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Five Ways to Succeed in a Struggling Economy
Jun 09,
Five Ways to Succeed in a Struggling Economy
I started and grew my business during the recession and decided to write about it. These are important practices that have helped me not only stay in business but grow my business over the past three years which I feel are important to share.

Whether you are a business owner or executive or a salesperson or customer service representative you may find some benefit from these ideas.  I believe that the success of our great nation depends on the success of small business.  Without successful small business and entrepreneurs we will lose innovation and drive.  In order for small business to survive in the new global economy we must adapt and act quickly, but not hastily. 

1. Remember Your Core Values 

Remember when you started your business or your new job?  Why did you start that business?  Why did you get that new job?  Did you find wrongful practices in your industry that you felt should be changed?

When I started my business in September 2007 I saw many things wrong with my industry.  In Hampton Roads I saw competitors price gouging clients and providing less than professional services.  Pages not completed, designs that looked unpolished, little details missing.  I felt that businesses in Hampton Roads deserve better quality work and fair pricing.

In tough times it’s imperative that we remember to stick to our core values.  If you value honesty, integrity, and loyalty to your customers then make sure you remember to apply these virtues every day.  You may have bad days and you may have good days; the economy may be up and down; your sales may be up or they may be down.  At the end of the day it’s your values that will drive your success.  If you can do something for a client that won’t break your pocket but will leave them satisfied then do it.  Sure we are all in business to run a profit but if you can’t build your business honorably then what’s the point?

Remember:  There’s no shame in working harder, working later, or paying yourself less to keep your employees and customers satisfied. 

2. Stay Innovative; Don’t try to Re-Invent the Wheel

I recently attended a seminar in Virginia Beach about innovation.  The seminar reinforced my own philosophy of always doing things differently.  Keeping your methods diverse will help you become more innovative.  Innovation is the key to growing your business – coming up with new ideas and new methods will allow you to get ahead of your competition. 

Innovation doesn’t mean re-inventing the wheel.  If you have ideas that work and they work well then don’t waste your time trying to fix something that isn’t already broken.  Instead you should focus on areas that you know can use improvement.  If you are down in sales, then think of new ways to reach out to your target customers.  Maybe there are other markets you can sell to that you haven’t even though of.  Always think outside the box. 

Innovation doesn’t necessarily have to come from the top either.  Encourage your employees to bring creative ideas to you.  Even if you don’t like their ideas don’t just shoot them down.  Try new things – its okay.  And most importantly if you come up with a new idea make sure you have an implementation plan and actually commit to the new idea.  If you don’t try it you’ll never know whether or not it works. 

Remember: It takes time to measure results so if you do try a new idea (especially when it comes to marketing or advertising) be sure you apply the idea long enough to see the results. 

This brings me to my next point…

3. Don’t Hide from your Customers

As the owner of a small business that provides professional services I deal with other businesses on a daily basis.  One of the biggest problems I’ve seen with businesses is that when the economy is down they will hide from their customers.  When business is slow the worst thing you can do is hide in a corner.  When demand is low and supply is high you must make yourself visible. 

How do you make yourself visible?

There are traditional forms of advertising but as I’m sure you’re already aware they can be very costly.  It is important that you evaluate your advertising and marketing efforts regularly and measure your Return on Investment.  Additionally you should look for new effective methods of getting your name out there.

Traditional Networking

Business networking organizations such as your local or regional Chamber of Commerce are worth the annual (usually low cost) investment if you put it to good use.  If you are part of a networking organization make sure you attend networking events.  Business After Hours, lunch meetings, or other events are a perfect way to promote your business.  Bring business cards and meet people.  Don’t attend these events to sell your products or services but rather use these events to build relationships with other people from other types of businesses.  Even if the person you meet at a networking event would never have any kind of reason to buy from you that doesn’t mean they don’t know someone who might have a need for your product or service.  Always be ready to listen and learn too.  If the person you meet at a networking event provides a product or service that you might not have a use for you will most likely come across someone (be it an employee, friend, or customer) who does have a use for that product or service.  If you build relationships you can easily make referrals knowing you have a trusted source.  Trust me, it will come back to you as long as your intent is honest in building relationships.

I mentioned earlier about traditional forms of advertising not working as well for most businesses in today’s economy. 

So what doesn’t work and what does work?

Different approaches may work for different people but it’s important to know current trends.  For example, less and less people are using phonebooks to find businesses.  More and more people are going online and using search engines such as Google to find what they’re looking for.  This is resulting in an increase in prices for phonebook advertising to make up for their loss in advertising sales.  The same can be said for newspapers although most newspapers now have websites that you can advertise on. 

Television/Cable, radio, and niche magazine/journal advertising is still effective if used properly.  To ensure effectiveness in your campaigns you should make sure that your advertising campaigns are coordinated.  Consistent messages and branding are a must to establish (or maintain) your brand identity. 

If you can’t afford traditional methods of advertising but know you need to get the word out or you are looking at cutting costs but want to make sure you are maintaining your presence then make sure you do your research before you jump into things like social networking and search engine optimization. 

Using social networking platforms like Facebook to promote your business is a great ideas as long as you do it right.  Many “social media experts” have different ideas of what’s right and what’s wrong.  Make sure that before you sign any kind of contract for social media consulting that you research what the social media guru has done for their existing customers.  And it’s always okay to attend a seminar to get yourself educated.

