It's never good news.
You hear about it every day. Crashing quarterly reports. Mass layoffs. Debates over debt and large scale economic stimulus packages. Left and right, up and down, back and forth: the world is coming to an end and no one is spending money. Anywhere, for any reason. That's what they're saying.
And it only validates what you've been seeing firsthand. Over the months you've watched as first your periphery services have fallen to revenue reduction. Then it started cutting into your core business. Maybe you've been forced to reduce your own staff and cut your operating overhead, retreating into the security of your base of reliable clients and perennial service sellers while eliminating everything else. Everyone knows a recession is on now; no one is really surprised that business isn't going well. And every day it seems to get a bit worse, until you're mainly relying on hope and prayer.
Maybe not. I hope not; I sincerely hope that your recession survival strategy isn't a timely withdrawal. Because if it is, you may be in for a surprise – like a victorious army, a bad economy tends to do a lot of damage to a business in retreat. And a business attempting to go unnoticed by a marketplace turned cannibalistic is very apt to become a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.
I know: it's easy for me to say that. But you're dealing with economic woes now. Lost customers now, tightened markets now, spending cuts now. What can you do – now – to turn things around?
Pick up the phone. You talk to your own customers all the time – but when was the last time you picked up the phone and reached out to anyone else? There is never just one economy: every business, every consumer out there is their own individual economy, subject to different financial conditions and operating from different perspectives. Even in the Great Depression, many businesses made money and built empires. If you're struggling to stay in business with a customer base in economic trouble, you need to know what's going on outside your traditional customer base.
So find out: pick up the phone. Set aside any ideas about cold calling and trying to make the sale – instead, start by just finding the right person to talk to. Then call, introduce yourself, and instead ask them about their business. Call to learn. Call to gather intelligence. Call to understand. You'll discover quickly that even in a recession, the market offers tremendous opportunities for the right vendor.
Call in the chips. There's an art to asking for a favor, and it usually starts with doing favors first. This is time to reach out to old alliances and to make new ones: what can you do today to trade a bit of good will with other business associates caught in the economic crosshairs?
Use this time as an opportunity to cash in old chips and to bank some new ones. What can you do today to forge new relationships and cement the foundation for new cooperative efforts?
Spend money, but wisely. Probably the most dangerous tendency during a recession is to cut your marketing and sales spend. Your basic problem is that you aren't making enough sales – so why are you strangling the one department in charge of bringing in more?
Resist the urge to stop marketing. Instead, consider cost saving alternatives to the conventional business practices that make sense during periods of economic growth. Rather than relying on expensive, salaried in house development, consider outsourcing some of your marketing efforts to reliable freelance vendors who can produce work on an as-needed basis. Work to tighten your message focus, using timely market research to ensure that you're getting the most bang for your marketing buck.
Refocus on nondiscretionary business sectors. In any economy, good or bad, all spending is divided into discretionary and nondiscretionary capital: is this expense a necessary one or a luxury? Can we live without this? What happens if we cut this expense out of our budget?
Even in a tough economy, some industries are perpetual money makers. Food. Commercial transportation. Anything involving the national infrastructure. Consider your product or service from the perspective of the discretionary decision – and reframe your marketing to place your offering on the right side of the line.
Finally, help others make money. Most everyone now is in the same boat, struggling to find new sources of revenue and new ways to adapt to shifting economic tides. As you talk to your own customers and learn more about actual conditions on the ground, what are you doing – above and beyond selling them your services – to help make them money?
Right now many businesses are considering affiliate programs, cooperative marketing ventures and cross-industry channel partnerships. They're reaching out to others, figuring out ways to tie their boats together to stay above the tide. Those are the businesses that will make it through the flood.
In every economy, good or bad, someone is making money. Even in the Great Depression, most people were still working and most businesses were still turning profits. This recession – no matter how deep or harsh it becomes – will be no different. If you plan to stay in business, you don't have time to waste: stop bunkering and start building the foundation for future success.
A little creativity – and a whole lot of hard work – goes a long way when times get tight.