10 Overused Business Phrases More Depressing Than a Depression

If small businesses cut through these clichés, they'll be better off in a recession.

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Tim Berry
Talk about overload: Suddenly everybody's spewing small-business survival tips for the greater depression. It makes me long for those good old days of, say, last year, when every other E-mail promised me the Zen of something or other, like the Zen of online backup. Or, better yet, the way back time when all software was user friendly.

So, here's my list of 10 overused and worn-out come-on lines for small business in times of economic crisis.

Let's start this top 10 with four glaringly obvious lies that are starting to smell like two-week-old socks caught in the gymnasium bleachers:

1. Your product (or service) is the key to small-business survival. Sure, either that or all the headline and/or E-mail subject writers in the world coordinated their pitches all at once. This one is so bad that it makes me long for the "I don't want to waste your time, or mine" line I saw about a million times before the spam catchers started to work.

2. You're lowering prices as a public service. Do you think it isn't obvious that your sales are way down and you're really scared about it? And that you're hoping lowering prices will help? I bet it won't.

3. You can help me cut costs for small-business survival, but only if I give you my time and money.

4. You can show me the path to increasing sales for small-business survival, but only if I give you my time and money.

And from there, four more completely obvious and useless business survival tips:

5. Don't panic. Always good advice, this, but hard to interpret. It tends to mean don't cut costs, even when sales fall. I'm sure they don't mean don't run around the office screaming your head off, right?

6. Control costs. As if that hasn't occurred to every one of the 26 million businesses in this country already.

7. Watch the cash flow. Again, great advice, but as useful as telling an insomniac to get more sleep.

8. Focus on my best customers. My best customers are probably the ones that are still buying from me. Seriously, it's good advice in theory but so dependent on the specific case that it's just useless. Every business is different. Some need to focus on a few big customers, others on the customers they're losing or in danger of losing, and others on customers they haven't yet met.

And, finally, two irritating platitudes:

9. The talk about business troubles as silver linings. As if it's really good for business to "trim the fat." Trimming the fat is a very ugly phrase for letting people go. I just don't believe there are any businesses out there that were keeping people they wanted to get rid of and are happy now to have an excuse. Seriously, if they weren't doing their job, they wouldn't have been there in the first place. And who needed an excuse to trim needless expenses? Does "needless" have some other meaning?

10. Stop asking why you don't and I, small businesses, don't get a bailout. You and I don't employ thousands of people, and we don't keep other people's money in our digital database. You and I don't have lobbyists.

I'm not saying that it isn't all true. And I'm not saying that I'm not as guilty as the next person. But enough already, let's just take all of this for granted and get on with business.

Tim Berry is president and founder of Palo Alto Software, founder of bplans.com, and a cofounder of Borland International. He teaches starting a business at the University of Oregon. He is author of books and software including Business Plan Pro, published by Palo Alto Software, and The Plan-As-You-Go Business Plan, published by Entrepreneur Press. He has a Stanford M.B.A. degree and degrees with honors from the University of Oregon and the University of Notre Dame. He blogs at Planning Startup Stories and Up and Running.

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