How Surviving 2009’s Recession Prepared This Business to Thrive

by Jason Forrest
Forrest Performance Group

The market is cyclical: It’s as true and reliable as death and taxes. But if we don’t learn from previous downturns, we’re in danger of going under the next. And according to Mike Coffey, whose company, called Imperative, barely eked through the 2009 downturn, predictions say the next one is likely to come in 2019. Now is a good time to capitalize on everything we learned from the last. One tried and true lesson in business and life is that sometimes the safest place to be is the one that feels the scariest.

For example, lions’ intimidating teeth and deafening roars are designed to provoke fear. But the real danger lies with the smaller, quieter lionesses. In the animal kingdom, the lion’s job is to roar and send prey scattering away from the startling noise—right into the path of the waiting lionesses, the true hunters. If gazelles knew to run toward the frightening sound, they would have a better chance of survival. The roar doesn’t represent the real danger.

When the economy roared at Mike Coffey and his business suffered a tough blow, he had a choice to make. He could either quit and go back to the safe corporate world he’d left or adapt to the new information he was learning and transform his business. In 2009, Mike’s company, Imperative, was losing business as his clients slowed hiring in response to a tough market. His company, which offers “Bulletproof Background Screening,” provides a premium service and has a huge satisfaction rate. But when people aren’t hiring much at all, there’s not much need for his service—no matter how much Imperative’s clients like what they get.

Through the tough economy, Mike learned that he could not just rebuild his company, but by reevaluating his priorities, time, and business practices, he could build it in a more effective way that would sustain future market challenges.

In hindsight, Mike feels the biggest mistake he made was leaving his CEO group. He thought it was best to shift attention to his company, but realized later that the hard times are when he would’ve benefited from his CEO group the most. Such a group is filled with masterminds, people “of great intelligence or executive talent, especially [those who] direct an undertaking.” Having access to people from a variety of industries who know more than we do in their areas of expertise allows people to learn from their experience and adjust perspectives, when needed.

Think and Grow Rich describes such a place as a “mastermind group”—an outlet to share ideas, learn best practices, and benefit from others’ brains, experience, and belief systems. The book describes such a group as “a coordination of knowledge and effort and a spirit of harmony between two or more people for the attainment of definite purpose.” The benefits of such a coordination are invaluable—like having a “third mind.”

The other thing Mike did to bolster against the next downturn was to work on internal practices. He hired an outside consulting company to create improved processes, procedures and workflow to make the company more efficient, effective and profitable. Such a third-party consulting company can help improve internal operations by creating key performance indicators, clearly define roles and objectives, and make communication/meetings more productive. The company Mike hired led employees to take individual ownership of the business, something he says changed operations dramatically for the better.

Like gazelles, humans sometimes have an instinctive desire to shy away when something looks and sounds scary. But often, running toward those challenges and conflicts is the best or only way to grow and meet our goals. In business, those who run from the deafening noise never reach their full potential, while those who turn and face the fear thrive. Mike certainly thought about quitting when times got rough, but he faced the roar and is better for it.

He feels ready for the inevitable time that the market throws some curveballs his way. There will be another downturn. We don’t have a choice about that. What we do choose is how we look at it and what we do to prepare for it.

Jason Forrest is CEO of Forrest Performance Group, a global leader and designer of sales, management, and corporate training programs. This year, the company made the Inc. 5000 list. Forrest grew up “under the influence” of his father, a business owner and professional salesman, and his mother, a persuasive speaking professor. Jason writes Running Toward the Roar for each issue of FW Inc.