How to survive the recession in a small town

TONASKET – The Tonasket Chamber of Commerce discussed how to survive the recession in a small town during their general discussion meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 24.

To facilitate this discussion, Chamber President Kari Alexander presented a document titled “‘Peak Performance’ Assessment & Strategies How to Survive in a Slowing Economy” from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Web site.

From this document, 11 steps were listed to help small business survive the recession. Alexander started the discussion with Step 2: Get Lean and Mean which stated “review current financial statements, including current accounts receivable and payables with your accountant, mentor or business coach. Identify five or more ways to cut costs and increase revenues.”

“I combined phone lines and our part-time employees no longer have cell phones,” Alexander said.

Bertha Wandler stated that since Okanogan County has been in a constant recession, she doesn’t believe Tonasket is seeing so much of a difference.

“I think the important thing for the general public is to keep as much business in town as you can,” Wandler added.

Step 3: Maximize Cash Flow stated “review current monthly payment amounts on business leases, bank loans, credit cards and supplier terms to consider possible re-negotiation of rates and terms. Review your receivables weekly and reach-out to customers with outstanding accounts. Remember, the longer an account is past due, the less likely you are to receive payment. Be willing to offer payment plans to customers who fall behind, but make sure they stick to the agreement.”

Alexander stated that she has re-negotiated rates and terms on a few things and that the process works easier than people would think.

Step 4: Look for New Opportunities stated “take a step back and review the direction and forward strategies for your business in the current environment. Put things in perspective, recalibrate and explore new business opportunities created by the downturn. Specifically, look for new ways to diversify and offer new products and services that can generate new revenue. Identify five or more new product and/or service ideas for your business.”

When Alexander asked if the chamber could identify five new products and/or services for Tonasket, Eric Griffin suggested subsidized housing. He said that recapturing the subsidized housing market is a good opportunity to bring money back into Tonasket.

Step 5: Leverage Technology stated “technology can serve to enable your business. Use it to track and target customers as well as to improve business efficiencies. If you don’t already have a Web presence or an eCommerce strategy, consider implementing one or both to attract customers from around the world and around the clock.”

“Last month, we talked about having a Web site and how it can help business,” Alexander reminded the chamber.

The chamber agreed that networking with other businesses in town to keep visitors in town is also a good way to bring and keep money in Tonasket.

Step 6: Keep & Hire Quality Employees stated “your employees are valuable business assets. Keep the best, hire only quality and liberate those who are not adding value. Make sure your best employees know who they are and how much they are appreciated.”

Step 7: Provide Incredible Customer Service stated “if you satisfy customer needs and provide incredible customer service, you will exponentially increase the chances for your success. Identify 10 key customer service strategies and describe them on a poster where all employees can readily see them. Discuss the strategies at your next staff meeting.”

“I think this one is really important because I don’t go back to a business if I don’t receive good service,” Alexander said.

“Business owners need to recognize good employees and let them know how important they are for business success,” Wandler added.

Step 8: Network stated “expand your knowledge and surround yourself with knowledgeable people. Use a network of experienced advisors, mentors and business coaches to help guide your business decisions. Take a free online SBA business course today and make an appointment to talk with an SBDC, SCORE or WBC business counselor sometime during the next week.”

“The SCORE people are very helpful when it comes to business plans,” Alexander said.

Step 9: Capitalize on Credit stated “review your personal and business credit scores. Deal with any credit issues before they are a problem. Developing and maintaining a good credit history is important to you and your business. Good credit provides benefits regarding access to and the cost of capital.”

“The credit card companies jumped up all the rates but they’ll lower yours back down if you call and ask,” Alexander said.

Step 10: Increase Marketing Efforts stated “learn as much as you can about changes your customers are facing and target them with persistence and good advertising. Review multiple marketing campaigns of your competitors and other businesses. Identify five marketing/advertising ideas you can implement immediately.”

“People pay more attention to fliers around town and the advertising in the newspapers is less expensive than in large cities,” Alexander told the chamber.

Finally, Step 11: Solicit New Ideas stated “ask your employees, customers, mentors and others for suggestions on how you can diversify and improve your business operations.”

“We had a suggestion box at the YMCA and we knew everything that wasn’t working because people will put something on a piece of paper in a box that they won’t say,” Julianna Griffin said.

“I know we’re in a recession all the time but it is good to review these steps,” Alexander said.

Tips for saving money during this recession can also be found at the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions Web site

The chamber then chose Identity Theft and Scams as their general topic for next month’s second meeting.

To end their meeting, the chamber heard several community announcements. The first was one from Wandler regarding the Founder’s Day parade entry forms.

“I’ve set a deadline of May 28 and I’ve put my phone numbers on the forms and my home address so people can mail them to me,” Wandler said. “It’s not up to me to go all over town to pick these up.”

The Community Cultural Center is having a Girls Night Out on March 20 where Priscilla DeGraff will be talking about Women’s Health plus there will be fun events and women musicians.

The Okanogan County Tourism Council will be having a meeting on March 26 at the CCC. Dinner begins at 6 p.m. and the program begins at 7 p.m.

Finally, Green Okanogan will be on April 18 and 19 at the CCC. Peter James said speakers would be coming to the events, including master gardener Terry Williams, who will be speaking about local plants.

The next Chamber of Commerce meeting will be on Tuesday, March 10 at noon at Whistler’s Family Restaurant.