Navigating Economic Downturns as a Business Owner: A Guide to Sustained Growth
Unleashing the power of flexibility, innovation and targeted messaging to weather the storm.
Small- and medium-sized enterprises account for 90% of the U.S. business population. And when the economy takes a nosedive, as it’s doing now in some sectors, many of these companies can suddenly feel like a drummer who’s lost their rhythm — there’s a beat, but they aren’t hitting it. Instead of a coordinated symphony of growth, there’s a disjointed scramble just to keep pace.
Economic downturns can be either a slippery slope that knocks a flourishing company off its feet or a unique opportunity to pivot and continue to thrive in totally new ways. Flexibility is essential in business, and being ready to throw plans out the window to make deals happen is crucial.
So, let’s roll up our sleeves and dive in. We’ll explore the principles behind sustainable growth and discuss strategies for keeping your company afloat and thriving when the economy takes a turn. Spoilers — it’s about being nimble, creative and committed to meeting needs, even as those needs shift.
How well are you expressing your business identity?
First things first — are you clearly communicating your business offerings? As a publicist who spends much of my time decoding messaging to help companies better illustrate their services to key targets, I regularly see a gap between how companies think they’re being perceived, and how they actually are. It’s easy to get caught up in the way you talk about your business, but changing your viewpoint can be seriously effective.
For instance, a few years ago, our clients often asked us for recommendations on graphic designers, SEO agencies and web development firms when we actually offer those services. Understanding that we weren’t communicating that clearly to our targets prompted a recent rebrand (and company name change) that has since helped us grow those areas by orders of magnitude in the last 18 months.
In short, don’t play hide and seek with what services you can provide. Did your company design a snazzy new rebrand for a business? Be loud, be proud and say clearly, “Hey, we do that!” Leave no room for clients to seek additional services elsewhere. When the tides begin to shift, be sure to look inward to audit your own offerings and take advantage of any gaps.
READ: Boost Your Organization’s Impact with a Successful PR Strategy — A Guide for Purpose-Driven Businesses
Position yourself as a “need,” not a “want”
Your business isn’t just providing a product or service — it’s solving a problem. As the old saying goes, “Your customers don’t want a quarter-inch drill – they actually want a quarter-inch hole.” Did you know nearly half of companies fail due to a lack of market demand? That’s why understanding your market is essential. If there’s a gap between what’s needed and what you provide, it’s time to close it and take hold of these missed opportunities for growth.
Audit your company messaging to ensure you’re speaking directly to your target audience. Use language they can connect with and make sure the value of your solution is evident. I’m here to tell you that while landing the New York Times is great, you might see more direct value in speaking to a group of highly targeted “buyers” through opportunities in a trade publication. Know your audience and meet them where they are.
A persuasive message isn’t always enough on its own — you need to back it up with proof. By showcasing tangible results, whether it’s through success stories, case studies, demonstrations, awards or more, take the initiative to assure potential customers that you’re not just talking the talk but also walking the walk.
The right people, the right clients, the right approach
My dad always told me, “Sometimes you’re the big wheel and sometimes you’re the little wheel. Never forget what it feels like to be either.” It can be easy to get caught up in things when you’re doing well. Maybe your billable rates no longer work for one of your early clients so you’re inclined to replace them with your newer, larger clients — but the clients who stuck by you when you were starting out are the ones who helped you grow. Stay loyal to them, and they’ll be there to lend a hand when the economic winds change.
A business cannot survive without the right people and the right clients. A CNBC poll found that an alarming 52 percent of the respondents stated labor quality was their most significant problem. With this data in mind, stop and take a good, hard look at your team. Are the right people in the right seats on the bus? Are you able to adapt skill sets to meet services that are in demand (in our case, our designers work on everything from websites to infographics to presentations – depending on the needs of the client and the project)? Remember: A solid, well-fitted team isn’t just a luxury. It’s a necessity for success.
It’s time to think outside the box, get creative with hiring strategies and consider solutions like downsizing the office footprint, offering hybrid or remote opportunities and seeking out contractors or interns. Be wise, be resourceful and your cash reserves will thank you.
Balancing the scales
Navigating the delicate relationship between your company’s resources (staff) and its demands (clients) is not just critical — it’s an art form. Think of your business as a scale with employees on one side and clients on the other — it’s your job to ensure each side is weighted equally. Your business will quickly suffer if one side becomes unbalanced. Whether the market is rich in opportunities or lacking them, creating a customized plan that aligns with industry trends is vital to achieving sustainable growth. Just as an idle staff is a drain on company resources, disappointing client expectations due to inadequate staffing will hurt your ability to keep current clients and add new ones.
Last but certainly not least, know your industry inside and out. When the first-year failure rate in the professional, scientific and technical services industries stands at a scary 19.4%, you need to know the industry and target market like the back of your hand.
Sure, there’s no quick fix for economic downturns. Still, these turbulent periods test our resilience and resourcefulness, demanding us to adapt to survive or be washed away by the tides of change. While a slow market may be daunting, it also provides a unique but challenging opportunity for growth and transformation. Remember, it’s not the strongest that survive but those able to adapt.