Is the cup full, or empty? Two perspectives in a puzzling economy

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Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne meets guests at the CSC Toronto No Frills Trade Show

If you’ve been in business for a few years, you know about the ups and downs — there are good times and hard times, and then, well, there are times like this: An unusual (to me) in-between place where I can see lots going right, and lots going wrong, and everything seems topsy-turvy and uncertain.

These experiences certainly came to mind at the Construction Specifications Canada (CSC) Toronto Chapter  No-Frills Trade Show in Toronto yesterday. For the first time in the event’s history, the organizers attracted the province’s premier, Kathleen Wynne, as a guest speaker. (For US readers, this would be the equivalent of having the state governor show up).

She gave a naturally optimistic and industry-friendly speech. But at my near-the-front table, I enjoyed conversations with a major industry association leader who said his members are starving. And while the room was nearly full, there were many unsold seats and show registrations were holding at levels far below previous levels. “It’s the internet,” the show co-ordinator told me. “People don’t need to come to these events any more. They can get the information online.”

And so it goes. I talk to some people who express optimism and opportunity, and others who express concern. In Ottawa, as the voluntary chair of the CSC Ottawa chapter, we are about to have one of the most successful events in the chapter’s history, the Tuesday evening Connections Cafe event on the Economics of Sustainability. Yet most of the people attending don’t belong to the chapter — and its membership may be declining.

Is the cup really filling, or emptying? Are things good or bad (or both). You can read the tea-leaves either way, and still not know what to think.

I suppose the rules of business and sales management with universal application certainly have validity in these conditions and am following the rules as best I can:

Be prudent

That means, watch the spending, the optimistic assertions, and keep things under control. I’ve been increasingly segmenting revenue and expenses — and doing my best to avoid transferring money from “good” situations to dubious ones. This reflected in my decision to attend the Toronto show. In previous years, we sometimes had two people there (we trade our booth space for advertising, so that doesn’t cost any cash, but there are travel costs.) I received an invitation as chair of the Ottawa chapter, so didn’t need to pay for the luncheon.

And I shopped for the least expensive train ticket, though admit I splurged and paid for a business class seat (of course train is much less expensive than airplane.) But the decision to spend even $220 on the event for which we had budgeted $600 still sent cautious signals and we’ll see if the overall results/value justified the expense.

Be technological

I perceive that many of the challenges right now relate to technological dislocation — that is, the redistribution of resources occurring because of the rapidly changing technological landscape. The winners are adapting quickly, the losers are struggling as clients migrate to new approaches.  Of course, my business has earned most of its revenue through print media (declining) but I’ve sought to keep-up with online resources and managed to become one of about 15 moderators on Google’s English-language publisher/advertiser help forum. (This leads to expense-paid trips for summits and meet-ups, and caused me to decide to allocate significant retirement income funds for GOOGL shares.)

Be responsive

The old rules relating to service, support, relationship-building and community service apply now as much as they did before. You can certainly gain much ground by supporting worthy causes (maybe more with time than cash), treating clients and prospects with respect.

None of this stuff is rocket science of course, and I would rather be in the current environment than fighting through a totally negative economy/recession. Maybe it’s good that things aren’t too good — it keeps me grounded and patient, rather than careless with unbridled optimism.

How are you doing in your own circumstances/environment?

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