We have been hearing the doom and gloom story now for way too long to remember when it started.

In considering the merits of the more recent stories, we need to look a little deeper than the news reports of the day. This is particularly important given that sensational headlines are designed to sell newspapers and advertising space.

Looking back we can trace these stories to the Global Financial Crisis and the uncertainty emanating from the USA, Europe and China ever since. On top of that we have seen firstly an issue with the Rudd Government which was bogged down by inaction due to micromanagement, and more recently with the Gillard Government, which is dogged by its minority status and the need to appease the divergent once of a wide spectrum of political views. This too has resulted in inaction on the part of the Government (despite the spin which has been designed to convince us otherwise).

It is the uncertainty factor and the inaction which has been the catalyst for the downturn in the Australian economy. One cannot help but understand that no business can make serious planning decisions in the circumstances.

There were signs towards the end of 2011 which suggested that while the inaction may continue, and that Europe and China may well be basket cases, at least everybody understood exactly what would transpire. In these circumstances it becomes easier to make decisions and to move forward.

So what do we have and what do we do about it?

The in-depth commentary seems to be consistent in its view that things may get worse, and it appears to me that the markets worldwide have already factored that into the pricing. It also appears to me that big business has factored a disaster into their thinking and planning and on the whole have factored that. They are prepared and they are starting to enter the next phase of the business cycle. They believe that if the worst-case scenario does not occur, the upside will be to their advantage.

Small business should now be preparing themselves to follow the lead.

In times such as this, when many businesses are contracting in size, that the smart business can take advantage of the situation and set themselves up for growth. That is not to suggest throwing caution to the wind.

Smart businesses will ensure their processes and people are ready, willing and able to find the growth opportunities which will present themselves as a result of the inactivity of their competitors. It is often difficult to concentrate on seeking out the opportunities while at the same time turning attention to the many aspects of management which need review.

Many businesses turn to their accountant or legal adviser for advice, and in many instances this is appropriate.

A resource that is often overlooked is the growing number of experienced business operators who have on sold their business interests or have decided to wind back their hours. These professionals come from a diverse range of backgrounds, and have various fields of expertise. Many can turn their hand to a surprising number of skills and have a depth of knowledge that surprises many. They often come at a cost that is both affordable and represents good value for money.

Of particular interest in this time of change, consolidation and to some extent uncertainty, is their ability to act as an independent director or consultant general manager. Their understanding of the economic cycle, depth of knowledge in a number of fields and individual skill sets, will complement rather than compete with those skills in abundant supply in almost any type of business. They also have the ability to quickly understand the drivers of your business, understand who makes the decisions and they can bring a fresh approach to thinking about what it is that you do.

In the words of Charles Darwin, 

“In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment.”