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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Challenging times: How to adapt

Here is the publisher's viewpoint published in this month's edition of Ontario Construction Report

By Mark Buckshon
President, Construction News and Report Group of Companies

Times are changing. The heady, fun and sometimes overwhelmingly good times in the construction economy are finally ending, and many people in this business, who started during the relatively long 'up' cycle have little experience with the other side of the coin. Others (myself included) who have been through a few downturns know the drill: You survive and even thrive by keeping your eyes on the basics, taking decisive action whenever you need to, and always you must watch that red line – the point of no return where if you pass it, you cannot recover. At these difficult, critical points, you need to prepared to respond decisively.

Things of course won't be that bad for most of us. If you are good enough at your trade or profession to succeed in good times, you can likely do well in difficult ones; if you are marginal, you may have more problems (but then, should you be in the business in the first place?) But how do you adapt to the circumstances – especially since you haven't needed to 'market' your business in the past?

The answer here is to remember that, if you previously had a great backlog of work because of repeat and referral business, you have a really good brand – the cornerstone of effective marketing. The brand, by the way, is your clients' perception of you and your business – if they trust you to deliver top-quality work at a fair price, they call you back, and you are busy.

Your challenge in a recession is to realize that your brand remains your greatest asset, and desperate moves outside of this brand 'comfort zone' are likely to be disappointing failures. Chasing blindly after bidding opportunities and RFPs where you don't have experience or previous relationships will be daunting and frustrating – your energies spent on preparing proposals and travelling great distances to hope to win work, will probably lead to limited if any new business.

Similarly, blindly signing up for leads services or (gulp, considering this is our business) buying advertising where you haven't advertised in the past will probably produce disappointing results.

Your best bets are to look closely at your current and previous clients and see if you can develop a recessionary-value based add on or supplemental service; to prime the pump for more referrals and so on. You can also gain value, I think through your trade associations, especially the stories of successful peers in other communities – these businesses are not your competitors and should be able to guide you with effective suggestions.

If you are in Ottawa and sell renovation services, you will find the new Ottawa Renovates! magazine to be great value. We are producing this publication at the request of the Renovators' Council of the Greater Ottawa Home Builders' Association. For more information, please email Brian Warren at or Paul Scissons at

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