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September 4, 2012

The Brutal Economy – No One Is Immune

“Time is money.” That’s what a client said to me recently in regard to my charges for which he was expressing compassion. He has since been ousted by his board of directors, losing his annual $425,000 salary and his purpose in life: saving a pharmaceutical company from bankruptcy. While I am sorry for his hardship, and the loss of his business, I don’t miss his penchant for working late into the night and expecting me to do the same. I need my sleep.

But I also need my income. And these days, that is getting harder and harder to generate. As a marketing entrepreneur, I find myself mired in an industry running rampant with countless others all vying for that same almighty dollar. Well, it used to be mighty.

It seems that what we once charged is no longer acceptable, or perhaps, affordable, to be more precise. Every day in my email I receive “deals” from a gamut of businesses who are chopping 50% off their prices just to get a little action. Unfortunately for them, I, for one, don’t give them any. I’ve got to think about paying my bills first, which ironically are mostly tax bills. Withholding tax. Corporate tax. School tax. Unemployment tax.

A dentist client who asks me to renew his domain name each year while putting off development of a website to go with it asked me the cost of creating two posters for him to display in the lobby of a bank. While I quoted a pittance for the work, he has not called back. Does he seriously think that a strategy like that to bring in new patients trumps the value of having a website?

Devastation for Some!

I was shocked this past month with the news that one of my most successful clients, a young plastic surgeon, had been the victim of an unthinkable crime. His trusted practice administrator had embezzled a fortune from him and skipped town, leaving him close to destitution. Ten years ago, when he first hired me to design his logo and handle his marketing, he told me he was a very good judge of character. I’ve taken pride from that statement all these years only to now question its validity. How agonizing this must be for him, father of two young children, employer of a devoted and dependent staff of professionals, proud leader of humanitarian medical missions to help underprivileged children in third-world countries.

Yet, with the support of his wife who is also a doctor, along with his wealthy family, and the patience of contractors like me, I trust he will prevail with his usual diligence, positive inclinations and polished skills. I offered my encouragement by sharing with him that I too had suffered grave circumstances because of an ex-partner who left me $130,000 in debt twenty-five years ago – a hardship I overcame with personal sacrifice and years of hard work. It can be done – without resorting to bankruptcy and the shame of defeat. I hold my head high having paid off all my creditors, some of whom did not deserve the honor.

Two Sides to Every Story

Nonetheless, we find ourselves globally in similar circumstances today. Through no fault of our own, we as business leaders everywhere are having to contend with an economy that is punishing to the best of us. Still, a year has passed since one client paid me handsomely for work I have yet to do because they can’t find the time to gather the images they want me to use. Thanks to Mother Nature, the roofing industry is booming.

So what are we to do when the work flow dries up and the cash flow is dead in the water? For those of us with multiple obligations, a huge overhead and families to feed, it must be devastating. But for people like me who anticipated this situation several years ago, prompting me to trade in my swanky corporate digs for a cloistered home environment, my Madison Avenue rituals for an avant-garde approach, I can weather this storm, come what may.

The Hardest Part of All

What I must confront on a daily basis however is my dependence on being insanely busy at all times which helps the days fly by, and keeps me from returning to a psychosis of my youth, overeating. Weighing in currently at ninety pounds, the last thing I need is to lose a grip on what I consider my life’s greatest accomplishment, being thin. But more than that, my mind must stay active and challenged or it isn’t long until depression sets in.

As you can see, I have found the answer. I keep myself occupied by writing articles. Words to guide, words to teach, words to inspire. It’s obviously not about the money anymore. We’ve moved beyond that to a need much greater and more vital to survival. The feedback I get from those who so graciously comment provides all the motivation I crave to stay on track and try to give back to the cruel world we’ve inherited.

Time was money but not anymore. Time is empty – until we fill it up. I’m doing my share. How about you?

Marilyn Bontempo, president of Mid-Hudson Marketing, based in Holmes, New York, has been developing strategies for business success for more than 36 years. A professional writer and graduate of Bard College, she has won numerous awards for excellence in marketing, photography, graphics, writing and web design. As a specialist in branding, she assists many of her clients with management of their social media and public relations initiatives. In addition, she handles e-commerce for a number of online merchants not only on their own websites but through eBay, Amazon and others. View her work at

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