Six Steps to Growing Your Business in Difficult Times

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Six Steps to Growing Your Business in Difficult Times

With the current economic challenges we’re all facing, too many small business owners are finding their business moving in the wrong direction.

In many cases, what were once growing, thriving businesses are now heading into a downward spiral of cutbacks, layoffs, and, in too many cases, bankruptcies. Owners are watching as their customers dwindle and revenues drop. 

So, what can a small business owner who is trying to prosper in today’s climate do to turn things around?

While you may not be able to do much about the nation’s economy as a whole, there are proactive steps you can take, regardless of outside circumstances.

Following are six steps you can use to get started turning your business around and moving, once again, in the direction of growth and prosperity:

1. Revisit Your Compelling Vision

If you do not have a crystal clear, compelling vision for what you want your business to look like in one to two years, create one now. Without this roadmap, you’ll be reacting instead of acting and, in this market, that can be a disaster. Be sure to include specific, measurable goals in the process. For example, writing “Our company is a happy, flourishing environment, with great people serving our customers and creating growth and prosperity for us all,” you could add “and we are exceeding our goal of $375,000 in income each quarter.” This adds a tangible measurable component to your vision. 

2. Change Your Focus

Beginning immediately, stop talking about anything that is not working. Stop defending and justifying why you’re not doing better. Stop blaming the economy or whatever else you deem to be the cause of your troubles. If something is not working, continuing to talk about it will cause you to start seeing more things going wrong and continue the downward spiral. 

Ask only, “What’s working?” and continue asking every day. Make a list of what is working and have your team do the same, individually and as a group. Change the tone of your meetings. If you understand that you get more of whatever you focus upon, it’s obvious why you’ll want to do this.

3. Fire Some Customers

This may sound crazy, especially in tough times, but if you take the time to analyze your customer base, you will most likely find that 80% of your business is coming from about 20% of your customers. I’m not suggesting you get rid of the other 80% just that you devise ways to let go of the high maintenance, low performing ones who you dread dealing with in the first place. Either let them go altogether or find a way to either automate or outsource having to deal with them. This will free up your time to devote to your “ideal” customer. 

4. Analyze Your “Ideal” Customer

Once you know who your ideal customers are, you can analyze what drives them and what they have in common. Conduct a phone survey and find out why they do business with you, what they like and don’t like about your company and what they’d like to see changed. 

The more clarity you have about your ideal customer, the easier it is to attract more like them. After all, isn’t that the type of customer you wanted in the first place?

5. Start Mining the Gold That’s Already in Your Business

Every business has “hidden” opportunities which can be mined, usually by either developing new markets for your products, creating new products, leveraging the relationships you’ve built, and joint venturing with colleagues, suppliers, customers and, yes, even competitors. 

Ask yourself what new opportunities you could tap into if you expanded your e-commerce offerings and maximized the technology that’s available today. Does your Web site give visitors a compelling reason to subscribe to your mailing list? Are you utilizing email marketing and auto responders to their fullest? What about social media, social bookmarking, video, podcasting, blogging, and other “Web 2.0” tools?

Your greatest opportunity for business growth, regardless of the economy, are the assets you already have in your business. From personnel, customers – past and present – relationships with colleagues and suppliers, and other “people” assets, to your investment in equipment and technology, the assets you’ve already built represent your greatest opportunity. 

And the really good news is they will require the least in either time or money. 

Of these “hidden” assets, your customers are the easiest and most obvious place to begin. Do you know who they are and why they do business with you?

This may seem like an obvious question, however, many businesses do not know who is buying from them or why. Once you’ve ascertained this, you’re in a position to explore how else you might serve them.  

One of my favorite questions has always been, “is there anything else I can help you with?” This simple question can increase your business tenfold. 

A friend of mine is a graphic designer and print broker. One day she asked her client this question to which the client replied, “Yes there is. Can you help us get some of those imprinted jackets with our logo on them?” She happily replied that she could and took the order. (hint: if you own a small business, the answer, within reason, is always, “Yes.” You can figure out later how to deliver.)

Don’t fall into the trap if thinking just because you’ve been around a while that people know everything you do. Often we “ass-u-me” that our customers know what we do. 

6. Develop Systems and Follow Through

Hire a business coach/mentor or appoint someone in your organization to be your team’s “accountability partner” to ensure your renewed vision is being carried out and that you are steadily moving in the right direction. 

While you can assign the task to someone already in the business, there are several advantages to bringing in a professional. A business coach/mentor provides a fresh viewpoint and can often help by not being bogged down in the day-to-day running of the business. They are objective and not invested in the politics if your company. They typically contribute knowledge acquired from a variety of situations in any number of industries. And a professional business coach/mentor will employ specific strategies and systems to help you make quantum leaps beyond what you may have thought possible. 

Regardless of the specific actions you take, it is important that you do something proactive. Don’t just sit there complaining about the economy with the rest of the crowd. Above all, don’t wait for it to turn around by itself or, worse yet, expect the government to fix it. You have within you the power to change your life and your business, so go and do it. 

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