Cash is king in an economic downturn so forget profit and balance sheets and devote all your attention to cash flow.

And stop reading negative media stories or speculation on social media about how bad things might get – pessimism leads to inaction.

That's the advice from 89 of those who have weathered previous economic shocks going back as far as the 1980s who were surveyed by former Bank of New Zealand chief economist Tony Alexander.

Business owners should switch to products or services that have stronger and faster cashflow while deprioritising those that take too long to pay dividends.

"Don’t sell to slow paying or risky clients – if they were bad news in good times, they are deadly in tough times," one respondent said.

Good customers

But be prepared to offer discounts to prevent your good customers from walking away, while still avoiding giving blanket discounts, unless it's a matter of getting rid of old and slow-moving stock that is better converted to cash.

Talk to your bank as early as possible about your forecasts, plans, how you will measure progress and what you want from your bank.

"The bankers will be busy so the easier you can make their job of selling your request up the line, the better for you," Alexander said in his summary of responses.

One respondent advised never go to your bank and say, I've got a problem and I need help.

What the bank wants to hear is what exactly is the problem, what you're doing about it, what you need from the bank and how you will pay back the loan.

"The bank will normally support anyone who can demonstrate they are on top of the situation."

Build confidence

Keeping the bank informed of progress will help build the bank's confidence in your management and make it more inclined to continue to support you if the wheels fall off.

"Banks abhor a vacuum," one respondent said.

Cost-cutting is also high on the agenda and that should include every expense that isn't core to running your business. Sponsorships, magazines, company cars, advertising and so on should come under scrutiny.

Your marketing should be concentrated on targeted audiences – your most likely customers.

"Explain your situation to your landlord and suppliers and ask for discounts – the respondents said 15 percent discounts were common in past downturns.

But when it comes to shedding staff, do it as early as possible and try to avoid having to lay off more people down the track. "Act early, act big, act once," is the advice.

Open door

And leave the door open for those you have to lay off to come back when business improves.

"They still have skills and you want to be able to be in a position where you don't burn bridges on the way out," one respondent said.

Another said their business made the mistake of cutting staff 10 times through one downturn which "is painful for the organisation and, of course, the people that remain. Nothing really gets done and it literally is death by a thousand cuts."

Communicate fully and honestly with staff, suppliers, banks and clients. "Get as many people as possible on board with your plans."

Paying attention to your own health and mental wellbeing should also be high on the to-do list.

Getting advice from a wide range of experts, not just your banker and accountant, is a good idea but forget about listening to what your mates have to say around the barbecue.

Opportunity may knock

Opportunities in the form of weakened competitors are likely to appear, but chasing them shouldn't come at the expense of focusing on your core areas of strength.

And moving too far from your "knitting" is also something to avoid.

Playing the victim, ranting and bullying or abusing others is a waste of time and those who find themselves behaving like this should seek help to manage themselves.

"Remember that this too will pass as all previous recessions have and note that many people regret that, once they had cashflows under control, they stayed too cautious for too long and missed some good opportunities," Alexander said.

"Plan for the recovery. It often comes faster than expected when in the depths of the crisis and everything looks bad," one respondent said.