“CEO Journal: Ramping Up in a Down Economy”

To build your company, you often have to grow personally. This department tracked entrepreneurs’ journal entries through the first half of 2003. To display the other stories, enter “ceo journal” in the keyword search blank.

Kelsey August is founder of Lone Star Direct, a $2 million direct-marketing company in Austin, Texas, and WorkplaceToolbox.com, a Web site that provides human-resources and management tools.

I’ve delegated most of my daily responsibilities, but need to make sure the big picture is still intact. I meet with Becky, my controller, and Kristie, my director of operations, several times a week to address particular concerns. As much as we have cut our overhead and streamlined our processes, I’m amazed by new trends and opportunities.

Becky and I discussed our line of credit, which is almost paid down. In the past, I’d be excited to be debt free; however, I may keep the credit line open and buy a piece of equipment earlier than I planned, which would help us cut down on overtime. Who would have thought we could borrow money for less than 4% interest?

I’ve also asked Becky to work with vendors on extending our terms by 15 days. (In this economy, our receivables have gone from net 30 to being paid 45 to 60 days out.) To my surprise, most of our vendors now take credit card payments, which means we have our normal 30 days to pay their invoices with a credit card, plus another 30 days before we need to pay our credit-card bill. There’s also a goofy bonus: I’ll get six or more free round-trip airline tickets due to the credit mileage I’m building. Score!

Kristie also reported good news. In the past two years, we lost half our client contacts through layoffs, company closings or bankruptcies. Now our former contacts are getting hired elsewhere — and they’re rehiring us as well. So, out of the blue we’re doing work for companies we weren’t even aware of.

Employee morale is strong again at Lone Star Direct. It really suffered last year when we had layoffs and were unable to give salary increases. Now we’re benefiting from natural attrition and have some room for advancement. The staff is psyched by the opportunity to move to the next level. We’ve begun serious cross-training again, and we’ve also changed our annual pay-review policy. Because our staff size is more manageable, we moved from an anniversary-date review to a January-review cycle. We gave raises at the beginning of the year, and employees actually jumped for joy.

This is the first year in many that I’m not putting off doing my taxes, and I think I’ll get the full advantage of my write-offs and exemptions. I met with my CPA recently, who surprised me by presenting a business deal. He pushed the numbers of his new venture, which seems very attractive. It appears to yield a great ROI with very little money in. I asked him why he wanted to partner with me. His response: "Who knows better than me what you can do? I’ve seen you prove yourself."

Opportunities aren’t always difficult to find, but you do need to cultivate them. Some of our recent breaks took 10 years to develop while others took only a phone call. I just feel blessed that they happened now. It’s time to start celebrating again — even if it’s only the small stuff.