| Special to USA TODAY
Twelve years ago, America was in the middle of the Great Recession. Like most small businesses, my own business was suffering. So, in January 2009, I called my team together and asked “How do we turn this around?” I noted that we were entering the Year of the Ox in the Chinese New Year. What could that mean – if anything – for the fate of my small business?Well, this year – like 12 years ago – it’s the year of the Ox beginning Feb. 12. And like every new year, the Chinese new year presents an opportunity for optimism and renewal.”The Chinese New Year is always a time of new beginnings, something many of us are looking forward to this year for renewed health,” said Dr. Christine Yee, a veterinarian at the Los Altos Veterinary Clinic in Los Altos, California.What did I learn from the Year of the Ox more than a decade ago? And what, if anything, can it portend for your small business?In the Chinese calendar, each year is identified by one of 12 animals. Predictions for the year – as well as for people born during that year – are based on the characteristics of the animal.Pricing your products/services: What to consider when setting prices for your new business, product or service’Impacting people in the most positive way we can’: How small businesses can commit to diversityNow, I’m not an astrology believer – Eastern or Western – but like a lot of others, I enjoy reading a horoscope or looking at the traits of an animal attached to a year in Chinese culture. Sometimes it gives me optimism, sometimes motivation. The year of the Ox can give you both for your small business.Here’s the very good news: In Chinese culture, oxen are symbols of wealth, prosperity, diligence and perseverance, according to Chineasy, an app for learning Mandarin and Chinese culture.”We may not treat any oxen at Los Altos Veterinary Clinic, but like the ox in the Chinese zodiac, our staff have been hardworking and reliable,” said Yee. “We will continue to keep our community healthy alongside the essential health workers during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.”So what does this year of the Ox have in store for entrepreneurs and small business owners?First and foremost, you’ll have to work hard. But you don’t need me to tell you that. You probably always worked hard in your small business, but when the economy was flush, things were a little easier. It was easier to make a sale, get a higher profit margin. In the horrible year that was 2020, small business owners worked their tails off. Looks like you’ll still be working extra hard in 2021, but in an Ox year, your hard work should pay off.In a year of an Ox – 2021 – it should also be a good year to:► Start a company. If you’ve got a great idea, can make or sell something more affordable than your competitors, or even have been laid off and can’t find a job, now’s a surprisingly good time to start a business – especially if you can do it on the cheap. ► Hire people. There are amazing people out there who have lost their jobs; see if any of them can work for you. Now’s a good time to find the people who can help you grow your business.► Rent or lease new space. Vacancy rates are high, commercial rents are plummeting, downsized companies are subleasing space. Landlords are willing to deal, even offering months of free rent. ► Borrow money. Interest rates are at an all-time low. If you have access to credit, now is a great time to borrow – perhaps to buy a building, a needed piece of equipment, or a vehicle. ► Negotiate. Consider every expense in your business a target for negotiation. Right now is the best time to drive a bargain on just about anything you need to buy or lease.► Gain market share. Your competitors may be cutting back on their advertising, trade show exhibitions, all types of marketing. There are plenty of customers out there, go get them.► Buy a company. Many people who own businesses – even healthy companies – may decide they just don’t want to struggle through this economy. This may create an opening for you to purchase an ongoing enterprise to help launch your dreams or expand your empire.How did the Year of the Ox 12 years ago work out for me and my small business? We worked really hard. We tried a lot of new things (we called it our ‘spaghetti year’ and threw a lot of ideas against the wall to see what stuck). I found new clients, new lines of business, and 2009 was one of the best years I ever had!I’m hoping that this Year of the Ox will do the same for you. Or as they say for Chinese New Year: “Gong xi fa cai,” which means ‘wishing you great happiness and prosperity.Rhonda Abrams’ newest book “The Sh*t’s Hit the Fan: Now What, 99 Recession-Proof Tips for Small Business Success” has just been released. Rhonda was named a “Top 30 Global Guru” for Startups. Connect with Rhonda on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Register for Rhonda’s free business tips newsletter at www.PlanningShop.com.The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.