How to Turn Your Business Around Amidst a Changing Economy

By Anne Houlihan

Many 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.

In fact, 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.

After 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.

1. 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.

2. Do 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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 savings.

Yes, 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 opportunity.

Read other articles and learn more about Anne Houlihan.

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