The economic downturn has moved far beyond a "normal" recession and UK businesses are now confronted with unprecedented hardships, writes Mark Dixon, chief executive and founder of Regus. In response, cutting costs across the company becomes critical and should include all line items.
But it's important not to go overboard in your drive to be lean; if you go as far as losing the technology and talent you've built up, you risk suffering when the upswing eventually comes.
Taking cost and waste-reduction measures is a commonsense first step to protect the bottom line, but the companies that survive this downturn will be those that are also determined to grow the top line.
One way of doing this is to continue to explore new markets to sell your products and services, whether at home or abroad. With sales drying up in core markets, many businesses are seizing growth opportunities elsewhere and generating incremental revenue by increasing the number of markets where they sell.
Setting up an office in a different country is much easier than it used to be but there are still many barriers, including government rules and regulations, cultural obstacles and language issues.
Offices in other parts of the world can be of a lower quality than you're used to here and the high prices and lease negotiations can be off-putting, so get plenty of professional advice and research markets comprehensively before you commit to anything.
Once you have decided on where you want to launch a satellite office or explore a new market, there are various options open to you. Today's flexible workspaces, such as a low-cost virtual office, give you a local presence while you decide whether a market is ripe for expansion. Someone else handles the calls – in the local language of the place you're targeting – without any upfront capital expenditure, so the risk is minimal.
Like any venture, you will need to ensure that you have the talent in place to evolve and grow the business. Employing staff in other countries has its own challenges and you need to make sure you're familiar with the country's employment law if you take on local staff.
You may have to invest some time managing the new venture yourself or put in place a trusted manager taken from the business at home. Managers who are good leaders, and who have staff with a strong sense of teamwork and strength of purpose will be able to help a firm grow, in or out of recession.
You could use videoconferencing as a low-cost way of communicating with clients or staff in other parts of the world. It's useful for new business presentations, for example, and eliminates the monetary and environmental cost of flying, as well as saving substantial amounts of time.
Recession-related factors are also working in the entrepreneur's favour at the moment. As travel falls off, airlines are reducing their costs, particularly on long-haul flights, and hotels are slashing prices for rooms, while investors who were too busy to entertain new proposals last year may be hungry for fresh initiatives in these challenging times, although they will remain risk-averse.
Short-term pressures make it hard to take a long-term perspective but, despite the environment in which we're working, the old adage that you have to speculate to accumulate still holds true. Now is the time to take advantage of doors that are opening to new ideas, products and services.