Getting Past the Worst of It

It’s bad out there. You can argue about exactly how bad it is, and whether it’s getting worse or better, but it’s definitely bad.

How bad is it? Take a look inside AOL Time Warner’s latest quarterly report. Despite a second price increase for its dial-up online service (subscription revenue was up 10.2 percent), the total company revenue was up just 3.3 percent. Music sales were down over $100 million. The stock price fell sharply.

At CNET, the news is worse. Despite a huge jump in page views, a strong gain in leads to its merchants, and a 75 percent renewal rate among advertisers, it lost $218 million for its last quarter, on top of losses of $167 million in the previous quarter. Another 15 percent of jobs will go, on top of a previous 10 percent cut, and the company still isn’t predicting a profit any time soon.

If the leaders are suffering, the rest of us are dying. The question before the house is, What can we do about it?

Personally, I’m spending time rather than money with my family, I’m finishing a book called “Living on the Internet,” and I’m taking time to really correspond with those who write tome, instead of just sending acknowledging letters.

This is a great time to build your personal network, to gain new skills, and to concentrate on personal growth. What’s happening in the economy is not your fault; there is no personal failure involved. Take the time to discover what’s really important to you. Did you know the heart of the word recession is recess?

Many analysts are assuming that because technology spending is down, productivity isn’t going up. I think that’s wrong. It takes time to learn new tools and get the most out of them. Personnel cutbacks are forcing people to gain new skills and improve their productivity in order to do the same work with fewer people. As Martha Stewart would say, This is a good thing. (Martha’s company is hanging in quite nicely, by the way — so kind of you to ask.)

If you can keep your head while all about you others are losing theirs, you’ll be more than a man, you’ll be a mensch. Merriam-Webster defines this word (its origin is Yiddish) as meaning “a person of integrity and honor.” A woman can be a mensch as easily as a man can — some of the best are.

I’ve discussed before what your site can do during this time. Learn who your users are to substantiate your branding impact. Make money for the advertisers you have, verify it, then work with them as partners, not just as customers. Don’t just cut jobs; spread the work around. Make sure your employees understand the lessons we’ve talked about today — that this isn’t personal, that this is an opportunity for growth, and that you’re going through it with them.

The United States has had three recessions in the last 30 years, and we’re still not really in one — the nation’s gross domestic product is still going up. That, I know, is a technicality. Technology is in recession, and Internet businesses are in a depression.

But all hard times end, and all winters give way to spring. You want to be ready for that spring, ready with partners and colleagues and ideas and the means to make things happen. Rather than complaining about hard times, let’s get ready for good ones.

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