The Recession’s Silver Lining: A Blank Canvas

May 21st, 2009 by Admin

Internationally known master sushi chef Nobu Matsuhisa got his start in tough times: He spent years learning the restaurant business from the bottom up, endured years of a bad business partnership, and then saw his next restaurant burned to the ground before his eyes, leaving him with nothing but debt. Frustrated and depressed, he refused to give up on his dream of a high-quality sushi restaurant and moved to California. Several years later, he was out of debt and able to buy his own restaurant, leading to an eventual business partnership with actor Robert de Niro and the creation of 22 restaurants worldwide so far, with more to come.

While Nobu is an inspiring example of what’s possible, inspiration is hard to come by these days. In the last few months you may have felt the bite of this recession—by losing a job, suffering anxiety over the potential of losing your job, or realizing that you don’t even want your job and it’s time to make your dreams come true.

The current downturn, despite all its challenges, also has a silver lining: it may actually help you in launching your venture.

Given how tight purse strings are around the world right now, it’s going to be difficult to raise capital or secure loans, forcing you to bootstrap. That means that avoiding classic entrepreneur mistakes and focusing on the truly important things in your business. To borrow from Guy Kawasaki, this means managing for cash flow rather than profitability, getting quickly to market, positioning yourself in a tight niche, and focusing on actions that generate revenues with a short sales cycle and without adding to your fixed costs.

Surprisingly, there are several advantages in trying to start a business in a recession, such as: increased negotiating power, thinning of the herd, and availability of talent.

First, your negotiating power as an entrepreneur has increased. Business is down across most sectors, which means that your vendors and suppliers will likely be more inclined to give you better prices and terms since they are hungry for business. If you leverage this by negotiating well, you’ll keep your costs down and stay lean. Second, the recession has already put many companies out of business. Further, the onslaught of negative media coverage has made the surviving companies and start-ups slower and more cautious. Expansion plans have been put on hold. This gives you a unique opportunity to capture more market share as they wait for the economy to turn.

Finally, in the never-ending “war for talent,” there is currently a fire sale. There are a lot of great people out there with drive, who are looking for direction – your direction. Your dream can become an inspiring vision for others, but only if you get out there and share it. An inspiring idea is even more impactful in bad times because people are thirstier for inspiration (not to mention in need of income). Give it to them, wherever you are. (Or wherever they are—consider going virtual and saving even more on overhead costs, like popular online productivity site Remember the Milk.)

Perhaps the biggest blessing in this recession is that it forces entrepreneurs to go back to the drawing board, to being creative. A recession can be thought of as a failure of existing commercial players to generate sufficient economic value, requiring adaptations in business models. Approaching things with a blank slate will help you see opportunities you may have overlooked. As Jim Collins, best-selling author of Built to Last and Good to Great, said in his recent Inc. interview: “When you paint by numbers, the end result is guaranteed…. it might be good, but it will never be a masterpiece. Starting with a blank canvas is the only way to get a masterpiece.”

Master chef Nobu is an artist who created his masterpiece only after setbacks forced him to build his dream anew from a blank canvas.

And a blank canvas is exactly what the world has handed us. Let’s get painting.

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