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Recession-Proof Your Business
With the weight of the housing, credit and financial problems threatening to push the country into a deep recession on his back, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke took to Capital Hill on Wednesday with some bad news. He told the Joint Economic Committee of Congress that “It now looks likely that gross domestic product (GDP) will not grow much, if at all, during the first half of 2008 and may even contract slightly.” By one definition of the word, six consecutive months of falling GDP (the value of all goods and services produced in the United States) constitutes a recession.
However, the news was not bad. Bernanke also expressed his optimism for the second half of 2008 and the beginning of 2009. year and next,” Bernanke said. He was referring, in part, to the recently approved $168 billion stimulus package of tax cuts for people and tax breaks for businesses, as well as the Fed’s aggressive interest rate cuts.
So what does all this mean for you, the small business owner? It means you need to make a plan today, just in case the floor falls out from under you tomorrow. Remember, there is a certain flexibility that comes with being a small business. You can, with a little effort and discipline, refocus your efforts much more quickly and easily than a large corporation can. This is important. What should you focus on? The possibilities.
The joys of diversification
Even in the worst economic times, there are opportunities. It’s up to you to take those opportunities and run with them. By expanding your offering of goods and services, you will expand your customer base. Repackaging your services and directing your efforts to a different audience is another way to diversify. For example, if you are a web designer with a web design business, you might consider becoming a consultant or offering workshops on web design, search engine optimization, or any other related topic, anything you would allow you to earn money and market your basic web design business at the same time. The key is to get out of your niche before your competition.
Use customer service to differentiate yourself
Business isn’t just about finding customers, it’s about keeping the ones you already have. The key to doing this is solid customer service, and the foundation of solid customer service is stellar treatment. The fact is that, all things being equal, the experience a customer has at your establishment is the deciding factor in whether or not they will return to continue doing business with you. Some of the things you can do are expand your product and service offerings, offer faster delivery, and offer more flexible payment options. Overall, though, make sure everything you do is customer-centric. Communicate with your customers; find out what they need and want and how close you are to fulfilling those things. Then, adjust your efforts to build on your strengths and eliminate your weaknesses.
Market, market, market
You may have guessed from the title of this section that when the economy slows, you need to improve your marketing. It’s a common mistake—and one that can seriously hurt your business—to cut back on marketing when the economy goes south. Take a lesson from the natural world. When food is scarce, the lion is neither gentle nor patient. In fact, they are more aggressive in bringing down an animal and protecting their kill from surrounding hyenas than they are under normal circumstances (not that the difference really matters much to the recently grazing zebra, which they will chew on ). In lean times, you need to get out there, your marketing needs to be more aggressive, more thorough and more meaningful than ever:
- The basis of contact with past customers.
- Use incentives such as fees, discounts and the like.
- Create a referral rewards program to generate a little word of mouth action.
- Increase your public relations efforts by getting more involved with your community and establishing yourself as an expert and market leader. This involves some risk, but once you meet it, recession worries will be a thing of the past. From this position, you will easily beat your competitors even in very slow times, because customers will have a real and tangible reason to see you.
- Review your marketing program to date and see if it is as cost-effective and efficient as it could be.
- Network like crazy.
Ride the Cutting Edge
Are you up to date with technology and best practices? Can you describe the trends, problems and opportunities currently facing your industry? If you can’t answer any of these questions in the affirmative, it’s time to go back to school. Being up to date can help you run your business more cost effectively and reach new customers in other countries, even in other countries. Online selling, for example, can take your local business and, depending on what you sell, make you a global player almost overnight.
Sharp Focus: It’s all about your goals
Success depends on keeping your eyes on your long-term goals while executing your tactics and strategies. Your strategies are the short-term objectives that will drive you toward your goals. Tactics are the things you do to achieve your strategies. Everything you do should be done with your goals in mind as part of an overall strategy. This means that if you are considering your overhead to stimulate short-term profits, think about the effect this will have on the bottom line. If it doesn’t support your goals, don’t do it. There is always another way.
Improve it in Excel: Both sides of the battlefield
It hasn’t been explicitly stated so far, but everything you’ve read so far is about upgrading. I have suggested that you take a close look at what you are doing and try to figure out if you can do it better. In itself, this is half the battle. I’ve never been one to put too much faith in half the battle. I’m more of a fight guy, so here’s the other half: Your competition. What are they doing? Furthermore, what are they doing right (that you can adapt) and what are they doing wrong (that you can exploit)? Maybe this sounds like a “cloak and dagger”, but they don’t call it corporate espionage for nothing. I’m not suggesting that you go to Machiavellian extremes here, but I am suggesting that intelligence in your competition is good, and being able to leverage that intelligence is better.
You improve your products and services, policies and practices; and you improve the competitors as well. If you do these things, you’ll be able to get through the toughest economic times with little damage. Come to think of it, why wait for the storm clouds to gather and Bernancke to utter the scariest word: Recession? Why not start your upgrade program today? In the immortal words of PT Barnum: “Those who really desire to attain an independence, have only set their minds upon it, and use the proper means, as they do in connection with any other object they wish to attain, and the thing is done.” easily”.
Now get out there and do something!
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