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Spot the Opportunities

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Provided by Baton Rouge Business Report
Written by Maggie H. Richardson

As if this weren’t already the season for taking stock and setting goals, the current national economic climate has us in a heightened state of personal and financial evaluation. By and large, things are pretty good in the Capital Region, but we’ve all watched college funds and retirement accounts nosedive, and we can’t live off hurricane recovery activity forever.

Thus, you’ve probably pondered the strength of your résumé, the stability of your credit rating and the quality of the product you deliver to either bosses or customers. Yes, the mood is maudlin and the vibe dreary, but that’s often when priorities come into focus and opportunities emerge. There are both great sales and good ideas for working women in a down market; the biggest mistake is missing them.

Your 2009 recession to-do list should include:

Committing to sincere service. Anyone who’s shopped in a big-box store knows what a drag it is to have to ask for help. It’s as though you’ve ruined the day of the salesperson unfortunate enough to get you for a customer. Contrast that with a retail outlet whose staff sincerely cares about meeting your needs, and the difference is startling. That’s one of marketing consultant Marsanne Golsby’s favorite parallels for how to succeed in business.

Golsby is a familiar face in the region, and she’s got strong opinions about how to thrive in a sputtering economy. The longtime local television reporter-turned-press secretary for Gov. Mike Foster was working for a Rhode Island-based marketing firm when it suffered cutbacks two years ago. Golsby went from full-time employee to contractor shortly after buying a new home and obtaining custody of her teenage nephew. With additional financial responsibilities, the new single mom had to quickly regroup.

“I have to tell you, I was terrified,” she says. But the potentially negative period gave her a chance to think about what it would take to be successful. She reached out to friend and fellow media consultant Melinda Walsh, who helped Golsby convert her skills from reporting and politics to the business world. She slowly gained clients. And, she decided to focus on not what she could earn from each client, but what he or she needed and how she could provide it.

Two years later, Golsby says, business is solid and growing.

“Most days, I wake up thinking about my clients,” she says. “I make written notes of what I want to accomplish for them. If I take care of them, keep my promises to them, create success for them, I am automatically taken care of.”

Buy something on sale. It doesn’t feel like it’s a good time to buy anything, but if you have the time to let things mature and you have the cash, 2009 will likely be a good year to buy a house, rental property and, if your nerves allow it, rebound stocks—preferably before they rebound.

As for real estate, rate cuts make borrowing more enticing. A year ago, a Wall Street Journal survey of prime rates was 7.5%. Today it’s 4%, which translates to recent local mortgage rates of around 6.6%. The trick is having enough cash for a down payment.

“It’s a buyer’s market,” says Jessie Clark, assistant vice president of Hancock Bank’s mortgage division. “There’s a multitude of inventory, but people are just sitting.”

Learn something new. Picking up new skills might sound cumbersome, but it’s never been more affordable or more accessible. Even if you don’t plan on looking for another job, a bigger wheelhouse might make you indispensable in your current job.

National trade associations often offer online classes, conference calls and Web-based seminars. Baton Rouge Community College, LSU and Southern University offer continuing education classes for employed adults. You can also get better at what you already do by networking with peers or asking a mentor for help.

Social media sites, particularly business-related ones like LinkedIn.com, present opportunities for gaining feedback through a virtual network. And online mentors arranged through sites like WomensMentorNetwork.com, IdeaCrossing.org and MicroMentor.org provide painless ways to bounce ideas off experienced people without investing a lot of time.