Unless there is a significant change in attitude by the business community as a whole, it is likely that we will talk ourselves even deeper into an economic downturn.
The rate of the economic slowdown is really down to us in the business world to dictate: if businesses fail to make investments for future growth or improve efficiencies to improve profitability, it is likely that the decline will be quicker and deeper than any of us would like. So, if it is on our hands, what can we do to ensure that we continue to bring in the bacon? How can we make the right spending decisions and help the economy keep moving?
The questions all successful business owners and leaders who want to remain successful should be asking themselves are:
How can I grow in the current climate?
Can I make sound investment to secure revenue today and into the future?
In truth these are the same questions you should be asking yourself at any time in the business cycle, the challenge now is that there is less scope for error in judgement and planning. If you are going to make investment decisions today from a time and financial perspective in infrastructure, sales improvement, new staff, or even by going down the acquisition route, you need to be very sure those investments are going to pay off.
So what can you do to ensure that your company is the one that will not just survive but thrive despite the current market situation? What are the best investment choices to ensure the short and long term growth of your company? What is going to give everyone on your business for the energy and focus to achieve success?
The top 4 things you need to consider are:
1. Position yourself against the competition
What are you famous for as company? Do you give the best service, sell what you do for less than the next guy, have dominance in a particular market, or have the best quality staff? Does your competition all claim to do the same? Standing out from the competition is hard without differentiation, as clients, partners and potential recruits have nothing to separate you from the rest. Get a clear, differentiated position and let it pervade the whole company. This will give you focus, make your marketing more cost-effective and help the sales team sell better.
If you want to discount then dont employ expensive staff and dont give the best quality service, you wont be able to afford it. If you are going to be known for the quality of your service, employ the best staff and charge premium prices. In a downturn some clients will prefer to get what they pay for, others will always want to make sound investments. Both approaches will work if they are aligned.
Take a look at the market, understand what everyone else is famous for and position yourself against them. If everyone starts to discount then concentrate on the service, if everyone is selling to a broad spectrum of clients and markets become more focused.
2. Build sustainable relationships
How much time do you and your staff spend on partnerships and networking? How many of these relationships actually bring you business? We have all been there, you meet someone at a networking event or seminar, they seem like a good person, you arrange to meet up. They have loads of clients just like yours so why is it that you never get more than the odd introduction out of them?
The reason is one or more of the following:
- They dont understand what you do well enough to be able to articulate it to their clients
- They have a fear about the quality and consistency of your company and its Products
- They dont trust you
- Their clients relationships are not with the right people in the client Organisation
Its worth taking long hard look at these relationships. Get some sales time back by reviewing which relationships are worth pursuing, be clear about what you do when talking to partners and make sure they understand what you are famous for. And spend some time building trust.
3. Retain staff and build skills internally
Isnt it frustrating when good people leave your company? Isnt it hard attracting new talent when you want to create growth? Every company is made up of people. Even if you only sell product over the web, you are dead in the water without them. Attracting and retaining staff is one of the main issues on business leaders agenda in every market sector.
The new generations of our current workforce have different beliefs and values from many of us more seasoned people. As a baby boomer (35 to 55) I was influenced by my parents, grandparents, had less choice and therefore chose a career and a profession for life. The X generation (25 to 40) had many more influences from TV, radio and advertising they are brand and image aware and were brought up with plenty of choice. The Y generation (20 to 30) which forms the next generation of workforce has been influenced primarily by external information, they want simplicity and they make decisions based upon ethical reasons and what they perceive to know is right.
What this means for business leaders is that we need to understand that the motivation and needs of our staff are different to ours. They do not want the same things that we do; they will not have the same loyalty to their jobs and will think little of moving around if they are not happy. To attract and retain staff we need to become tuned in with these needs and provide both an environment and progression they are looking for.
The tip is therefore to listen to your staff. If you have kids of the same generation as those in your business ask them for advice. Involve all levels of staff in the decision making process and dont be afraid to ask for help; your future really is in their hands.
4. Dont be afraid to stand back from the day to day activities
When was the last time you took time out with the management team to look at where next years business is coming from? How much of that time did you spend looking at todays performance figures and issues in the business today? If its anything like the businesses I have run or been involved in, the intention is to discuss strategy and all you do is talk about is day to day operations. You and the management team need to get away from the daily grind, get clarity around your product, understand how you want to be positioned in the market and develop strategies for growth.
Growth can happen without planning but it is slow and unpredictable. It feels a whole let better if you are following a plan which is well thought through, documented and understood by everyone in the company. I do not mean a sales plan that is written as a wish list and then sits on the shelf all year until it is time to beat up the sales person or sales manager. You need to develop a plan which defines your business strategy and vision and most importantly, really energises you and your team. Only then will you be able to sleep better at night through having confidence that you can grow through whatever downturn is around the corner. Remember it is up to us not to let this economic downturn happen, lets keep the market moving.
About the author
Richard Gigg has worked in the IT industry for the last 20 years running departments at a corporate level from both a service and sales perspective. As a business coach, non exec director and mentor he gives business owners the confidence to make the right decisions in the SME and mid tier.