What To Do When You’re Backed Into A Corner (5 Strategic Keys to Capitalise on During Desperate Times)

Once upon a time, I had a vision of business victory. I drew a straight timeline of my (forecasted) success on a blank A4 paper.

That’s it, a straight line.

Never did I know that my visionary picture was not complete without various corners of setbacks. The simple straight line transformed itself into many chaotic abstract paths.

While success is what we desire, often a desperate situation precedes a great leap ahead. Just like pulling a catapult’s sling for a powerful shot, a painful stretch prepares for a strong comeback.

In this article, we will look at five strategic keys. I call these the ‘CoRNNR’ (read: corner) strategy for it is useful when we are backed into a corner.

The first three keys form the necessary elements. The fourth key is the most challenging one, and the final fifth key is the glue that will hold everything together.

CoRNNR strategy is being laser focused during a tough situation, for a powerful comeback. Coincidentally, setbacks, failures and crises provide fertile ground to discover, develop and strengthen our cornered business.

After all, a cornered army is a dangerous one.

“When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard.” — Sun Tzu

Core Strength

Pressures force us to switch on our survival instinct. We need to become our best selves to endure hardships. There is no time to muck around.

About a decade ago, we acquired our first business in mining industrial wholesaling. We supplied safety gears and industrial strength chemicals to workshops and factories.

Our business was operating in a highly competitive market with notoriously low margins. A few years into the business, several national players entered the market and started stealing some of our significant customers using aggressive pricing tactics.

It was a typical scenario of a small business getting bullied and squashed by large corporations. We were losing customers. We knew we had to compete differently from the major players to survive the onslaught.

And so we started to look at what we could do that our big competitors couldn’t.

It was undeniable that our smallish size meant we were more flexible and we could respond faster to our customer’s needs. Our large competitors had to comply with complicated operational procedures. We didn’t.

We then found out that a small number of engineering workshops around our area were not too concerned about prices. Instead, they preferred to work with vendors who could guarantee fast delivery of supplies when required. It was something our big, fat competitors had troubles fulfilling.

Upon this realization, we started to build our business around a simple strategy. It was the assurance of quality supplies with a fast delivery turnaround. We could do that because we were small, flexible, local, and highly motivated.

It became our core strength.

We found our unique competitive advantage, and it opened up a whole new opportunity for us. Our large competitors backed us into a corner, unknowingly positioned us at a unique vantage point. It enabled us to see how we could compete on our terms in a crowded market.

Key #1: Find a core strength that allows you to compete differently from your competitors.

Resources at Max

During the onslaught period, when the big players stole our vital customers, we suffered a severe cash flow problem. This situation got worse when the mining industry crashed at around the same time. Most of our customers were operating in the mining industry.

It was a double whammy.

The cash flow issue pushed us to become meticulous spenders. We learnt that we paid too much for several services such as broadband, landline, and mobile phones. We also found out that a lot of work our staffs were doing could be outsourced or automated (it’s cheaper that way).

It was amazing how much cash was bleeding through areas we could either switch to a different provider or stop altogether. We liked this exercise so much we decided to do it regularly. It was a responsible, well-thought cost-cutting.

Desperate times hurt businesses. Cash bleeds through different outlets. A regular cost-cutting exercise would keep our resources shipshape at maximum capacity and best return.

Key #2: Make sure your limited resources work as hard as possible for your strong comeback.

Niche Domination

So we knew how to compete differently, and our resources worked super hard to fuel our survival. It’s time to revisit the customers.

We had to let go of some customers who did not require the value we offered through our services. They were casualties of the price war.

We tried to focus our efforts and resources on a select group of premium customers (premium for us). We were confident that when we became good at something, we would naturally grow.

So we kept our eyes fixed on the chosen ones (read: customers).

What we didn’t realize back then was we stumbled upon a niche. A niche perfectly placed for our little business. In a nutshell, we matched what we could do best with the needs of a small corner of the market. It was not a big slice, but it was growing, slow but sure.

Difficult times propelled us forward through a unique path we would not find otherwise. We discovered a niche market big enough for us yet small enough to dominate. We knew we could compete comfortably against the big players because we found this niche through our unique competitive advantage.

Key #3: Use your core strength and revitalized resources to dominate your niche.

