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Your Wake-Up Call

The last line of Voltaire’s Candide is “tend your garden,” which I interpret to mean, “worry about your own situation first instead of getting too wrapped up in the bigger problems of the world. In other words, if everyone does what’s right, on a local level, then the big picture will usually work itself out. Unfortunately, the daily economic news of gloom and doom that we all face is making it more and more difficult to focus on the “micro” and ignore the “macro.”

Even as President Barack Obama reminds U.S. citizens to help out by driving creative solutions within their own local and regional areas, it’s impossible to ignore partisan bickering

between political parties or overlook the disheartening quotes from economists about how a seemingly massive economic stimulus package is still not enough to restart our economy.

The reality of the global recession, retraction, or depression (there will be a name for it some day) hit home for me this month when I learned that a good industry friend and 19-year custom installation industry veteran had closed his business due, in part, to the economic downturn. While this was, by no means, our first casualty as an industry, and certainly not our last, it makes me wonder how much damage will actually occur before things improve.

It’s one thing to read about job losses and to listen to endless debates over which stimulus item should be cut or kept intact. It’s another thing, entirely, when you put an actual face on those layoffs and business closures. This is a good industry with a lot of great people, and I hope everyone is realizing how serious things have become. If you had not already received a wake-up call, consider this your alarm clock bell ringing itself off the bedside table.

Take every bit of survival knowledge that you have ever learned from a business book, your trade magazines, CEDIA EXPO, or the CEDIA Management Conference, and keep fighting through it. Don’t keep making the same mistakes, expecting a better result. Don’t pay for a client’s products with your personal credit card. Don’t carry more staff than you can afford. It’s a dangerous time to hang on by a thread as a business. One little slip can be the end of the line for your entire team.

It’s time to start anticipating worse news ahead for awhile and to cut staff hours now, before it’s too late. If you can do it, begin exploring ways to diversify into new markets like energy management, light commercial AV work, or even government contracts. The stimulus package is out there. Find a way to jump on board.

I recently learned about how Ethan Siegal, CEO of speaker manufacturer Orb Audio, dug deep into the federal stimulus bill and discovered a provision that would increase loan guarantees for Small Business Administration lenders. That, he said, would make it easier for Orb, whose main office is in New York City, to secure a line of credit. Several other items also caught his eye, including one that offers a tax credit for businesses that hire disadvantaged workers like veterans and “disconnected youth” (those who are not in school or working.)

The next five years won’t be easy no matter how you attack them, but our industry will survive. As long as the passion for what you do remains strong, then the customers will come back. Until then, hold your head up high and keep your overhead as low as possible.