"Today’s business climate is somewhat challenging,” says business coach Marshall Calman, owner Action International on Sutton Way in Princeton Junction. If you have listened to any news broadcast or picked up a newspaper in the last six months you may think that “somewhat challenging” is a grossly optimistic statement. Gas and food prices are rising, as well as the unemployment rate, and the debate is on as to whether or not we are in a recession.

But Calman disagrees. Every business has “challenging times,” whether they are part of a national trend, an industrywide issue, or just a personal problem in the life of one business.

“In challenging times business owners need new strategies to get back to growth,” Calman says. He and his colleagues offer two different programs to help business owners find those strategies to help them continue to be successful. One seminar, Growth Club, is planned for Thursday, June 26, at 8:30 a.m., in Princeton. Cost: $199. For more information and registration call 609-275-1008, ext. 3.

The day-long seminar is held quarterly and is design to give business owners the opportunity to plan specific strategies to use in their business in the next quarter. A second program, Business Rich, an intensive two-day seminar designed to give business owners “practical information and customized programs they can use daily in their business,” is scheduled for September.

Calman says that coaching other small business people combines his own “passion to become an entrepreneur after years in the corporate world” with his own love of people and knowledge of business. He graduated from Roger Williams University in Rhode Island in 1980 with a degree in electrical and computer engineering and received an MBA from Farleigh Dickinson University in 1989. He joined the Action International franchise after spending 20 years in the corporate world “developing multi-million dollar global businesses” for Hewlett Packard and Agilent Technologies. He currently focuses on executive coaching and leadership development along with his work with small business owners.

Square one. “When things are difficult go back to the basics,” Calman says. “A company may be able to get away with problems in areas such as customer satisfaction, sales, or efficiency, when things are going well, but these issues are exacerbated when business is slow.”

The Growth Club seminars are held every 90 days for several reasons, he says. “It is one quarter of the year and it is enough time for a business to really start to see a change.” Change, in fact, is a key component of the work that he and his fellow coaches focus on. “You can’t keep doing the same old thing and expect different results,” he says. “We focus on finding the few critical changes a company can make to get new results.”

Understand your customer. Sales, of course, are of prime importance to every business, and the problem may seem simple — make sure that the sales force, whether one-person or a dozen, has enough new leads to obtain the number of sales needed to make a profit. The solution to that problem, however, is not always simple.

One of the first questions Calman asks at his seminars is, “Do you know your unique selling proposition?” That may also seem obvious, but many people really don’t understand the real reasons that customers choose their business over their competitors’. “When I ask that question I often get the response, ‘Well, we give great service.’ That is just not enough. Every business can say the same thing,” says Calman.

Another critical key to sales success is knowing exactly who your target market is. “Too many people use a shotgun approach to marketing and target everyone, but they really are targeting no one. It’s just not effective,” says Calman.

Increase depth and breadth. Another good way to increase sales is to increase the depth and breadth of your product or service offerings. Find add-on products that complement your core business. “This is particularly important for people in service industries, where a client may only need the main service one time or once a year,” Calman says. “Find other things to offer that person so they will return to you again and again throughout the year. Sell more things to the same client. It almost seems counter-intuitive, but it is an excellent way to increase your sales.”

Increase efficiency. “Efficiency is always important but it can make a critical difference when times are tough,” says Calman. Business owners must not only be aware of their employees’ efficiency, but of their own as well. “Just trying to work longer hours isn’t the answer. Don’t forget the law of diminishing returns,” he adds.

Instead, make sure that you are spending time on the right things. Take a step back and look at the overall picture. Are you spending time on the things that you are good at, or wasting too much time on something that you don’t do well and is better delegated to others. Are there parts of your business that should be outsourced? “This is a common area that all business owners struggle with,” he adds.

As a coach, Calman says he wants his clients to walk away from his seminars with “motivation, perspective and clarity. Working in a business every day can be like driving through the fog. Taking time to step back and take a look at your business is your opportunity to slow down and let the fog lift. I want business owners not just to survive. I want them to succeed.”

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