Keep It Simple When Times Are Tough

Recently, I got into an eight-ball match straight out of my worst nightmare.

Recently, I got into an eight-ball match straight out of my worst nightmare. I dont know where my game went, but I couldnt have hit a ball with a shotgun. I was so pitiful that my opponent offered advice instead of sarcasm.

He said, "When Im in a funk as bad as you are, I always find it helps to go back to basics." In pool, that means keep your eye on the object ball, not the next one you plan to make. Shoot straight through the middle of the cue ball without applying spin. Dont even think about making every ball on the table in one turn. Above all, dont rush the shot; take as much time as you need to get your stance, stroke and aim right before you pull the trigger. Similar advice can help you work through the current business slump.

Pick your best shot—the one youre most comfortable with—and stay focused on it. Focus on what you have done well in the past with the skills and customers you know best. Stressful, uncertain times are not ideal for experiments with unfamiliar business models, markets or partners.

Give all of your attention to doing the best job you can on the project youre performing today. On a pool table, perfect execution of the current shot often yields "natural setup" on the next shot. The same is true in business: A job well done frequently yields referrals to other good jobs.

Strive for the simplest solution—the one with the fewest possible points of failure. Customers dont care how cool a solution is; they just want one that gets the job done. An IT solution that depends on perfect performance by multiple vendors, service providers, your own staff and your customers personnel is like a bank shot that needs just the right amount of sidespin. Its impressive when it works, but it doesnt work very often.

Your business mission should be simple, too. Dont make a prospect ask twice, "What exactly do you do?" Professional Data Systems ( sells turnkey information systems "for the small-to-midsized distributor of durable goods." They dont pretend to be "redefining global supply-chain paradigms."

Network-attached storage, this weeks "Solutions" feature topic, isnt all that complicated either. ECCS Inc. transformed the U.S. Armys personnel records department from a slow-moving bureaucracy into an open, Internet-accessible resource center by, basically, adding a few disk drives. ECCS precise execution of a simple "shot" gave them another shot—at an Air Force storage project.

Vendors partner programs are getting overly complicated, too. A PR guy e-mailed me an invitation to speak with an HP executive about their latest small-business service. When I asked how my readers could make money with it, he replied that they definitely could, but the program was "too complex to explain via e-mail." So how was I supposed to explain it on paper?

When the going gets tough, slow down. Think about each step before you take it. Qualify your prospects. Take time out for training and refresher seminars. Interview more candidates before making a key hire. Evaluate more vendors before committing to a partnership.

When you go back to the basics, youll close a higher percentage of deals. Each deal you make will move you closer to the next one. It worked for my pool game, and it will work for you.