We’re all facing difficult economic times right now – from big businesses to small businesses, to all of our customers. The following 5 tips can not only help make an economic downturn work for your small business, but can also position you well against your competition – large and small – so you can best reap the benefits when the economy rebounds.
#1 Flexibility is Key: Big businesses are suffering because they are too large to react to the roller-coaster economy and constantly changing marketplace; small businesses are in a special position to not only weather the storm, but actually leverage their flexibility for growth. The key to growth through flexibility is actively listening to your customers and going the extra mile to make the individual changes they need. This may mean offering after-hours service, personalizing a product or shipping non-standard quantities. For example, if a product typically ships in 12-piece cases and a customer asks for 5 pieces, a small company can more easily make an adjustment than a large company with a fully automated packaging line. If a customer is wavering, try asking, “What special service can I offer YOU to earn your business?” If you can offer an extra or a customization that costs you little or nothing but makes a big difference to your customer, you have not only earned a sale but a loyal customer, too.
#2 Making Mistakes Is Good For Your Business: Some might think that when times are tough being conservative is being practical, but successful entrepreneurs know that this is the time to take chances. If business is slow, you have the time to try a new marketing strategy or test a new product offering. If it fails miserably, figure out why and try again. The most important part is that you’re learning what your customers like and don’t like, an invaluable piece of knowledge. The key is to have the systems in place to make executing a strategy cost-effective and simple. How is this done? Create accurate and comprehensive reporting (even just with an Excel spreadsheet) so you can learn from your successes and mistakes and leverage them when the economy picks up again.
#3 Concessions Is Profitable: Often helping customers with payment terms can make the difference between a lost customer and a loyal customer for life. Common customer requests for money-saving services include:
- Make small payments on a schedule, instead of paying a large lump sum.
- Split payments between multiple credit cards or bank accounts.
- Pay online or by phone to avoid postage costs.
- Automate payments to avoid late fees.
- Receive notification prior to execution of an automatic payment.
- Change billing dates to match their pay-days.
Honoring such requests may seem counter-intuitive to a profitable business, but with the proper system in place, a business can actually reap immediate benefits including: increased sales; improved cash flow; reduced workload; satisfied, repeat customers; and word-of-mouth referrals.
#4 Automating Systems Does Not Mean Impersonal Service: When money is tight, it is important to your business that you do more with less. One sure-fire way to cut costs is to automate previously manual-based systems, such as answering routine inquiries in person that could be answered via a customer self-serve system. Oftentimes we think that providing in-person service is far more important to customers than it really is. Of course, it’s always critical to have a live person available if a customer has a problem, but automating routine tasks can be the differentiating factor that wins over business. Offering a self-serve system that accepts payments, makes finding product information simpler, or schedules a service call at their convenience provides a more personalized experience, not less.
#5 Promote Productivity over Activity: In a recent post, PaySimple CEO Eric Remer wrote about productivity vs. activity, highlighting a distinction that is particularly important to small businesses operating in today’s economy:
Activity defines the person who is willing to put in time, but not willing to engage himself – a person who tries hard, but is just going through the motions and is not willing to care. Productivity defines the person who is fully engaged in what he is doing. Productive people are passionate about their goals, accomplishments, and destinations. They are creators. They can change a concept into an experience and a napkin sketch into an operating business.
What is clear is that working productively goes beyond doing good business today, it positions your company to grow in the future. When times are good, growth often happens automatically; when times are tough, your entire team needs to make it happen. So don’t look at the current economic problems as a tragedy, treat them as an opportunity to employ creative thinking to help make your customers’ lives easier, help your team shine, and help your business grow.