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How Successful Small Businesses Stay a Step Ahead in Challenging Times

Depending on what side of the coin you are on, a downturn in the economy instills either fear or determination. In small business, fear causes apprehensive owners and managers to make quick and sometimes bad decisions. Determined forward-thinkers, on the other hand, tend to see opportunity and prosper, even in a pseudo-recession. Despite the dip in our global economy and general uncertainty in the business world, many Los Angeles-area entrepreneurs are doing quite well – thanks to innovative marketing techniques, sticking with their core standards and simply thinking outside the box.

Small Business

“Successful businesses of any size know that now is the best time to advertise,” says AJ Ogaard, marketing expert with Kaeser & Blair, a promotional products giant. “The competition is feeling paralyzed – pulling back and waiting for the storm to blow over. Smart companies see new opportunities and find new ways of doing things, while staying closely connected to customers”.


In a slower economy there is no shortage of ways savvy small business owners can grow and succeed. Of the nine local businesses surveyed for this article (see SOS: Secrets of Success, below, for their tips), all had some ideologies in common: They kept to their core values, met customers’ needs, and took a creative approach. From opening up additional markets, to finding new ways of advertising and cutting costs, longevity of their businesses – not short-term band-aid solutions – was their main goal.


A quick fix for many is reducing costs, most notably overhead. Some companies have moved to strictly being a web-based presence with no store front, while others have begun to co-share space with others companies. One publisher simply reduced the size of her quarterly printed guide by a mere 8-pages, saving a substantial amount on printing costs while offering customers the same perceived value.

Outsourcing non-essential services is also fast becoming a popular option as removing repetitive and time-consuming tasks frees staff to perform other more important duties. Tim Ferriss, author of the New York Time Bestseller, “The 4-Hour Workweek“, is a true believer in outsourcing. His lifestyle design blog, 4hourblog.com, features case studies on how small businesses have successfully used outsourcing to gain an edge, save money and open up more time to enjoy life.


StrategyCutting costs is a viable solution when things are tight, but it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. Some businesses randomly reduce services, cut needed staff, and even skimp on product quality, with no plan in mind. Often, those short-term solutions fail because businesses lose what made them great in the first place.

It’s important to stick by the core principles that define your business philosophy”, says Ray Maietta, a Ph.D. Sociologist and President of ResearchTalk, Inc., a qualitative research consulting company. “When times are tough, it is risky to make quick decisions. Remember that you’re in it for the long haul. Decisions you make now become part of the image you put forth for your company. Make sure you’re comfortable with a customer saying: ‘I remember when they…’ While we all risk losing money at these times, we don’t have to risk comprising our principles”.


Creative businesses also use free and low cost new media as a way to connect with current and potential clients. “New media” encompasses fast-growing social media and social bookmarking internet sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Digg, LinkedIn, and StumbleUpon as well as viral videos placed on top video sharing and social networking sites. Viral video is the most effective way to spread the world about products and services by maximizing online views. Properly tagged and distributed videos push brands to the top of popular search engines such as Yahoo and Google. LA’s the Place Media has capitalized on its extensive online experience and uses that knowledge to assist companies in achieving high rankings with the major search engines.

LA's The Place Media

Able to deliver the next level of marketing that no other companies are offering in quite this way, their comprehensive marketing program incorporates and offers the many elements essential to online success, including viral video branding, marketing opportunities and participation in their four celebrity-involved-and-endorsed online TV programming. According to Jane Emery, Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of LA’s The Place Magazine and Producer of LA’s The Place Daily TV, “Now, more than ever, is the time to market yourself wisely, and being highly visible on the web is a must. Viral video is where everything is going, and it is vital to compete in this market.” You can inquire about video marketing opportunities with Jane Emery here


The new online world is a unique way to build customer trust that can make (or break) reputations quickly. Allowing customers to provide instant feedback and comments, as well as interact with a company or service, helps develop valuable relationships. And focusing on creating those relationships is a trait that most successful businesses have in common.

It’s about your customer – what they want and what they need to become successful”, notes Ogaard. “Take an interest in your client, find out what they do and become a valuable part of their business. It’s not about selling a product, it’s about offering a service. Become a tool in your client’s toolbox“.

Secrets of Succes

Nine diverse and random greater Los Angeles-based companies were asked to share the “one thing” they believe helps differentiate them and keeps their businesses growing. These companies offer insight, tips and advice on what it takes to become – and stay – successful during unpredictable times.

1. Stick to Your Standards

What is the one thing you are doing that you believe is the most effective?
From a creative point of view it’s the variety, we are constantly coming up with new flavors. From a business view, we only sell online so we don’t have a storefront. This creates less overhead.

“Stick to your high standards. Don’t let the economy steer you to cut costs. You will lose customers if you lower quality”.

~Ed Engoron, Cholatique, Los Angeles. Online chocolate store.