With search engine optimization don’t be fooled by scam companies and gimmicks.  Anyone who promises you will be “#1” on Google or other search engines should throw up red flags for you right away.  As Google states on their website no company can guarantee a # 1 placement except for Google in their natural search results.  Most of these companies want you to pay them to purchase ads on Google so you can show up in sponsored links.  Why pay someone else to purchase ads for you when you can use Google’s user-friendly tools to do it yourself?  As for the search results themselves if your website is built the right way to begin with then search engines should have no problem finding you.

Finally it’s more important that your website provides useful information, is easy to navigate, and visually represents your brand and image than it is to drive traffic to your website.  Think about it like this:  if you have a retail store that is unorganized or has no inventory then why spend all of your resources in getting customers to come to the store?  Even if you can drive 100,000 customers to your store but there’s nothing in it or customers can’t find what they’re looking for or it looks like a tornado ripped through it then those 100,000 customers won’t matter because they won’t buy anything.  The same can be said for your website.

Remember:  Your website can provide more information that customers can read on their own time than any piece of marketing or advertising material.  Your marketing campaign should focus on bringing customers to your website so they can make a decision to do business with you on their own time. 

4. The Customer is Always Right, Always

Growing up my father always told me “The customer is always right”.  This is the golden rule of business and it is something that I live by. 

I remember when I was in Middle School my oldest sister worked at an ice cream shop.  At dinner one night she told my family about something that made her upset at work.  A customer had complained to the owner that the ice cream he was given was too melted to enjoy.  Rather than offering him his money back or giving him a new ice cream cone the owner of the store said “I don’t need your business.  If you’re going to complain then get out of my store and don’t come back.”   Well that customer didn’t come back and the ice cream shop went out of business later that summer. 

Customer service goes a long way.  Whether you are a large corporation or small business the most important part of business is customer service.  Without your customers you won’t have a business. 

If you’re thinking “I don’t need to improve my customer service” then perhaps you may want to reconsider.  There is always room for improvement, always. 

So how can you improve customer service? 

You can start by coaching your employees regularly about customer service.  They may try to fight it at first especially if they think you are being redundant but as long as you make sure you get your point across then they should understand.  After all it’s not just your business they are representing but they are representing themselves as well.  Making sure you are professional and polite is a start.  Double checking to make sure every question has been answered goes a long way.  Remember to always smile when you are talking to your customers, even if you are having a bad day.  Your customers are paying you because they trust you to provide them with the best product or service.  Whether it’s a customer you see every day or a customer you only speak to on the phone once in a while they are still people and they are just as important as you.  Treat your customers how you would expect to be treated and you will find that your customers are your best sales force.  Word of mouth goes much further than any form of paid advertising. 

It’s okay to go the extra mile.

Don’t just meet the bare minimum in satisfying your customers but wow them by doing something unexpected.  My developers regularly come up with ideas (going back to innovation) that we can implement within budget that will go beyond what the customer expected.  My developers will put in extra time for our customers because they understand the value of making customers happy.  Even if it cuts into your profits it’s okay to give a little because you will gain so much more than what money can buy when you do something nice for your customers. 

If you do have a problem with a customer then make sure you take the time to understand what the problem is so you can think with a clear conscience to solve it.  If a customer comes to you with a complaint then don’t point fingers – simply ask them if there’s anything you can do to make it better.  If they ask for something completely unreasonable then be ready to offer a compromise.  The last thing you want to do is lose a customer.  A customer who has a negative experience with a business can hurt your business far more than the monetary cost of losing that customer.  Word of mouth works both ways and just as it can help build businesses it can also help destroy businesses. 

Remember:  Your customers ARE your business. 

5. Stay on Target, Stay on Target

The final practice I will leave you with is making sure you stay on target.  When you formed your business or started your new job you most likely had goals.  If you ever wrote a business plan then you came up with short term and long term goals. 

When money gets tight sometimes it’s easy to forget your goals.  If your short term goals seem out of reach then it’s okay to adjust your short term goals to adapt to the present situation while still keeping your long term objectives in place. 

When supply is high and demand is low you should lower your prices to keep sales up.  When supply is low and demand is high it’s okay to increase your prices to grow your business by implementing new technologies, hiring new personnel, or reaching out to new markets.  When you are doing well is when you should begin implementing marketing campaigns so that you won’t have to worry about breaking your piggy bank to advertise when business is slow. 

It’s good to set goals that are beyond your reach or the reach of your sales force.  It will keep you and your sales team on your feet and prevent you from slipping into a comfort zone. 

Remember:  You can lose several battles and still win the war.

I hope that you found this article useful.  I spent several nights brainstorming the ideas for this blog.  Even if you don’t agree with all of my points I’m sure you can find something useful.  These are all practices that have helped me succeed throughout the recession in an area that has recently become economically depressed.  While remembering my core values I am continuously implementing innovative ideas to market my business and improve customer service while accomplishing my goals and objectives.    Feel free to leave a comment about your own ways to succeed or let me know whether or not this article has helped you. 

Tim Bradshaw
Founder & CEO
Tim Bradshaw is the Founder and CEO of Insercorp LTD.
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