5 Tips for Starting a Business in a Rough Economy

No. 1: Do what you know with whom you know.

Rough economies are not the best time to try and start outlandish ideas. So take a personal inventory of your skills and past jobs to see what could work for you.

Tyrone Bland, managing partner at lobbying firm Porter Tellus LLC, went out on his own 18 months ago because he already had relationships in a field he had worked in all his life.

"There's this tendency to sit still during a recession," he said. "I really saw opportunities to get more business."

Bland, who now splits his time between Dallas, Sacramento and Washington, leveraged his past relationships with former clients to gain new business. That saved him time, and money, to get his business rolling and, more importantly, establish himself above rivals. "I'm selling service and my relationships," he said.No. 2: Keep costs down.

This is a golden rule at any time when starting a business, but it's even more important when cash is tight. The easiest way to save money is to do all the work yourself. While this isn't a long-term solution, it will at least get you through the initial planning phases and position you better for later when you will want to hire employees.

Another creative way to keep overhead costs low is to ditch an office space. Sketch a business plan that centers the majority of company activities, like marketing, inventory tracking and order taking, online. Also, see what engagement your company can undertake by going through free business channels such as local chambers of commerce and community gatherings, a la Farmers' Markets.3. Network, network and network some more.

Write out a list of possible joint projects you can work on with other, like-minded entrepreneurs. If you are in the business of selling books, see if you can't partner with other booksellers to create a community-wide book club.

Aside from just using usual channels, like business associations, take a leadership role that gets you more involved with planning such organization activities. Also, branch out to online sites, like Twitter and LinkedIn, to see who else in your community is starting a company.No. 4 Be flexible.

In slow economies, it is crucial that you have a business plan that can easily adapt to changing consumer and business appetites. It does not make sense to stick to a plan of producing 500 widgets a year if no one's buying them. Even large companies have seasonal good and bad times.

Instead of fretting, use that slow time to examine things like your supply chain, marketing strategy and use of time. Maybe you can perform a market study that would give you key information about customers so that when times pick up, you'll be better aware than your rivals of consumer demands.No. 5: Set smaller, more attainable goals.

It is important to not get upset if you're not achieving larger goals that, at one time, seemed attainable. So map out a series of smaller, more achievable goals and celebrate when you achieve them. Get comfortable with incremental growth, says Bland of lobbying firm Porter Tellus.

"I had to manage my expectations and conceptualize how to make the phone start ringing," he said. "It wasn't going to happen with me sitting at my desk." Look at what metrics you're using to judge "success". If money's not coming in, then choose another indicator, such as Web hits or word-of-mouth referrals, which can give you emotional support.