Nurture the Efficiency Seed

Our previous strategic keys can be summed up into “utilizing resources at maximum capacity to service a niche market that is a perfect fit for our unique core strength”. The final result is a highly focused, well-oiled, efficient business. The first three keys will integrate into one.

There is one small challenge, though. We can only build efficiency over time through patience and consistency. In short, it takes time, blood, sweat, and tears to perfect the efficiency engine.

It is, in essence, sowing and nurturing a seed; I call this the ‘efficiency seed’. This seed is the culmination of the previous strategic keys.

Nurturing efficiency is the most challenging part of CoRNNR strategy because we need to let go of everything else that does not contribute to servicing our niche customers. And that includes other potential customers, products, suppliers, and so on. We have to fight the temptation to try out different things. We must focus on what we can do best within the niche market that we have chosen utilizing our limited resources to the max.

Nevertheless, we will start to doubt ourselves.

But remember, we sow seeds in dark places, in obscurity where it is often cold and lonely. And it takes time to nurture them before they germinate and grow roots.

Similarly, we discover these strategic keys during tough circumstances. For only during desperate times that our perspective changes, forcing us to see pathways we would not consider before. People might misunderstand you and even mock you for your new focus, but it is important to keep playing to your strength and keep moving forward.

The next and crucial final key will help tie everything together in a beautiful little bow.

Key #4: You only become the best in your chosen niche market through focus, patience, consistency, and persistence.

Resilience to Prevail

Tough times demand resilience. We need to make a conscious effort to focus and power through. Resilience is the substance that holds everything together.

Resilience was there when large corporations squashed us. It was present when we scrambled through a cash flow problem. And it held us up when we decided to focus on servicing a small number of engineering workshops, leading to the discovery of our niche market.

Think of it as a mental muscle that strengthens your spirit whenever you feel defeated. Use it when it is difficult to take the next step. Use it also when certain people are trying to pull you down. And finally, use it when you are confused and lonely.

Now, the final twist to the CoRNNR strategy.

How do we develop our resilience muscle?

Well, there is no short cut. We can only develop resilience through desperate times.

Just like physical muscles, resilience muscle grows when it is stretched under heavy pressures. You can see how useful CoRNNR strategy is when we are backed into a corner. Because not only our perspective changes during difficult moments, our resilience also grows.

CoRNNR strategy is a full circle. It begins when the going gets tough and only when the going gets tough do we get to grow with it.

Key #5: Harsh circumstances build resilience, embrace these times for it is the precious resilience that will hold yourself (and your business) together.


Just to recap:

Key #1: Core Strength
Key #2: Resources at Max
Key #3: Niche Domination
Key #4: Nurture the Efficiency Seed
Key #5: Resilience to Prevail

I hope these five keys have been helpful.

Keep the momentum going and keep going strong.

“When you are backed into a corner, you can give up or you can use that corner as a stepping stone.” — Fredy Namdin

As published in The Startup: What To Do When You’re Backed Into A Corner

Startup Illusion

Starting a business can put someone’s mind into overdrive. It will then either shut him down or propel him forward. The euphoric moment will last as long as financial resources have not dried yet. With enough funding, the startup party can sometimes last for years. It is only after investors start demanding (sometimes not so) reasonable returns that the party turns into a big reality check. The dreams have dissipated into thin air, and cloud of judgement descending onto earth.

Party is over.

That’s the hard truth of starting a business. It will get worse before it gets better (if it does get better). Starting a business is like eating a box of chocolate – mixed with some not so edible foods. You never know what you’re going to get but the only way to find out is if you keep eating. In business we never know what tomorrow will hold, it can be a disastrous day or a day when we beat all sales record. The only way to find out is if we wake up in the morning and go to work. The only way to eat the good chocolate is if we keep eating the bad ones.

Some people are addicted to starting businesses. They have brilliant ideas, get the funding,  and off they go with an exciting venture. They don’t however stay long enough to feel the downturn, the heartbreak, the never-ending pressure, and the struggle. When things go south, they are the first ones to pack up their bags and go – some of which utilise bankruptcy regulation to move on.

Some people however, are born to build businesses. Not only that they will start their businesses themselves but they will also see to it that their ventures are successful before they move on. If things go south, they will be the last people in the company to pack their bags. Some might take part-time jobs to help with the cash flow.

