Four Ways to Help Your Business Thrive in Tough Times

While running a company has never been easy, the current economy has been especially daunting for small business owners. So the Eugene Lang Entrepreneurship Center at Columbia Business School decided to help.

Launched in November 2008, the Columbia Community Business Program is designed to assist small businesses and non-profits in upper Manhattan. Participants attend presentations by Columbia faculty, meet with students and alumni, network with peers and receive individual coaching.

I recently spoke with one of the program's first 12 participants, Princess Jenkins, who runs The Brownstone, a women's clothing store that has also branched into cosmetics and jewelry. She had a few tips to pass on that she learned in the program and through her experience running a successful small business:

  • 1. Identify your weaknesses: For Jenkins, this was her lack of a presence in the social networking arena. "The program brought in an IT person, so I was able to learn more and to implement some of that. I really wasn't a part of that, but after the class, now I'm on Facebook," she says.
  • 2. Spend time away from your business: Jenkins recommends committing a few hours a week to networking activities, such as taking classes to help grow your business or attending forums where business owners can share resources. "Stepping away from the business for a few hours in a dedicated environment can really open you up to new ideas. If you're always in the muck of running your business, you don't see them. It allows you to look at your business with a new, fresh eye," she says.
  • 3. Take advantage of community programs: Even if you're out of the range of the Columbia Community Business Program, there are probably other programs dedicated to helping small businesses in your own city. Jenkins advises, "When you go to these kinds of classes, don't just come with your hands out; bring information and resources to the table you can share with other people. Become a valuable resource, so it's reciprocal."
  • 4. Amp it up instead of toning it down: "This is the time for entrepreneurs to pull out the stops," says Jenkins. "Instead of rolling back the marketing, ratchet it up. Instead of having the inventory go dry, put out the best possible inventory you can. People are still looking for something, there just has to be a reason to spend. Give them a reason to come and want to be a part of your business."