In these changing times in business, I find it somewhat disturbing how so many small to medium businesses act surprised when there is an economic shift.

It totally baffles me when I sit in business meetings or functions and listen to some of our business leaders cry foul. I hear such things as, “Where did the shift in the market come from?”, “I can’t believe it, business was going so well,” “I don’t understand it, it’s really tough right now.”

It’s without doubt that the local and global economy has an impact on business. And it’s also without doubt that there is an economic cycle.

Boom – bust – recovery – boom …. So why do we ignore it?

As business leaders, we’ve been watching this happen for decades, and yet each time a shift comes around we act surprised. It’s crazy stuff. The toughness in business only comes from a lack of preparation for the inevitable cycle. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly no economist, but it does not take a genius to understand the impact of a cycle that has been recurring since the Great Depression of 1929.

As a business consultant for almost two decades, I have witnessed the cycle come around over and over again. And over and over again I’ve seen businesses hit the wall through a simple denial that at some point from every boom there must come a bust. It’s like a squirrel talking himself out of the fact that winter is coming, in turn deciding there is no need to store nuts in favor of eating as much as he can right now and enjoying his moment of indulgence. “I’ll be fine, I’m sure summer will last.’”

If we looked closely at those who see opportunity in an economic obstacle, you will see that these are the businesses that take responsibility and internalize solutions well before these external obstacles present themselves. The economy is what it is, and in small – medium enterprise, despite what we might be told, we have little impact on its short term future. What we can influence is how much of an impact the economy has on our businesses. If we are well prepared, and well in advance of the inevitable impact.

There is an old adage that a business is going broke 18 months before you see it in the profit and loss reports.  This also is true in an economic cycle. To be looking for solutions to correct an economic downturn in business today is a total waste of time; it’s 18 months too late. These are the times where fear-based decisions rule, where panic controls leaders, and the victor has already taken his spoils well before you even realized that yours were running out.

What we can change now is what we have control of now.

From a tangible perspective, for sure we should have maybe been a little more precious with cash during the good times and stored some of those nuts. But that should not prevent us from taking the opportunity to observe strategy and structure in the business now, and use the survival efficiencies we create now as a benchmark for restraint during the inevitable upturn.

This is an ideal time to learn from the necessity of restraint. Now is the opportunity for us to place metrics in the business allowing us to ensure we don’t get fat and lazy again in good times, in favor of storing our nuts for the next winter.

From a non-tangible perspective we can also not “talk ourselves into a bad day.” Business owners and leaders often times use “things are tough” as the quintessential excuse for anything going wrong in their business. Now is the opportunity to claim responsibility for our attitudinal destiny and develop stronger company culture, vision, and values in the business.

To put a positive spin on these simple things can shift focus from “business down-turn” to “business re-turn.”

Opportunity abounds in economic times of change. The key to seeing these opportunities lies in how you view obstacles presented to you.