1. Do not go into next year without a worst-case-scenario plan. I am not trying to scare you. Just the opposite. I just want to make sure that if you get a few bad phone calls from clients in the first quarter, then you simply execute the plan that you already thought through at the end of 2008.
2. Do not panic. Doing nothing only leads to failure. This is a moment that will test your leadership. Go out there, and face it head-on. Promote your agency more aggressively than ever. Stir up new business leads. Re-negotiate costs with vendors, utilities, IT providers and your landlord. Bring even more business-building ideas to your existing clients. Doing so will reinvigorate you and your agency. And it will make you a better leader down the road.
3. Do not forget about The Work. In your efforts to navigate your agency through 2009, be sure your agency's work is as smart as it can be. Ask yourself: Is the message (on behalf of your client's product or service) as relevant today as it was six months ago? If not, perhaps it should be re-visited. Is it as inspired as it used to be? Or does it look like fear has set in? Maintain the integrity of your agency's work throughout these times, and you will earn the respect of your client's customer.
4. Do not take your eyes off of your P&L. Slow-paying clients that promise to get current will only eat away at your agency's cash flow and profits. Keep your overhead as lean as possible, your staff as agile as it can be, your finger on the pulse of every client (especially ones that you suspect may be most vulnerable in this downturn), and your agency in the black every month.
5. Do not manage by hope. If you sit back and wait for the next new-business win to avoid making tough budget and staffing decisions, the hole you dig may be too deep to climb out of.
6. Do not take your clients for granted even for one day. When was the last time you visited every one of your clients in the same month? Now would be a good time to start. I can't think of another time that clients were searching for answers to kick-start sales, and if their agency's leadership is right alongside of them in battle, helping to invent new solutions, they will likely never forget you when good times roll again.
7. Do not become safe. Slow client spending is not an excuse to go conservative with your work. If you think you are going to hold on to your clients by being extra safe with your work, you've just given your clients an excuse to get an agency that will continue to take smart risks -- especially in an environment that needs to motivate consumers more than ever. Recessions are the best time to innovate. So consider, for example, breaking new ground with your agency's public relations' expertise -- perhaps experimenting more online with blogs, social media and viral video campaigns.
8. Do not stay holed up in your office. Get out there with your staff and let them know what's going on with the agency. Better internal communication can only make your team stronger.
9. Do not stop looking for the best talent. This economic downturn has put a lot of really good people on the street. Now may be a rare window to upgrade your bench and sign a star free agent or two.
10. Do not veer off course. Just because times are tough, this is no time for your agency to steer away from the strategic course you set when the economy was strong. Remaining consistent with what will make your agency grow—be it a plan to differentiate your agency brand, expand into new services, or buy another agency, stay true to it. Even if it takes a little longer to execute. When the economy turns around, you'll have the wind at your back.