Recession Solutions for the Small Biz

Recession Solutions for the Small Business

Small businesses can often be the most vulnerable during an economic downturn. By implementing a few strategic methods, your business can thrive even during the worst of times.

By Kara Yates

To stay afloat during the economic downturn, small businesses must think strategically and change the way they do business to survive. Among small businesses, 70 to 80 percent of the problems are all the same: a lack of sales, marketing, financial and strategic planning, says Blair Koch, business consultant and president of The Alternative Board (TAB). Below are a few survival tactics for small business owners.

Employ job descriptions. Implementing clear-cut employee job descriptions, Koch says, will lead to better productivity and time management, evoking a sense of duty and making it less likely that employees waste the company’s time and money with frivolous tasks. Unfortunately, “most small businesses don’t have job descriptions,” Koch says. “Workers tend to just do whatever needs to be done, and often there is an overlap or gaps in work. Everyone needs to be clear about their responsibilities and be held accountable.”

Create business goals. Mary Ann O’Brien, owner of OBI Creative, a small creative marketing agency bringing in over $1 million per year, benefits greatly from TAB’s Strategic Leadership Business plan, a tactical map that helps determine the company’s goals step-by-step. “The TAB board is great because I have others whom I can bounce things off of, who can help in times that are uncharted,” O’Brien says. If the services of a business consultant are too pricey for your small business, consider drafting your own business goals to refocus the direction of your company.

Encourage internal dialogue. One of the biggest responsibilities for any company is generating ideas for bringing in more business during economic hardships. Calling on the diverse perspectives of all employees, not just the sales team, O’Brien came up with an ongoing sales challenge to produce fresh ideas. “I set up three teams and challenged them to come up with a prospective client list,” she says. The winning team would receive extra time off and a bonus. To fuel the discussion, O’Brien asked the question: Which companies make the best sense in targeting? The winning team researched a few high-potential clients (a list too large might cause distractions) and made it a priority to obtain a meeting schedule with them. As a result, O’Brien’s company received new and interesting sales targets, won an account and gained meetings with other possible clients.

Plan a free focus group. Rather than spending money on a professional group, Cella Quinn, owner of Cella Quinn Investment Services, created a group among current clients and other savvy businesswomen to assess marketing techniques. “I invite eight to 12 people and ask questions like, ‘How can I do a better job at marketing to women?'” Quinn says.

Write a white paper. Complementary education can be a good marketing tool for small-business owners to offer prospective customers. One example is a white paper, a short paper that is educational and relevant to the industry. Owners choose a narrow topic pertaining to their business and allow customers to download the information from their website after providing contact information. “This way, your company gets info on the prospect and the prospect gets info from your company. This is the perfect win-win situation,” Koch explains.

Advertise quickly and easily. Leaving short, nonintrusive messages on the home voice mail can help drive business. Quinn uses Automatic Response Technologies (ART) to update existing clients on investment news. ART recommends that small-business owners record their own marketing messages; recipients are less interested in what the professional announcer has to say than the real voice. The average length of a recorded marketing message is about two to three minutes. The key to success, O’Brien says, is to “figure out the fastest way to get your message across.” The ART marketing strategy “saves time,” Quinn says, and everyone knows time is money.

Reduce unnecessary spending. Companies should look at cutting the nonessentials. “I cut down on the things that aren’t critical to our success, like expensive Gevalia coffee in the break room,” O’Brien says.

Reschedule employee vacations. For companies, “people are the biggest expense,” Koch says, and companies should “rethink employee vacations” by encouraging workers to take time off during the slow season rather than the busy season. This will “offset expenses when the company has less income,” Koch says, and help maintain the company’s income and save workers their jobs.

Staying above water during the economic downturn may be difficult for the small business. But it can maintain its livelihood with strategic plans in marketing and advertising and grade-A customer service. “Things aren’t necessarily as bad as they look,” Koch says. “There are almost always golden opportunities you can take advantage of to help you come out stronger.”

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