Ten business tips to beat the recession

1.  Coddle your customersTomorrow’s sales will come from today’s customers. If you want to beat the recession, you need to get closer to them than ever and find ways to make yourself more needed, even indispensable. Can you offer your customers regular servicing or checking? Can you offer them training during the recession? Can you take over their stock control? Priority booking? What would form a natural extension to your present service offering?

2. Target growth areas of the marketEven in a recession there are chunky areas of the economy that are growing. Large parts of public sector expenditure are going to keep growing. To beat the recession, you need to grab some of it, too. Public sector procurement processes are not easy for a newcomer to master so go on a course or join with an experienced tenderer to try this new market. Exports, too, tend to do well in a recession and, with the pound still way below its recent levels, UK firms have a clear price advantage compared to this time last year.

3. Never reduce your pricesThere are lots of ways of making your goods or services more attractive in a recession than by reducing the price, which is an act of desperation. If you want to beat the recession and boost sales, think of something that the customer will value more highly than the cost to you. How much do you think a room upgrade costs a hotel? A couple of pounds maybe? A fiver tops. But the customers will be delighted, especially if they know that the rack rate for the room is an extra £40. Everyone loves bargains in a recession!4. Strip out valueBefore the recession, you were probably adding value to your products or extending the top of your range. This was a good response in a market where the customers were getting wealthier. But now we’re in a recession, they’re feeling poorer so you need to do the opposite. Strip out value and launch a basics or essentials range. If the strategy is good enough for Waitrose, it should be good enough for you to beat the recession. It launched its essentials range in March this year and by June it accounted for 13 per cent of its sales and helped Waitrose not only to reverse a decline in market share but to add four per cent.5. Look at your marketing messagesAre they attuned to the times? Aga’s marketing message used to be that it was the wealthy person’s cooker of choice, with a discreet suggestion that the Duchess of Cornwall wouldn’t cook on anything else. To beat the recession, it changed its message to say that Agas are really environmentally friendly: they even have a model that runs on bio-fuel. Statistics from the “Aganomics” section of their website show that it needn’t cost more to run an Aga than a conventional cooker. To beat the recession, make sure your marketing material is attuned to today’s zeitgeist. 6. Review your websiteNowadays most folk will Google you when they first hear of you. And they will do the same if they want to check a contact or find out how to get to you. If you’re going to beat the recession, make sure your website looks professional. Real turnoffs are “Copyright 2003” in a footer and so-called news that is out of date. I just checked out a hotel and found they were still offering Christmas 2008 packages. Yesterday I checked out an £85m-turnover food business and found just a “Website Under Construction” page. During a recession, there is no excuse for this.7. Make your website sweatWebsites are so important – particularly in a recession – that they get another tip. SIX was the top website “don’t”. SEVEN is the top website “do”. If you’re going to beat the recession, you have to make your website sweat: make it work for you. Give visitors something to do. Make sure you tell them the full range of what you do and what you can do. Show them examples. Quote happy customers. Make visitors feel secure and confident. Give them a reason to come back. Find a reason to capture their e-mail. Use Google Analytics. Those who are investing in e-commerce are getting a competitive advantage. It doesn’t matter what line of business you are in, a good website will help you to grow during a recession.

8. Cash is king in a recessionKeep a tight control on cash and keep good cash forecasts. If cash is tight during the recession, implement strategies (another brainstorm perhaps) to reduce stock levels and debtor days. If cash is not a problem, beat the recession by becoming a buyer. Assets will never be cheaper. Good times will come again. Buy something you need now!

9. Meet people and use their ideasAll around you other businesses are developing great strategies to beat the recession. The more you network in a recession, the more likely you are to pick up ideas and make good contacts. And I don’t mean lunching with the same six friends at Rotary once a week. I mean genuinely putting yourself about and meeting new folk. Introduce yourself to one stranger in a business context every week.10. Brainstorm with your staffIf you can’t think of a way of using these recession-beating ideas in your business, try setting up a brainstorming team. Gather a group of the brighter sparks from all areas of the business. Explain the situation and what you are hoping to achieve. Then pose the particular problem. The rules of brainstorming are that participants shout out their ideas and others build on or develop them. There should be no negative comments at this stage. Your job as chairman is to stop negativity (even harder during a recession) and encourage participation. “That’s a good one but how might we introduce it…..” “I like that. Anyone have any ideas who could do that?”

Have someone capture the ideas as they come and do the filtering and selection of the best ideas at a later session after you have agreed selection criteria which might be such things as cost, speed of implementation, etc. Not only will you get some great ideas you wouldn’t otherwise have thought of, but you will also have boosted staff morale by being inclusive. And it won’t have cost you a dime! What better way to beat the recession?

Alistair Gibb is the author of How to Beat the Recession, published by Taxcafe.co.uk  

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