If you are an entrepreneur (doesn’t matter whether you are a 1 person entity or a 1000 person enterprise), chances are you might be feeling the heat of the downturn, unless you are selling a service which we cannot do without and there is no competition (e.g. the electric utility, your mobile service provider or your doctor).Here is my collection of the Top 10 Tips which would help you beat the heat of the downturn and hopefully emerge stronger from this once in a lifetime event.
1. Stop Innovating
As entrepreneurs or business managers, we continuously strive to get a step up over our competition by doing something new and different, in the hopes that this can be a sure shot way to bring in (hordes of) new business through the door. While progressive innovation is a good thing, making too many radical changes in your product or service can cause you to lose focus on the core and current business issues of your company. You will be running towards a mirage, expecting a silver bullet to cure all your business woes, which might not happen and you might be in a tighter spot than where you are now!Instead, focus on improving your current business processes, systems and address the long standing issues which you were not able to get around to earlier. Try and improve what has already been built and is working (albeit a bit slowly). Rest assured, that once the market turns around and demand picks up, your clients will value the subtle extra services or convenience which your product has to offer. Unlike Nokia, you really don’t need to start something new today!
Step 2: Automate Your Business Processes
When we built our web enabled CRM application, it took us nearly 5 months of hard work and considerable effort and many people thought that this was an inessential service and something which was avoidable, as manual processes were sufficient to handle the current load of customers. However, we knew that our hosting services would grow and the CRM would enable us to automate and improve client communication, thereby generating more sales and we were so right.Its been nearly four years now and our CRM utility has paid us rich dividends in keeping our clients happy and securing more business from them. The morale of the story is that you could and should look at your current business systems and figure out how to automate and eliminate manual intervention to the maximum possible extent. This is a sure shot way to cut costs, improve productivity and pass on the benefits to your customer, building up more scale and profitability.
3. Start Marketing Your Products/Services Online
With the advent ofGoogle Adwords and other PPC advertising systems, there is no reason why you cannot do very effective target marketing campaigns, which only show up when your target audience searches for your products/services. There are companies which only advertise online and this is the way forward for most businesses in the near future as the ‘web’ becomes omni present around us. Note however, that setting up an online advertising campaign is not easy and requires you to work with a team of marketing and web specialists who have proven success in this domain. Also, you need to look at this effort as a long term investment and put in many hours of effort before you start seeing tangible results, so this is not a quick fix solution, if that’s what you are looking for.
4. Get Up Close and Personal
When was the last time you spoke to one of your current customers and heard them discuss issues with your product/service? Chances are you like most of us would like to avoid dealing with your existing customers and would leave them to be handled (sometimes manhandled as well) by your support reps. While, having a dedicated after sales support team is an essential aspect of providing good customer service, don’t presume that they are always doing a great job of it!You need to be in constant touch with your most paying customers and also pay attention to your not so paying customers as well. Every interaction will give you an insight of what the market really wants and you are the best person who can use this knowledge to improve your offerings. I recommend that you speak to at least one of your clients everyday, even if its not related to any support issues, so that they know you are around and that you value their business.
Step 5: Conserve Cash
We are all aware of how important it is to cut back expenses during a downturn and reduce overheads. But some of us realise this virtue once its a little too late and after we have burnt a substantial amount of our hard earned capital. In the first stage, we are in a state of denial and refuse to accept that the market has turned bottom side up and we keep pushing at it with all our marketing might. In the second stage, we look for a silver bullet with a hastily implemented product/service that is launched with a lot of fanfare and expectations. When even this also fails to stimulate the market, we land up in the third stage and where we start to panic and take hasty decisions which damages your organisations goodwill and standing in the marketplace.The key here is to keep an ear on the ground and become aware early of the emerging trends in the horizon. You can then adapt your operations and services much in advance which will help you secure your position in the marketplace and possibly enhance it as well. You need to do your own research and trust your own instinct to navigate you through such situations.
Step 6: Get Fighting Fit
While its important to focus more on your business during hard times, it shouldn’t be at the expense of your health. Spending long hours at your desk might make you less productive on a long term basis apart from taking a toll on your overall well being. Staying healthy requires you to devote at least an hour for 3 days/week with any physical activity which you can pursue on a long term basis. Strength training, jogging, running, swimming, cycling, yoga or even simply walking are some of the excellent way to achieve good fitness along with a well balanced diet.Remember, when the market turns around, you need to be fighting fit to grasp the opportunities with energy and enthusiasm and not look feel like a dried up vegetable!
Step 7: Enhance Your Knowledge
OK, when was the last time you picked up a technical book on your areas of service? Chances are, its been a while and we are all guilty of postponing learning those cool new technologies/innovations due to lack of time. However, this is a great time to invest in yourself and learn about those key innovations in your business which you had always wanted to but simply had no time to look through. Remember, all the best brains in business, spend a lot of time poring through books, manuals and blogs to help them get a 360 degree view of their services and there is really no excuse for you not invest a small amount of your time everyday in getting better at what you do.Remember, your clients are doing business with you as they assume you to be (amongst) the best in the industry and if they come across someone else who has a better handle on things, they might simply switch to your competitor.
Step 8: Share Expenses
Instead of completely cutting down on a service which you feel is valuable but cannot afford it, you might consider to share that expense with another organisation, who is not in direct competition with you. Some examples could be your unutilised office space, broadband connections, car pooling, online subscription services, bulk hosting plans, specialised staff, etc.Sharing expense allows you to avail of the same services which you had been doing earlier without the whole burden of it on your shoulders. Think of it as car pooling for your business.
Step 9: Take a Vacation
Sometimes, it might make sense to step out of the confines of your current environment and take a vacation, even though there might be pressing issues back home. Taking a break from work and going for a holiday, allows you to recharge your batteries, get a different perspective on your current problems and address them with even greater enthusiasm once you are back to work.Have you ever noticed that people who go for regular vacations (at least once an year) are on a more even keel and more relaxed then those who don’t. Don’t be a paranoid workaholic but believe in yourself that everything will work out fine and the world will not come to an end while during your week long break.
Step 10: Cut Your Losses and Move On
While watching a recent interview ofAzim Premji, the Chairman ofWipro Ltd., he made a remark that the world has been fundamentally ‘reset’ and the old ways of doing business might not work anymore in the new scheme of things to come. His remark made me sit up as it was a subtle message which had very wide implications. What had worked previously, might not continue to work anymore.If something is not working anymore, don’t go in a tizzy and push your head against the wall. Instead, accept it as an inescapable truth and move on from there. The world order has been fundamentally shifted after this ‘financial tsunami’ and we need to accept this and move on. Sure, there would be many more opportunities in the days ahead but it might not be something which are expecting and you need to gear up for the same!Feel free to post your comments and add some more tips to this post!