."

• Fiona Reddan's new book, Ireland's IFSC: A story of Global Financial Successwill be published by Mercier Press on September 25th

Beat the 2008 Recession: A Blueprint for Business Survival by Nicholas Bate; Infinite Ideas Limited; €12.14