A recent spate of headlines using terms like “US economic uncertainty,” “downturn,” and (gasp!) “recession” have some small business owners wondering what steps they should take to survive their next famine cycle.
Certain industries and markets are, in fact, already seeing alarming drops in consumer confidence. For instance, high value real estate feels as though it’s teetering on the edge of a steep cliff in some markets (although others are seeing boom times).
If you’re an experienced business owner, you know to keep one eye on the market and stay alert to market shifts, so even through peak feasting periods, you should notice both the subtle signs of an impending downturn and any upcoming opportunities to leverage your unique skills.
But if you’re a newer business owner, or have never had the displeasure of experiencing a famine period, how do you leverage all the extra time a downturn will force on you?
Prepare yourself for faster recovery with these 5 tips:
Focus on the big picture
If you’re accustomed to having your head down in the day-to-day details of your business, an economic slowdown is the perfect time to step back and analyze the bigger picture. Take a moment to review your business plan: are you on the same track you mapped out when you opened your business? If you shifted focus, did your updated process deliver better results? Have you kept your plan up-to-date as your business morphs to meet the market’s needs?
A slowdown is your chance to examine your business, map out any changes your target demographic is undergoing, and develop new ways to keep up with their needs.
Identify your unique selling point
In a down market, it’s more important than ever to know exactly what makes you the best provider in your niche. Utilizing the 5P’s of marketing—product, placement, promotion, price, and people—identify what makes you better than your competitors. Pick one P as your primary focus, then develop a strategy to position yourself as the top provider in that spot.
Once that’s done, make sure your website, social profiles, and marketing collateral reflect your redefined focus. You might also consider distributing a press release or two to refresh your standing in the marketplace and renew your community’s interest in your brand.
Identify new customers
If you’ve developed a niche that has you accustomed to working with a specific type of customer, consider changing your tack. Identify the people who might benefit from a slowdown and target them. For instance, if the market is drying up because the wealthy boomers you normally work with are pulling their purse strings shut, try looking for ways to accommodate the dwindling middle class.
If you’re in real estate, that might mean finding investors who are willing to flip those hard-to-sell McMansions into communal or multigenerational living spaces that can be purchased by a group of buyers in a single transaction.
If you’re an author, it might mean sourcing reviews and word-of-mouth referrals by offering your book for free through a weekend Twitter promotion.
If you’re an independent consultant, it might mean booking your services at a corporate retreat where you can network with affluent professionals and give them a taste of the services you provide.
Whatever your business situation, there’s a new way to look at it. You just have to find and capitalize on it in new ways.
Maintain relationships with past customers
Five years ago, I moved across the country and bought a house. I’ve passively watched the local market because I know I’ll eventually upgrade to a nicer suburb, but I haven’t kept in touch with the agent who helped me buy the house I’m in now.
Yesterday, I picked up my mail and found a $5 DQ gift card wrapped in a handwritten greeting from the agent and her team. The greeting was simple: it said Happy 5th anniversary in your home! That’s it. No sales pitch. Not even a business card. Just a simple greeting to make me feel like that agent was thinking about me.
When you reach out to customers, they know you’re asking for their business even when you don’t explicitly say it. Regardless of your intent, the simple act of making this kind of positive contact creates good will and keeps you fresh in your customer’s mind.
Because of that simple gesture, guess who I’m calling when I’m ready to sell my house?
And finally, don’t try to do it all by yourself
Today’s gig economy makes it easier than ever to find help when you need it. By outsourcing tasks that take up your time but don’t provide the impetus for growth, you give yourself the chance to develop your business in meaningful ways while helping to build a sustainable economy that keeps resources cycling and recessions at bay—which ultimately broadens your customer base.
And if all else fails, remember: the economy works in cycles. If you can hang in there, then this too shall pass.