There is one distinct difference between real entrepreneurs and wannabes – perseverance.

The startup illusion might be alluring but the hard reality is not as glamorous. Starting a business is hard work, it requires sheer mental strengths more than mere intellects or skills. Building a business is about getting up in the morning, go to work not knowing what will happen that day, persevere throughout the day, and then do it again the next morning.

“Being an entrepreneur is like eating glass and staring into the abyss of death.” –Elon Musk

Delusional Weaknesses

The time will come for those who keep saying the ‘impossible things’ to come forward and admit their insecurity. These are the ones who keep saying, “It’s impossible”. These are the same people who figure out deep meaningful excuses and convince themselves of the impossible-to-climb walls.

What about those ‘impossible’ situations?

This begs one simple question. Is the situation impossible, or our perception of the situation, or our focus on the situation?

The first two cases are quite simply, easy to solve. If a particular situation is impossible then we just have to admit it. It is quite frankly, just not worth fighting. If however, it is our perception that insists on the impossibility, then we can be sure that it is in fact possible. And hence, we can continue on fighting.

Quite often a situation possesses both factors. There are certain areas where it is impossible for us to do anything about, but there are certain areas where it is possible for us to tackle.

A quick example is someone who plays chess. When it is his turn to move, he is faced with many possible action steps. Some of which might send his king to the grave while others can move his queen forward to victory. There will be instances where he is cornered and all his moves will spell doom. However, this situation rarely happens unless off course he is very unlucky, or his opponent is very good.

Life is much more complex than a game of chess and it is very difficult to determine if we have any moves left or not. Before we make the ultimate decision that we are cornered and our every moves will result in disaster, shouldn’t we take a hard look at our situation and figure out another way to move our pawns?

Once we have made our mind that our end is definite, our efforts for sure will end.

When we say we can do the impossibles, we are not delusional. We simply refuse to defeat ourselves. Have you ever thought that those who refuse to try and keep saying ‘it’s impossible’ are delusional?

Why would we spell doom to ourselves?

Are we focusing on the situation or just on the impossibles?

Maybe if we only just focus on the possibles, on the things that we can do right now.

If we just do what we can do, then before we know it we’ll be doing things that are difficult, and finally we’ll be doing the impossibles.

 

Not forbidden passion fruit

Us humans are complex creatures. We walk in time yet there are moments when time seems to speed up only to slow down again. There are times when we believe we can change the world and yet we fail again and again. We eat, sleep, and play, within the 24 hrs constraints of our daily limit. When we are excited, passionate, full of spirit, we can charge ahead no matter what the hurdles are. Our passions turn us into wild beasts, capable of moving mountains and splitting oceans. Have you ever felt like certain things in life whisper to you? Calling you to act, prompting you to give your best, and to fill your lives with meaningful moments.
Note #1 – Real passion never dies
It’s alive! It exists within us, always surfacing when discovered. It empowers, yet it needs to be fed. Our real passion is always there, however long it’s been dormant. A little bit of attention from us will nudge it awake from its long sleep. Our real passion will take over, moving us forward, to do things we never thought possible. Spend time with it, and it will be defining our steps, shaping our future.

What are those things you always have in your heart? They move you to places you dream about, and often scare you that you push them back. When you spend time with them you know you are in your own special moment.

Note #2 – Passion speaks through your daily life
Passion can be difficult to spot, it doesn’t have tangible forms, it doesn’t have smell and it doesn’t move around. Yet it is lurking in every aspects of your life. It fuses itself into your daily activities, often into your somewhat dull routines. When you sense it, the feelings of accomplishment will overcome you even though you haven’t done a thing. It speaks a language only its owner understands. It will draw you closer every time you listen to it.

Look at your daily activities, including the dull ones. Are there instances when you feel a sense of deep accomplishment? Are there moments when you feel like you are drawn to it? Are there things that you love so much you just couldn’t stop doing it?

Note #3 – It is a never-ending free energy which only you can use
We eat and drink to replenish our physical strengths. We read to replenish our intellectual prowess. We sleep so our cells can repair themselves. Nevertheless, we often feel empty, unmotivated, and even frustrated. Maybe we hate our jobs, we long for coffee breaks, we wait for 5pm. What about those times when we feel tired, heavy, and looking for an escape? Is it true that our passion can fuel our lives? Is it true that if we work for something we love we will never work for another day in our lives? Passion is a free energy, given to each of us, for specific things, for certain people. It just keeps giving.

