Some Small Business Survival Strategies

Has your business fallen on hard times? Running a business is never a sure bet, but sometimes it can feel like you’re caught between the proverbial rock and hard place. Thanks to the Internet, you can reach customers outside of your local area. But at the same time, your customers find it easy to go online and compare prices, find product information and make purchases from companies across the country, or across the world. As a result, you may have customers calling to cancel orders or asking you to cut prices. And big companies who bought services from you in the past may be outsourcing them overseas.

Whether you target businesses or consumers, there’s a good chance your customers have less time, and less patience for sales pitches than they did in the past, too. They may find that researching and shopping online is preferable to talking with a salesperson or traveling to your retail location.

And then there are other problems. Even if you can compete on price, your company may not be found online. Labor costs and other expenses may be rising, and changing customer needs and preferences may be putting a big crimp in your sales and profits. How many bookshelves can you sell to people who read books on their e-readers or tablets?

How to Recover from a Business Downturn

What can you do when your small business falls on hard times? How can boost sales and profits? The answer is to be proactive. Here are 21 strategies to consider:

1. Reinvent Your Business

You don’t have to be a big, high-tech company to reinvent your business. In fact, the smaller and leaner your business already is, the faster you can shift gears and zoom back into action.

Sit back and take a cold, hard look at your strengths and weaknesses and possible markets. Ask yourself the hard questions first: Do customers still want and buy the same type of products or services you sell? Have industries and styles changed since you started business? Have you kept up with the changes? If not, what changes should you implement now to make your business competitive again?

Do you need to develop new products or services? Don’t guess at what customers want and will pay for. Analyze your existing sales and talk to actual customers and prospects. What do they need? What can you provide? What’s the best way to deliver solutions to them? What’s going to bring in the most profit?

Is there any particular niche that buys regularly from you now? If so, consider how you can bring in more of the same types of customers, and what other merchandise they’d be likely to buy.

2. Sell on the Internet

Are you selling your products and services online? If not, why not? If your sales are declining and you aren’t selling online or capturing leads online, it’s time to get your head out of the sand. Even when people buy in-person or on the basis of personal relationships, they are likely to research the products, company or consultant online before making a decision on what to buy and from whom to buy it. If you have a business, you need a website. The type of website, and what should be on it depends on what you sell.

3. Get Involved in Social Media

Do you have a social media presence? Social media may not be your cup of tea, but the Pew Internet Social Media Update 2016 found that 68% of all U.S. adults (i.e., Internet users and non-Internet users) are Facebook users, while 28% use Instagram, 26% use Pinterest, 25% use LinkedIn and 21% use Twitter.

Find out which of the social media sites attracts the types of customers you want to reach and then get active in those channels. Post comments, answer questions, start discussions related to your products and industry. If you don’t have time, consider having a trusted staff member handle social media tasks. Consider advertising on social media sites, too.

4. Be Mobile Friendly

An ever-growing percentage of business people and consumers are reachable electronically via computer, smart phone or tablet for a majority of the day. These people include everyone from teenagers to retirees. The Internet – thus their ability to search for vendors, products and prices and be notified of deals (as well find the nearest restaurant or gas station) – is no longer limited to their desktop computer. It’s on their tablets and smartphones. You need to be accessible by the devices and methods the customers you want to reach prefer.

5. Contact Former Customers

Don’t assume that a former customer who stopped buying from you in the past will never buy from you again. Customers’ needs and circumstances change, just as yours do. The megacorporation that didn’t renew your contract a couple of years ago because of changing business priorities may have changed their direction once again and be a good prospect now. The customer who went with a lower-priced competitor may be dissatisfied with the quality or service and be receptive to a call from you today. Or, the manager who had given the work to his best friend may no longer be with the company.

6. Contact Competitors of Present or Former Customers

If a company needs what you sell, there’s a good chance their competitors do too. Industry groups you belong to, trade shows, seminars, and friends in the industry can all help you identify likely prospects. If the people you meet don’t need your services, ask if they can put you in touch with someone at their company who could.

7. Call Former Prospects

The bigger a business, the slower they are to move. The project that was put on indefinite hold last summer may become urgent this spring. Or, some other project the company is working on may be right up your alley. So touch base periodically. The more recently you’ve contacted a prospect, the more likely they’ll be to remember your name – and your phone number – when they are ready to buy.

