Aiming high Featured

8:00pm EDT July 26, 2009

It hasn’t been difficult to find bad news in the past year if you’re leading a business. Whether reading the paper, scanning the Internet or watching TV, the state of the faltering economy has been more than evident.

You can’t help the state of the economy, but Ryan Stephens says you can help the mentality with which you and your employees approach it. The co-founder, president and CEO of Perpetual Technologies Inc. says the spiraling economy presents definite challenges, but it also presents opportunities for a well-positioned business.

“One challenge during this economy is avoiding the temptation to be driven by fear,” Stephens says. “Instead of pressing forward, holding back. A lot of companies are doing that. It’s been a chain reaction.”

A proactive approach has helped Stephens continue growing Perpetual Technologies in spite of the economy. The company of nearly 100 people generated $10.2 million in revenue in 2008.

Smart Business spoke with Stephens about how you can position your business to persevere in the current economy.

Stay aggressive. Now is the time to change. If any company can effectively change during this economy — find a way to step up and be a leader — I think that company stands a better chance of success in this economy.

This is a time when many businesses start pulling back into more of a defensive mode. We’ve seen that to some degree, but what we’re trying to do is not pull back too far, not be driven by fear and to go forward full steam ahead within reason. Since we’re a technology company, we need to stay on the edge of technology, be proactive and be diligent. That will allow us to make wiser decisions for ourselves and for our clients. Most of all, we need to adapt our business model and our services to better support our clients during these downtimes, which will help us build stronger relationships with our clients.

This is a time of opportunity, even though times are hard. You can choose to be more proactive and go into an offensive mode. Obviously, you have to sharpen your pencil in a degrading economy, and there may be many ways to do that beyond cutting costs, such as refocusing your business, streamlining operations and maximizing resources that you have on the inside.

For example, we don’t plan to cut any positions. We plan to refocus and better utilize our staff so that everybody is working toward a common goal and everybody’s job somehow affects the bottom line. It’s all about staying focused on the customer and adapting to what their needs are, getting down to that routine of having it be the way you always do business.

Inform your employees. You watch the news at night, and it’s like a doomsday report. All you hear about all day is companies closing, salaries being cut, layoffs left and right. There are multiple announcements every day, and that’s just in Indianapolis. I know that’s what is going on all over the country.

One thing you have to do is manage that fear. You need to manage that fear yourself as the owner or manager of your business, but you also have to manage the fear of your people. The last thing you want are good employees left in the dark wondering what will happen. I read a survey recently, and I believe it was 85 percent of employees in this survey felt they would be working with a different employer in 2009. That number is extremely high, and it represents the fear in uncertain times. Certainly times are not good, but we can’t afford to lose people because of fear. You have to manage that fear through communication and trying to keep your people as busy as possible and reassuring them whenever you can that things are good. We try to reassure our people that we are financially stable, that we have a plan and are moving forward with it.

Let them know what you are doing to combat the struggling economy. We let them know that we are being proactive, we are financially sound, that we are looking ahead, and instead of making cuts, we’re looking to make investments in the business. Now is the time to make investments. If you have money, now is the time to invest in your business if you believe in your business and it is strong enough for you to do so. We’re letting our people know that we plan to be in this for the long run.

Measure your progress. One thing you can’t lose or sacrifice is trying to put quantifiable benchmarks in place for people so they can clearly see what their goals are, what is expected of them and the company, so they can be effectively and objectively measured.

We’re putting stricter guidelines in place and measurements, so at the end of the year, we and the employee can look back and see what was achieved and at what level.

But the constant focus on the goals is what we really want. You can measure results, you can refocus jobs and define missions, but if you get people in the first place who share the same philosophy in teamwork and customer service, that’s something they’re going to do naturally. The goals make sure that everybody stays focused and everybody is growing in the same direction, so that we can get through the storm.

How to reach: Perpetual Technologies Inc., (800) 538-0453 or www.perptech.com