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Keep it lean

So, it looks like a double dip then. In fact, according to the ONS, we might already have double dipped.

Other commentators like Brian Green and Roger Martin-Fagg seem to think there’s another dip coming, probably as the full effect of the public sector cuts work themselves through in the early part of 2011. At this rate the economy look like some sort of frenzied Brian Jacks (remember Superstars?) figure, dipping and rising, dipping and rising…

So what to do? It’s difficult, isn’t it? If you can’t be confident that this upturn is going to be permanent, you can’t take on too much risk, commit too much cashflow or build too much liability, as you can’t be confident of having the money to pay for it all.

It’s particularly difficult for small companies, who have mostly downsized somewhat. What looks like an upturn comes, with a selection of new jobs coming through the window. To do it all, you need more staff than you have, but if you take people on and this isn’t a permanent upturn, then in three months you’ll have too many staff again and will have to lay some off (again), with all the heartache and cost that goes with that.

The alternatives seem to be that the existing staff add Sundays and Friday evenings to their almost 24/7 work commitment, or you turn the work down.Neither seems particularly attractive. Now what you’ve got to do is outsource - and I don’t only mean getting in staff on short-term contracts.

At the moment, there are a wide range of outsourcing services for ‘non-core’ activity. Think: what is it that your staff do that is uniquely better than the competition? Then take everything else and outsource it.

Administration - use virtual assistants chasing debt - use a factor, detailed design work on a big project - outsource to Vietnam. If it’s not core to your competitive advantage, outsource it.

Now is the time to be even leaner and more efficient than you were in the depths of the recession. Focus your team on spending 100 per cent of their time where they make a difference, then they’ll do more work for your customers and you won’t have to risk hiring lots more staff at a time of great uncertainty.

Ross Sturley is Principal of Chart Lane, a strategic communications company specialising in construction and property, and a committee member for CIMCIG, the Chartered Institute of Marketing Construction Industry Group.