8. Sell Additional Products and Services to Existing Customers

Often the easiest way to bring in new business is to sell more to your existing customers. You may be able to sell more of the same product to the same contact, or sell the same product to a different division of the company. Or, you may be able to sell related products and services to the customer. Keep your eyes and ears open for new opportunities and be sure your customers are aware of all of your capabilities.

9. Work the Neighborhood

If you provide services to homeowners, market to homeowners near your customers. When a homeowner needs to hire a contractor, they often ask neighbors who they use to do similar jobs. Keep your name in their minds with mailings and local online advertising. Leave extra business cards with your existing customers (so they can give them out if anyone asks for your number).

10. Work Your Contact List

Labor statistics show people entering the workforce today are likely to change jobs seven to 10 times in their careers. You can position yourself for new sales just by keeping in touch with people as they change jobs. The human resources manager who hired you to do a harassment awareness training program for Company A, may need to find someone to put on the same kind of seminar at Company B. Thus, if a contact at a client company tells you they are leaving the company, ask them for new contact information.

11. Team Up with Other Vendors for Joint Sales

Recommendations and referrals are among the leading sources of new business for small businesses. An easy way to get more referrals is to team up with other businesses who sell to the same market but don’t directly compete with you. Agree to refer business to one another and link to each other’s web sites. Look at possibilities for joint sales, as well. Doing so may allow you to bid on and win bigger projects than either of you could on your own.

12. Develop Multiple Revenue Streams

That’s corporate speak for a concept that’s as old as the hills: find more ways to make money. For instance, could you add landscaping services to your lawn care business, or add coffee rolls and muffins as choices at your bagel shop? What about adding a delivery service or catering to your restaurant business? If you are a writer whose market is drying up, hone your skills to write how-to articles, blog posts and social media content for businesses. Or, learn to do social media marketing for businesses, and add that service to the writing services you offer.

Cost-Cutting Strategies

13. Ask Existing Vendors for Discounts

If you buy a substantial amount of goods or services from any company, ask them to give you a discount. Remind them of your long-standing account and frequent purchases. If their competitors charge less, ask them if they can match the competitor’s pricing.

14. Switch Vendors

If your current vendor won’t lower their price, or won’t lower it enough, consider switching vendors. Give the new vendor smaller orders at first, and then increase them in size if their quality, on-time delivery and service satisfies your needs.

15. Seek Lower Credit Card Transaction Rates

The fees charge to process credit card transactions can be significant. If your sales are higher now than when you first got your merchant account you may be able to get your existing merchant account provider to lower your fees. If they won’t, contact their competitors and ask for their best rates based on your sales volume, type of business and years in business.

16. Ask Your Landlord To Lower the Rent

If you are a good tenant and your business is located in an area where there’s a lot of commercial retail space for rent, your landlord may be willing to lower your rent a bit to keep you from leaving or defaulting on your lease. Even if they won’t lower the rate permanently, they may be willing to reduce it for a few months to help you get through the tough times. The only way to know: Ask. All they can do is say no, and they might say yes.

17. Be Alert for Employee Theft

No business owner wants to think their employees would steal from them, but employee theft and fraud is a very real problem for small businesses. Losses from internal theft can be enough to cause a company to fail. Often the perpetrator is a trusted employee, or sometimes a partner.

Related: Are Employees Stealing from You?

18. Layoff Unproductive Workers

If you are like most business owners, you dislike firing employees, and may put off doing so far longer than you should. Perhaps you feel uncomfortable confronting employees who aren’t living up to expectations, or you may worry about how being fired will affect their family or self-esteem. If your business is starting to falter, however, you need to weed out the employees don’t measure up.

19. Reduce Employee Hours

If business is slowing down, you may not need your employees to work as many hours every week. If possible, try cutting the hours for some or all of your staff a little each week. Your employees won’t be happy with the reduced hours (and income), and some may leave, but if you can reduce your payroll costs, it could save your business.