Watch for things that exhaust you, your real passion will do the opposite, it will empower you instead. When was the last time you found yourselves working through breaks, lunch, dinner, and everything else, and not dropping a single ‘sigh’?

Note #4 – Beware passion imitators
It is elusive, it is often mistaken with an escape from daily routines. Only when it becomes a routine that we know what it’s really made of. Time will tell whether your real passion is true. When we know for sure what it is, hold on to it. Real passion is like a treasure that never loses its value in the market. The more it is used, the higher the value it offers to its owners. Never let it go for it is more valuable than gold and more durable than diamond.

Watch for things that might be a fake passion. These are the things that you like doing but only last for short period of time. Real passion will empower you 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Time is your examiner, it will let you know if your passion is real or not. Real passion will grow over time, turning you into an impossible over-achiever.

Note #5 – Enjoy it and it will repay you many times more
Passion needs to be fed, just like a child who demands attentions. Focus on it, spend time with it, feed it, and it will grow. It will flourish and mature into highly powered energy reservoir. It will reward its owner with never-ending mental prowess. Work with it, learn to use it, nurture it. Your passion will repay you many times over, and you are the only person in the world who can maximize it to the full.

Learn to do daily activities which lead to greater sense of fulfillment, where you know your passion is being nourished and fed. Look for specific things, focus on the important few. Fight the temptation to get instant results. It takes time to build your life around your passion. Enjoy it and it will reward you many times more.

 


Did you enjoy the short article? I send strategic insights every week for free. Join me to get your personal dose. (hint: click here to get them) — Fredy Namdin


Strengths of a manager – what are they really?

There are good bosses, there are bad bosses. Then there are also the crazy ones, the ones we wish we never met. There are also those who changed our lives – for the better. These were the ones whom we learned so much from. Each of them seemed to have certain qualities, the kinds that only exist within them.

So what are these qualities?

When we’re talking about a person strengths and weaknesses, what are they really?

Is it selling skill? administration? negotiation? or is it something less straightforward?

Maybe it is a combination of all of the above?

What it is that make a great manager able to withstand pressures and perform better than most people?

There are different types of managers, each managing their own departments. Some are called sales managers, the others logistic managers, or operational manager, then there’s the administration manager, and etc. Each has his/her own specialty. The big question is off course, would you appoint an administration manager to be a sales manager? or vice versa? Maybe not, but why?

Surely a sales manager must be good in selling, unless he/she wouldn’t have a clue what the sales people are doing. The same thing goes for administration manager, or any other type of managers. Which is why it’s not a good idea to get them to do each other works.

So, we have an idea here. Specialty. A good sales manager is also a good sales person. A good admin manager is also a good administrator. If anyone is wondering why they are not performing as well as other people, maybe the answer is here. Maybe they’re working in the wrong department.

Now, here’s the important part. In order to be a good sales manager, he/she must have other qualities, not just selling skills.

In fact, your specialty is only the tip of the iceberg. It is the one everyone is looking at, the one showing all the time. However, the real damages come from your secondary strengths.

A good analogy is the iceberg that crushed Titanic. The tip of the iceberg only accounts for about 15% of the total mass. Without the other 85% the tip will just be floating away, carried by the ocean wave, crushed by large ships. Your secondary strengths are the 85%. They are the ones that carry the tip of your strengths (or your specialty) so you could perform better.

Another analogy is the tip of a pencil. Your specialty is the tip of a pencil, the little graphite things that sticks out. It is the one that is used to write, to draw, etc. Without the tip, the pencil is useless. However, without the body of the pencil you would have a hard time doing anything with the tip. The better the body of the pencil is the better the writing will be.

A sales manager, while must be good at selling, must also have other qualities. He must have good leadership quality, high level of organization skills, and also able to connect to different levels of people. These are hidden strengths that are not easily visible yet they are so powerful they can take people to places they can only imagine.

On the other hand, what if a manager has all these fantastic qualities, yet lack specialty? Well, think of it like a pencil with good strong body but without the tip. It has potentials, but he/she needs to find specialty to focus and make a real difference. In other words, the pencil needs sharpening.

Happy Managing!