My friend Mark Riffey is from the small town of Columbia Falls, Montana. He normally writes about marketing, and he offers excellent advice. But last week, something different popped up. He wrote to his hometown folks to address the loss of an important local employer. I know many of you can relate to this story, and maybe you’re just going through something like this now and can use his advice. He generously granted permission to share it here. –Becky
Columbia Falls is not a redundant facility
We’ve been here before.
We’ve listened to a major employer who for decades said one thing and often did another. We’ve heard whispers and listened to double talk about what’s in the ground (or isn’t) and about plans to reopen and what the future holds. Our future is not our past.
We’ve seen Plum Creek as a solid community supporter and employer for a long time. Yes, there have been layoffs and temporary closures, but the company continued to support local causes and invest in Columbia Falls – such as the MDF plant and technology infrastructure.
Yet buyouts change things.
We’ve been here before.
No matter what a company says they’ll do after the buyout, companies have a fiduciary obligation to shareholders. No matter what they feel obligated to say, redundant facilities are ALWAYS on the short list for elimination. It’s common sense.
It’s unrealistic, if not wishful thinking to believe that a company says that “closure of (your local) facilities isn’t planned” after buying out a massive competitor.
Columbia Falls knew better. We understand companies have to say those things. The officers have a responsibility to protect the company. That includes not inciting panic, drama or worse by telling staff in that area that “closures are possible but we don’t anticipate closing anything here”.
In this situation, a company’s thought process has to include something like “If we tell them what’s planned (or what we think will happen), people will leave (including some we want to stay), and those who stay will be distracted (or worse). The speculation will negatively impact the attitude and performance of the CFalls team.”
When buyouts happen, people worry about feeding their family, much less being able to take care of a house payment, the bills, college expenses, etc. You expect that. Professionals take care of business, even when worried about their families – no matter what the press release said.
I’m losing my job, now what?
Even though we’ve been here before, that doesn’t make it any less scary, worrisome, or frustrating. The pressure to produce cash flow to feed the family and pay the bills is on everyone’s mind.
If you’re targeted for layoff, I’ll bet you have skills, experience and knowledge that you’ve taken for granted for years. They’ve become second nature to you. I could wake you up at 2:00 am and ask you something related to whatever you do or know and without having to think about it, you’d rattle off great advice about how to deal with it, fix it and/or do it.
This is an opportunity to take control, even though you probably don’t feel you have much of that right now. You might have a dream that was always delayed by the “golden handcuffs” of a long-term job. Can you pursue it now?
There is no better time than now to start your own business. There is no better motivation than to create some control over your family’s economic future. It won’t be easy, but it’ll be yours.*
It’s easy to say the phrase “redundant facilities“, isn’t it? Who would want such a thing? Sounds wasteful.
When you say “redundant facilities“, you don’t have to think about 200 families who are wondering how they’ll pay their bills. It lets you sidestep the economic effect the job losses could have on the community. Say it, and you don’t have to wonder about the impact of families who leave the valley in order to meet their employment / financial needs. Saying “redundant facilities” allows you to ignore the impact on the CFalls real estate market, schools, charities and businesses.
If you’re wondering who will come riding into town on a white horse and rescue Columbia Falls, don’t. We know that no one will do that, and that’s OK. Columbia Falls doesn’t need someone to rescue it.
Columbia Falls is not a redundant facility.
As always, the people of Columbia Falls will make do, find or create new careers, recognize market opportunities, and find a way to manage the economic risks we all face. When you see a new business pop up in town, take a chance on them – and keep visiting our existing businesses. They feed Montana families right here in town.
Columbia Falls is open for business. It’s a great community with awesome, welcoming, kind people and to me, the only place that feels like home. Come see us.
*More about starting your own business:
It won’t be easy for you…
That paragraph of words is easy to say, but make no mistake about it: It isn’t easy to implement. Something that might make it easier to stick with it during the toughest moments: Never having to face this again – or at least, never having it be someone else’s decision.
The easy part is having the skills. In fact, it’s an advantage over many who want to start a business but aren’t sure what they want to do. If you’re struggling with this despite having marketable skills, don’t let it stop you in your tracks. The business you start today doesn’t have to be the business you’re in next year. Don’t get stuck thinking that whatever you do must be what you do forever.
Who will your clientele be? Even if you pivot (ie: change what your business does) multiple times, the thing you must have a laser beam focus on is “Who is my customer and why do they pay for what I do?” Far too many businesses seem to be a little lost on this. Knowing them, knowing their needs, knowing what keeps them up at night, knowing what they worry about during the day and what relieves them – all of this is critical. The better you know them, the more likely you are to be able to create a marketing and sales message that gets them nodding their heads and opening their wallets.
You might be tempted to have the best price around. Be careful with this. You probably wouldn’t try to start a business based on competing with Wal-Mart on the price of generic motor oil. Discounts come out of your profit – your pocket. If you can’t make a profit on what you do, you do your clients the disservice of creating a business that they need, but that probably won’t survive. Never forget to show your clients a ladder – a series of steps (good, better, best) that allows them to get more from you, get better this or that, and take even more advantage of what you do.
…but make it easy for them
If you’ve ever struggled to do business with a company, you know where I’m coming from. Some businesses seem determined to make it hard to give them your money. Don’t be one of them. Make it easy to do business with you. Easy to pay. Easy to get what was purchased. Easy to get service. If you don’t make it easy, they will eventually find someone who IS easier to deal with.
Easy to pay is an interesting one. Some clients will prefer a credit or debit card, some a check. Some businesses may want 30, 60 or even 90 day terms and will use that as leverage when closing the deal. Be very careful with these, as some of them like to use small businesses as a free bank. Not a good thing.
Create your own Independence Day
If you do, a decade from now, I promise you that you’ll remember the day you made the decision to take control – no matter how hard you had to work to get there.
About Mark Riffey
Here’s how he describes what he does: “I help small to medium businesses solve their marketing, operations and technology problems. I teach business owners seven strategies to improve their bottom line, obtain and keep more customers, and find sources of revenue “hidden” inside their business.”
Read his regular thoughts and blog posts at Rescue Marketing.