20. Eliminate Advertising That Isn’t Working

Take a careful look at your advertising and marketing expenses. Are you tracking results? Do you know what campaigns bring you business, and which don’t? What advertising and marketing strategies produce customers with the highest lifetime value? Focus on the strategies that bring in the most business, and consider eliminating, or at least temporarily suspending the rest.

21. Look For Low Cost Marketing Techniques

There are dozens of ways you can promote your business and reach a very targeted audience without spending a fortune. Review strategies that work for other businesses, and put them to work for your company. Pay particular attention to email marketing. It is one of the most cost-effective strategies for getting prospect and customers to remember and buy from you

Be a Better Salesperson

Regardless of who you are, what you do, where you live, or what kind of product or service you offer, selling is the single most important day-to-day activity in your business. Very few products sell themselves so somebody has to get your product or service into the public eye.

Some people are natural salespeople. They fall into all of those sales clichés like, “She’s such a good salesperson that she could sell beef to a cow.” Other people hate selling. They went into business to fix cars or build homes—they’re not looking to take people out to lunch or talk to thousands of perspective customers at a convention.

The bottom line is this: If you want a successful business, get out there and sell. Don’t know how or want to improve? Keep reading.

Embrace the “No”

It’s really nothing personal. They probably don’t know you, never met you, and will never talk to you again. Don’t shy away from cold calling or emailing. Sending a “Dear Homeowner” email mass marketing message to 100 people who don’t know you is unlikely to bring any responses.  It could also get you marked as a spammer, causing all email you send to go into people’s spam folder.

Instead, contact people individually by name. Let them know why you are contacting them and how you got their name. (“Dear Joe, When I met you last week, you mentioned… Here is some information you’ll find useful.”)  Don’t discouraged or stopped by hearing “no.” Remember, if you persist, some of the responses will be “yes.” (And some of the “no’s” just mean not now.)

RELATED: How to Get Sales Appointments

Understand Your Personality

People love to label themselves as an introvert or extrovert. Of course, some sort of judgment comes along with the label. “I wish I was an extrovert so I was a more outgoing person.” The truth is that neither true introverts or extrovert close more sales than the other. Most people fall in the middle. Ambiverts are able to take on either role when it suits them.

You’re probably an ambivert. You have the ability to read the person you’re talking to and become the outgoing or reserved salesperson. Don’t limit yourself with labels.

Be Passionate for Your Product

Every sales article mentions this but few talk about what it means. Passion doesn’t just mean you believe in the product and would use it yourself; it also means that you know everything there is to know about it. There’s no question you couldn’t answer. You know how it’s made, the science behind it, ongoing research, people who write about it, complimentary products, and if asked, you could get on your phone and find a dozen people who swear by it.

Passion doesn’t just mean you love what you sell. Passion means that you’re the expert people seek out. You’re the one people write about in trade magazines, and you’re the one other people who like the product dream of working for.

There’s no “If”

Successful people don’t hope. They don’t wonder “if” something will work. They do the research first to determine the need for what they are selling. Then, they operate with the mentality that success is there for the taking if they’ll work hard and smart. If you opened your business with an “if” mentality, it’s time to change it. If you’re not confident in what you sell, your prospects won’t be confident that buying from you is a good decision.

Follow Up

Now that we have the right attitude, it’s time to talk specifics. Just because a prospect isn’t interested today doesn’t mean they won’t be interested in the future. Form a relationship before asking for a sale. If they say no to the initial ask you can circle back to them later or continue sending them valuable content until they are ready. Don’t give up on the no-people.

Know the Customer

Again, this sales 101 but what does that mean? It means that you’ve spent time researching them and their business. You know their career history and if you sell to businesses, you know what they do, who their customers are, and you’re armed with questions to ask the prospect to fill in the gaps. You even know some top-level information about their family because you looked them up on social media. Don’t get creepy with personal knowledge but you never know how it could be helpful as you form the relationship.

Find the Right Audience

If you sell a product for women, should you market to men? If you sell something geared to senior citizens should you advertise to 45-year-olds? The answers aren’t as cut and dry as you might think but don’t waste time selling to the wrong people. Today’s marketing technology gives you the opportunity to target exactly who you want to target. If you want to show an ad to parents between the ages of 40-50 who live in a 10 mile radius of your business who have a child going into college, you can do it. Your prospect list should be tightly targeted. Becoming a high-performing salesperson becomes a lot easier when you’re selling to the right audience.

