Post by Liz Cullen, contributing Women On Business writer
Last week, Amy Blais discussed our WPEO Awards Breakfast, honoring Women Business Enterprises (WBEs) and corporate sponsors. Leading up to the program, we were apprehensive. Last year was our 10th anniversary and the tone of the event was celebratory. We unveiled a video and toasted our achievements. This year, we knew the tone would be different and critically analyzed our messages and talking points to be sure that we were communicating to our women business owners–and the corporations that want to do business with women–that we understand the economic situation. Not only will we continue to be a resource but, perhaps, that role is even more important now that every business needs an edge to differentiate it from the competition.
I do not want to say that we need not have worried. Our focus on remaining relevant in these times resulted in a substantive program where the key message was not, as we feared: “The economy is terrible and our businesses are in trouble” but rather, as we hoped: “The economy is in trouble, so what can women business owners offer?”
In fact, representatives from the women owned businesses and the corporations alike both pointed out that women business owners might actually have an advantage as vendors to large companies because they have the ability to be flexible. Each woman had a story about this growing trend, and how it helped them to maintain their business, even in a tough economy. The key, they emphasized, is knowing the value you provide and the niche it serves. Once you can target the larger companies you are willing to work with, you can start to learn how they are cutting costs. Companies will be cutting back in different ways, so if you are able to be flexible, you can better understand their needs and the budget they are working with. Then, you can develop your product around these specifications.
This doesn’t mean you have to stray completely away from the norm. Innovate and integrate new ideas at a pace that makes sense given your own budget. They may not be new ideas; promoting a track record of cost savings is a great way to differentiate yourself and your company. Everyone is looking for ways to save, and if you can go the extra mile for a company to help, they will return to you, and expand your network of referrals as well.
Another way to be flexible is to be willing to be a second tier vendor or partnering with another company that owns a complementary service. Developing second tier (or sub-contracting) relationships, can lead to even more business opportunities in the future. It gives you a chance to showcase your talents and start building that track record. If you are partnering and you are the smaller company, you are able to spend more time on each clients’ project, and really cater to that company’s needs.
I frequently hear that in this economy “we are all in this together.” By identifying your core capabilities and adapting to the changing needs of clients, you show that your company is truly a partner to your clients and your fellow business owners. This is a value that will not go away when the recession does.