How to Turn Your Business Around Amidst a Changing Economy
By Anne Houlihan
business owners and managers report that their industry is changing
rapidly, and they feel that it’s more difficult to do business today
than it was just a few short years ago. Certainly, the nightly news
is complete with stories of industry after industry facing its share
of woes, from financial setbacks to employee shortages to increased
competition to globalization issues. But just because those setbacks
are occurring and companies are struggling to get ahead (maybe even
some companies you’ve admired and tried to imitate) doesn’t mean
that same fate has to happen to you.
if you take a new look at your company and the situation you’re in,
you’ll likely find many opportunities for growth and success. The
key is to embrace the change that is happening rather than dread it,
as so many people often do.
all, let’s face it…change is scary. Life is simpler when everything
remains the same: same customers, same orders, same processes, and
same routines. But hidden within sameness are mediocrity and
complacency—the two enemies of growth and success. Therefore, if you
want to come through a changing economy unscathed, you need to view
your company, customers, and processes in a whole new light. To do
so, consider the following five guidelines for making the most of
any economic challenge.
Focus on what you already have: Your existing customers are your
number one asset. Therefore, survey them and talk to them about
their needs, operations, and product lines. Is there an unmet need
you can fulfill for them? Can you supply parts for another product
line they carry? Can you make their business easier to run in some
way? A simple way to find out is to ask, “What other product lines
do you carry?” or “Where do you need additional help in your
business?” You may discover that they carry another product you can
supply materials for. Even though they’ve been your customer for
many years, they may not be familiar with all you offer. The fact is
that most of the time we sell people the same product or the same
line. In a changing economy, you need to find out what else your
customers do or what else they need. Since their industry is likely
changing too, they’re probably adding new products and services to
stay competitive. You may just be the perfect supplier for their
growing needs. But until you ask them, you’ll never know.
a sales analysis on your current customers and clients: Organize
your client or customer database by industry. Then do a little
research to determine the following: Which industries are still
growing in the changing economy? Which industries are down? What
opportunities do you have with your clients that are showing an
increase? How can you help those clients that have a decrease? As
you do this, remember that industries are diverse right now. For
example, some companies on the east coast may be having their best
year ever after Hurricane Katrina, yet the industry as a whole
nationwide may be down. So be sure you look at overall trends. Only
then can you see what opportunities are waiting for you.
Examine your infrastructure: Chances are there are many
inexpensive ways for you to improve and streamline your company for
more efficiency. However, in the past you’ve simply been too busy to
take notice. Now that times are changing, make sure you and your
employees are using your proper procedures. If necessary, have a
meeting or training session so everyone is up-to-date with the
efficient systems. Also, make sure all necessary product or service
information and reference materials are available for employees. For
example, if they need to review sketches or plans prior to
completing and final billing on a project, then make sure they have
immediate access to those materials. Do a review of each
department’s responsibilities and eliminate tasks that are no longer
necessary. And if you’re in manufacturing, check your process flow
to ensure it’s efficient.
Fine-tune your marketing: If you want to attract new customers
or even retain current ones, you have to let them know you exist.
How is your company’s marketing exposure? Do you stand out from the
competition? Are your customers aware of your full product line or
services? During a changing economy is an ideal time to tweak all
your marketing messages, including your web site, your brochures,
your sales letters, and even your business cards. Granted, during a
slow time many companies don’t have expendable cash. Realize,
though, that you don’t need to do everything yourself or start from
scratch. Many business templates are available for low cost or free
that can help you improve your marketing messages. These include
everything from web site templates to pre-made letterhead designs.
Look for and use the inexpensive options that are available.
Conduct an overall cost analysis: Look at where you can reduce
your overhead, thus showing more profit. For example, can your
employees negotiate with your shipping carriers for a better price?
Can you use some local vendors and virtually eliminate shipping
costs? Can you get your office supplies from a less expensive
source? Now is the time to challenge what you’ve always done and
discover new ways to save money. Usually when we’re busy and doing
well we don’t have time for these types of communications. Now is
the time to dig deep, question everything, and find those cost
Change Can Be Good: While a changing economy can be a scary
time, it’s actually a prime time for growth. If you simply look for
opportunities, you will find them. So be aware of economic changes
and the potential downfalls, but don’t make it your reality.
Remember, only you and the decisions you make can create your
company’s reality. In the end, by simply following the three Ps,
that is displaying Positive, Proactive Perseverance, you’ll be
amazed at your business turnaround and so glad you said “yes” to
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