And by the way, don’t count out certain people. Make sure you test the different demographics before deciding that they won’t buy.

Set Goals

If you don’t set a goal, you’ll hit it every time. How much of your next month’s revenue will be from new sales? How much product will you move this month? Professional salespeople have quotas set for them by the companies they work for. You need to set quotas for yourself and your business. Don’t stop until you meet the quota. Make it realistic but not easy

Keep Tabs on Your Competitors

Have you ever wished you could keep tabs on your competitors? That you could legally spy on the leading businesses in your field or area to find out how they are getting customers or why they are outselling you?

The good news is that you can learn a lot about what your competitors are up to without doing anything illegal. Today’s technology gives small business owners plenty of ways to learn how competing businesses drive business and sales.

Set Google Email Alerts

Find out when there is new information on the web about competing businesses, their employees or their products with Google Alerts. The alerts will make you aware of press releases, mentions, and new websites that have been found related to the alert terms you set up. Tip: To keep your email box from overflowing with alerts, be sure to read and follow the instructions and the tips in the links on the right side of the Google Alerts page.

Follow Competitors on Social Media

Find out about new products your competitor has in the works and when they’ll release them by keeping track of their Twitter feed, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and Instagram pages. If you know who some of the employees are,  see if those employees have profiles and pages on any of the social networks and follow those, too.

In addition to learning what the companies you compete with are doing, pay attention to who follows them and mentions them in social media posts. Then see if you can make connections with some of their followers.

Search for the Company Name Online

Use Google, YouTube, Facebook, Bing, and Yahoo to search for the names of companies you want to keep tabs on and for the types of products or services they sell. Look at where those companies show up in the search listings and the descriptions that show up in the search results. Those descriptions may give you an indication of who their target market is or what the search engines think is important about their pages. Tip: Search as an anonymous user (or turn personal results off in Google). This will help prevent the search engines from guessing at what they think you want to see based on previous searches you’ve done.

If you are keeping watch on local competitors, be sure to include a couple of location words in your searches.  Do some searches that include your city name, county or other geographical information followed by the product or service you sell.  If your competitors show up in search results for those terms, but your company doesn’t, take a close look at the pages the search engines link to on your competitor’s websites. (Hint: it may not be their home page.)  Look at what the focus of the page is, and what words are used on the page, whether their name, phone number and address are on the page, and what the percentage of text to images is. Then compare the results to your own website. If the company is using YouTube, look at their videos to see what they are promoting and who their target market appears to be.

Search for Their Key Employees Online

If you know the names of the company principle or their key employees, plug those into your online searches. Doing so will help you find events they are speaking at, or have spoken at in the past, affiliations they havewith other companies, places they’ve posted or gotten publicity, and other details that will help you understand what your competitor is doing to get publicity, attention for their products and traffic to their stores and web pages. Your search may also turn up an employee leaking information about an upcoming product, or talking about the next area the company hopes to move into.

Talk to Vendors and Customers

A little networking with vendors and customers can bring you a gold mine of information if you’re tactful and have established a good rapport with them. The key is to be a little chatty and to ask questions. When you’re talking with vendors, see if they can give you suggestions about how other companies who buy from them are promoting products. If a customer calls and mentions a competitor, ask what they think about the competitor. Have they ever bought from them? Were they satisfied?  How does the customer think the competitors compare to you?

Attend Trade Shows and Local Seminars

Listening to presentations made by your competitors and talking to other attendees and vendors at trade shows can help you pick up information you wouldn’t get elsewhere. This can be a hit or miss strategy, so save it for trade shows that are local and inexpensive to attend, or that you plan to attend anyway.

Rely on Automation and Web Scraping Tools

SpyFu is a fee-based tool commonly used in conjunction with Google Adwords, but it’s useful to uncover more information about your competitors’ focus. The tool reveals which keywords companies purchase and what organic (ie, not paid) search terms place well on in search. Knowing that information will give you a better understanding of what terms and products are important to competing businesses. Then, you can make decisions as to whether changes are needed in your website, ads, or product literature to make your business more competitive