Flash back to summer 1975: picture a white sandy beach with gentle summer breezes and inviting crystal, blue water. But wait, hardly anyone is swimming. Why? A blockbuster movie with two memorable musical notes and a robotic shark has created widespread fear. Are there more sharks in the water than the summer before? Nope. Is an irrational fear keeping people from their summer enjoyment? Yes.
Although the Great Recession of ’08 wasn’t exactly the Great White of ‘75, some of the same reactions are in play: people get scared, they overreact, and immobility is contagious. Consider NOT following the crowd on this one, and you’ll come out ahead for doing so.
So what can YOU as a smaller business owner do to take advantage of the downward cycle of the economy?
1. Provide deals, make deals, and get deals. This is a time when everyone is examining their books and looking for new ways to save money, so there is no better time to bring in new customers by offering excellent products and services at competitive prices. I know some business owners are bartering again. E.g. “I’ll build your website if you’ll do my bookkeeping for 6 months,” or “I’ll promote your business to your customers, if you’ll do the same for me.” When dealing with vendors yourself, negotiate more than you have in the past. Because everyone is eager for business, don’t be reluctant to ask what someone can give you for their business. Additionally, this is an excellent time to form joint ventures by pooling resources with strategic partners.
2. Strengthen the bond with your existing customers. Appreciate your customers for what they are, the lifeblood of your company. This is the time to reward them for their patronage by offering them excellent value for their money. Reach out to them, and find out what they need. Give them the equivalent of a frequent buyer program for their continued business. Offer them incentives, discounts, payment plans, and rewards on their purchases and referral fees for referring you business. One office supply store gives $25 off for buying $75 or more AND doesn’t charge shipping if you spend more than $50. Have fun and be creative.
3. Examine and Innovate. Examine your processes and look for new ways to get your work done more efficiently. Necessity really is the mother of invention. Ask yourself if there is a better way to do what you are doing. Maybe there is a new technology, even a free one that can save you time. For example, if you find that you or your assistant is updating each of your communication channels several times a day, consider a tool like Hootsuite to update your Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts simultaneously.
4. Plan. When was the last time that you reviewed your business plan? It’s an excellent time for revisiting your company’s mission, examining your marketing strategies, calculating your financial projections and planning for when the economy picks up. When the business starts rolling in earnestly, you’ll be poised to take advantage of the surge leaving your peers scrambling to react. (And if you don’t have a business plan, you know what to do!) Part of that planning process should include asking if you and your team are up-to-date on the latest technologies and systems, and if not, making arrangements to enhance your skills with training.
5. Never stop marketing. It should be obvious, but you’d be surprised how many entrepreneurs cut back on their marketing efforts when they are watching their pennies. If you’re familiar with the marketing funnel, then you understand that getting customers is a process earned over several communications. Keep “touching” your customers and potential clients often so that when they are ready to make a purchase, you’re the first supplier of goods and services that they think of.
Consider that many well known successful companies got their start during recessions including General Electric, Microsoft and Federal Express. Others like Google, Paypal and SalesForce thrived during recessionary times.
Most of all, remind yourself that business downturns run in cycles. If you prepare for them, and take these outlined steps when they occur, then you’ll be positioned to ride them out successfully.
Anyone for a swim? It’s safe to get back in the water, and you’ll be glad that you did.© Copyright 2010 Ali Brown