Your small business is more than just a job — it's like family. You've grown and nurtured it. In uncertain times, it's essential to shelter and protect your business as you would your family so it can emerge from an economic downturn stable and ready to thrive again.
Let's look at how to build your business during slow times, including ways you can increase sales while your competitors are struggling and improve the overall stability of your company in a challenging climate.
1. Reevaluate your business model.
The first step in addressing a downturn is to revisit how you built your business. See what aspects are still relevant today and how you can capitalize on them. If something isn't working, eliminate it or consider reinventing it. Take time to update your business plan, review accomplishments and set new goals. That way, you'll be ready to go when business ramps back up.
A slow period is an ideal opportunity to look at your business in a new light. How can your business meet demands that emerge from changing times? Examine ways to diversify your offerings. Does your business focus on high-end products or services? Consider how you might provide budget-friendly versions or add more value to these offerings. Explore ways to get your product into the hands of customers faster or easier, such as by expanding into delivery, curbside pickup or online ordering.
2. Consider cash flow.
The earlier you examine your financial picture, the faster you can move to protect your business. Cash flow is key to surviving an economic downturn, so consider deep cost-cutting. Reacting aggressively now may help you avoid having to cut costs again in a few months.
Take inventory of major expenses.
Examine everything from staff and office space to insurance costs, vehicle expenditure and supply chain. Then determine where you can take money-saving steps. Can you work from home or relocate from a storefront to a warehouse? You might also be able to negotiate a lower rent or ask creditors to set you up on a flexible payment plan.
Consider a small business loan.
Rates are typically lower during an economic downturn, so this is an opportunity to access cash and free up capital for potential investments. This may also be a chance to pick up inventory at lower rates due to fire sales — therefore, having extra cash on hand will be crucial.
3. Focus on customer service.
Another tactic for how to increase sales when business is slow is to take excellent care of your existing customers. Reach out to them with special offers to show your appreciation and provide specific services at no extra cost (initially).
Nearly three quarters (73%) of Americans say a company's charitable giving affects their purchase decisions. Consider donating products or offering deep discounts to help customers in a time of need, especially if you're burdened with extra inventory that's losing value the longer it sits on your shelves. You can also use your downtime to volunteer for a cause that's important to you personally or related to your business.
Review and update your customer database.
Take this opportunity to make sure customer information is current and complete. You can also segment customer groups by their value based on past orders.
Reach out to new clients.
Expand your customer base by seeking out opportunities outside your usual sphere.
4. Invest in education.
Though you probably feel like it's hard to prioritize professional development right now, your educational efforts can yield long-term benefits.
Educate your customer.
Offer training classes or webinars in your area of expertise. The cost to do this is minimal, but it could reap substantial rewards for you by building customer loyalty.
Educate your staff — and yourself.
Use slower times to ramp up training for yourself and your team. Do some online research on emerging technology that could benefit your business in the future. Explore certification programs or classes via a local college. Training is critical in developing your business, so squeeze in the time to focus on career development.
5. Get creative with marketing.
When looking at how to improve your business, don't forget marketing. Studies by the Small Business Association have shown that companies that maintain or increase their marketing efforts during slowdowns outsell competitors that cut back.
Be more personalized.
Beef up your digital marketing strategies across your most customizable channels like social media and email, where you can better personalize your messaging to evolving consumer needs. Also, consider sending personal notes to your best customers to thank them for their business, and your brand will be top of mind.
Test new channels or tactics.
Consider doing a trial run on a new channel like paid search via Google Ads or live video streaming to showcase your business and gain learnings about its effectiveness. You can consider scaling these efforts when economic times improve.
6. Enhance your website.
A website is a crucial part of any business in this mobile age, but many companies put it on the backburner. Use slower times to optimize features and benefits for your customers — such as streamlining the ordering process, offering more mobile payment options (e.g., Apple Pay, Venmo, PayPal) and incorporating more meaningful content like helpful advice for users.
7. Recharge your batteries.
Small business owners rarely take vacations, sometimes to the detriment of their business. Use quiet periods to step away, catch your breath and focus on life outside of work. Jumping back in with a clear mind when things ramp up again might be just the boost you need.
Every business owner has important projects that they struggle to prioritize amidst their day-to-day workflow. Whether it's rebuilding your website or growing a new offering, an economic downturn or slow season can be an opportunity to build for the future.