2. Communicate

What is the one thing you are doing that you believe is the most effective?
I keep in constant communication with my clients who, are the heart and soul of my business, and provide them with the absolute best customer-service imaginable. I also believe that my successful attitude has had a direct result on the success of my business.

“Give up the excuses you have been living uncomfortably with. Throw the doors open to success”.

~Valerie Fitzgerald, The Valerie Fitzgerald Group, Beverly Hills. Real Estate. (Fitzgerald is the author of the upcoming Heart and Sold: How to Survive and Build a Recession-Proof Business.)

3. Continue Marketing

What is the one thing you are doing that you believe is the most effective?
I believe the most important factor in our continued success is our marketing and advertising programs. We have focused very strongly on social Internet marketing over the past two years, actively engaging in online forums (one of which we own and has 4,000 participating members) and blogs.

“The biggest piece of advice I can give is to look for the opportunities during this downturn. Advertisers are cutting back. This means discounted radio spots, television spots, lowered PPC averages, etc. So many of our competitors are cutting back and/or going out of business, the playing field is starting to thin. Those that can ward off the feeling of despair and focus on growth and new opportunities will come out of this downturn stronger than ever before”.

~Jeremy Shepherd, Pearl Paradise, Los Angeles. Luxury goods business.

4. Find Out What Your Clients Want

What is the one thing you are doing that you believe is the most effective?
Our mission is to positively impact the highest number of people possible, with the healing power of natural, organic nutrition. And we’ve experienced growth each quarter. We credit this success to keeping our product affordable. So we created a direct consumer marketing model that eliminates costly markups by retailers and allows us to cut our prices by 50%.

“Continue to market your product. Consider cost-effective methods such as networking and PR. Communicate with your clients – find out what they need, what they want, what they fear, what they treasure. Offer added value to your product or service based on the responses you receive from your target”.

~Heather Brehmer, Boku International, LLC. Ventura. Organic foods.

5. Think Big

What is the one thing you are doing that you believe is the most effective?
Re-evaluate and refocus business strategy in a creative way to combat the down economy. We began targeting affluent customers, production companies of reality TV shows, and even celebrities to battle the recession, knowing that this group is less affected.

“Focus on quality and make sure to spend your marketing dollars targeting the right group”.

~Ram Katalan, NorthStar Moving, Los Angeles. Moving and storage.

6. Fill a Need

What is the one thing you are doing that you believe is the most effective?
Providing a high quality product. I make most of my money through syndication and selling advertising. Both are made possible by the fact that buyers like my content.

“Stay upbeat. The economy is not something we have control over, so stressing is a waste of time. I focus on what I can do and what I can control. My attitude is at the top of that list. I focus on my success and when I fail, I look for lessons that I can take away to improve next time and still feel good about what I did”.

~Julia Scott, Bargainbabe.com, Santa Monica. Money-saving strategies web site.

7. Build Relationships

What is the one thing you are doing that you believe is the most effective?
Sales. But not in the traditional sense of the word. Sales is really about relationships and we are finding that being a trusted partner to other established and successful businesses mean that when they down size, but have an important client they have to provide top level service in, they call us. 90% of our business comes not directly from our clients but from our established partners.

“Good relationships. Keep good relationships with all customers, partners, suppliers, employees, and potential – customers, partners, suppliers and employees. Today’s social media means that reputation is everything and travels very quickly. If during a down turn you can look after ‘your people’ they will look after you”.

~Tara Leighton, Net Results Management Consulting, Irvine. Consulting.

8. Look Ahead for Future Opportunities

What is the one thing you are doing that you believe is the most effective?
Protecting our brand and making sure everything we do is of the highest quality. We created momentum during the ‘up’ economic time and that momentum is carrying us through the downturn. Our goal has never been to compete on price but feel we compete with no one else out there on quality. We are ‘obsessive’ over finding and nurturing talent and being a talent friendly company.

“Take the time to understand your brand/what your mission statement is and focus on where you need to be. We are putting things in place right now that will set us up in the long run. We are constantly strategizing for the future. In our industry, when so much change is happening quickly, we are looking past the horizon. While everyone is in ‘damage’ control mode, we are looking past this downturn and concentrating on the opportunities ahead this year and in years to come”.

~Chris Prynoski, Titmouse, Inc. Los Angeles. Animation Studio.

9. Remain Positive and Believe in Yourself

What is the one thing you are doing that you believe is the most effective?
First and foremost, we’re producing a quality product made with only the best ingredients. We’ve had great success at local marathon expos. There’s a big demand for healthy products in the fitness community, and the expos have given us an opportunity to sample and connect on a one-to-one basis with this target demographic.

“Stay true to your passion and stay true to yourself and the mission you’ve set for your company or product. It’s also important to remain positive, and believe down to your bones, that you will succeed”.

~David Tieman, Tieman’s Fusion Coffees, Rancho Santa Margarita. Beverage Product.

About the author

Helen M. Ryan