|by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
It doesn't take a Wall Street prognosticator to tell us things are difficult on Main Street. Small businesses nation- and worldwide are experiencing tough times that just won't quit. Pessimists run rampant... and business people ponder their (often painful) options.
There's an old New England expression for such a situation. Mariners say, "Batten down the hatches. Get ready for rough weather!" This saying has helped generations of hardy fishermen get through even the most difficult circumstances, emerging intact when the storm eventually ends, fit and trim.
Let's put this long-established saying to work for your business, so that you emerge stronger than ever from the economic challenges you're facing now:
1) Tough times mean tough decisions.
During good times when funds are plentiful and there's no immediate necessity to review the situation, many matters are postponed and put off. This strategy doesn't work in bad times... when decisions postponed are like so many barnacles on your hull, a drag on your speed and maneuverability.
The first thing you should do in difficult times is be honest with yourself about your business. Make a list (and don't stint) of all the decisions you're been putting off, all the matters which must be addressed, and the hard decisions you must make. The most important thing in difficult times is seeing things as they are and making often hard decisions which the bounty of good times allowed you to put off.
2) Review ALL your expenses.
"Cash is king" in bad times. Have you done what is necessary to maximize it? This means reviewing every expense and asking: "Do we really need this? Is this absolutely necessary? Can we get along without some or even all of this?"
The plain truth is, it's probably been a good long time since you've sat down and scrutinized each and every expense to determine what can be cut or abandoned, to the benefit of your cash position.
3) Review and upgrade your product line.
When was the last time you took a good, close look at what you're selling? Since the last blue moon?
As with your expenses, so with your product line. Look at each and every item with stark clarity. Does it make you money... or is it a drag on your time and profits?
Turn lemons into lemonade: discard products that aren't making you money and make a concerted effort to add new products which, in your professional opinion, are hot.
Too, systematically contact your suppliers and ask them what's selling well these days; use their expertise to bulk up your product line and profits. It's time to tap into what others are doing and benefit accordingly.
4) Review and upgrade your offers.
The purpose of offers is to get people to buy more and faster, in other words to maximize the amount of money in your hand and the speed with which you get it.
If you want your customers to buy more and buy sooner in difficult times, you must become the master of offers. This means, first, reviewing the offers you currently make; then listing all the ways you can improve them. Then, once you are certain your offers are stellar, start using them with a will.
Now hear this: offers either produce immediate results... or they don't. Winning offers product fast results. If they don't, go back to the drawing board at once and improve what you've got. Offers don't "mature" like fine wines. They either work at once... or they NEVER work at all. Act accordingly.
5) Use the phone.
For many people, the advent of email obscured the significance of the telephone. MISTAKE! When you want to make a sale, use the phone.
Email is terrific for sending information promptly and thoroughly to your customers. However, email is not effective for closing sales. For that, the telephone is unrivalled.
Draw up a telephone call list. This list should include existing customers (who need incentives to buy more), past customers who have not purchased lately, and new customers who haven't yet bought.
Calls should be made only on days you want to make money. This means every day! No exceptions!
6) Improve your follow-up.
Good times foster bad habits. Bad times must do the reverse! That's why you must use the telephone (as well as email) to follow up, follow up, follow up. The game here goes to the business which implements a rigorous system of customer follow-up.
Thus, call a customer.
If the customer isn't available, leave a detailed message.
Then promptly follow-up and call again.
Let the customer know you are efficient, customer- centered and ready, willing, and able to assist.
7) When customers buy, make them an immediate offer to buy more!
Remember, the key to making money in bad times is good offers. One essential is making such an offer when your customer has purchased.
Remember, people who have purchased are candidates for another, immediate purchase so long as the offer is sufficiently motivating. Make sure yours are... by constant experimentation and endless searching through offers made by others, not merely your competitors either.
This, Too, Shall Pass
Bad times, like the good times we remember so fondly, shall pass. But, if you've worked smart through these times, you will have planted the seeds for the next season of milk and honey and survived to reap all the benefits. Your bon voyage is assured.