Recession Survival Tactics – Automation and Systemization

Part 5 of a 6 Part Series on Recession Survival

One key to saving money, and giving your customers higher value in a recession, is to systemize and automate where possible.There is NO BUSINESS which cannot benefit at some point from systemization or automation.

It may be as simple as creating a routine to do repetitive tasks faster. It may involve creating a template to start with each time you write a contract or proposal, or for producing products, documents, or other items. If you do something once a week, or more, you can usually find a way to make it faster.

Automation is something that can be implemented in a website, or through online services, or through use of the right tools in the office. It is one of the keys to breaking through to new levels of profit and getting past some of your time barriers, but it can also be a key to retaining high value while containing costs for your customers or clients.

For small businesses though, it is important that you automate the right things, and in the right way. There are three basic keys to good automation:

1. It should save you more time than it costs you. Done at the wrong time (too soon), or with the wrong tools, you’ll spend more time setting up and maintaining the automation than you’ll save. So think about the long term tasks involved before you jump in, or you’ll just bury yourself.

2. It should NEVER negatively affect your unique selling proposition, and it should not harm your customer relations. Good automation preserves what is unique about your business. It allows you to automate the IMPERSONAL parts of the business, while retaining the essential elements of personal contact or custom service that may define your business. This is especially critical for small businesses, because this is often what allows you to compete with larger companies that are fully automated.

3. It should save you time, while simultaneously enhancing your ability to deliver consistent and high quality service or products to your customers. The point here is that it should make business better for THEM, too. Done right, it makes your business better, and is not something that lessens quality or availability.

Some of this can be done through a website, and often it can save you money over other options.
Some can be done with free software – either on your desktop, or installed into your hosting space.
Some can be done through purchase of hardware or equipment in your office.
Some can be done with templates or other tools that you make, which eliminate the repetitive steps in a process.

Time can be saved simply by devising routines, or systems, for getting tasks done, that shave off time. Not “automation” per-se, but more of an assembly line procedure where you work from templates, start with the same base each time, or work out the fastest way to do something, then do it that way every time. Often, this lays the groundwork for automation, because it helps us spot the repetitive tasks that CAN be automated without harming quality.

Automation and systemization are one of the things that help you achieve extraordinary results, either in growth, uniqueness in your business, or in offering higher value for less money. In a recession, all of these aspects can be part of defining the success potentials and making you an exception in the sea of losses.

Recession Survival Tactics – Economizing

Part 4 of a 6 Part Recession Survival Series

I live in a double wide mobile home. I do not plan to move any time soon. Why? Because in 9 months, it will be paid for. The house payment even now is low. The house meets our needs, houses our business, and does not interfere with our ability to succeed. Since our business is conducted on the phone, by email, or in person in other locations, it does not harm our business success. It allows us to reduce our operating expenses considerably.

When looking at where to economize, you want to make sure that the economies do not harm your ability to effectively conduct business. If we held appointments in our home, we’d have to have a better house. The point being, use what works for your business.

Here are some ideas, in no particular order:

1. Refill ink cartridges. This works great for color ink, for some printers. It does NOT work well for black ink, the refill ink tends to bleed and feather.
2. Buy in bulk where you can. Share purchases with another business owner if you need to.
3. Recycle shipping boxes and materials. Make it a badge of honor by creating a 3X4 label that says, “This box proudly recycled by (company name.”
4. Use flat rate long distance. Try Qwest for Small Business. Only use internet phone service if it is good quality with your connection.
5. Make sure your website is functioning in all the ways it can to save you money.
6. Review all of your utilities and see if there are ways to cut them. A little caulk or weatherstripping can save on energy bills.
7. Consolidate business travel. Keep trips to a minimum. Tell clients that you are combining appointments to conserve energy. They’ll get it.
8. Stock up on closeouts and sales of items you regularly need.
9. Look for alternatives for your most expensive supplies.
10. Buy more RAM for a slow computer, instead of getting a new computer. Get a pro to help you clean up the hard drive, trim down unneeded programs, or scan for malware.
11. Postpone haircuts for 1-2 weeks longer. Wear just a little less makeup. Use a dollop less shampoo. Wear pants an extra day before washing. All of these things reflect on business, even though they aren’t precisely business expenses, but they can often be nudged a bit without causing negative effects.
12. Go paperless as often as possible. You’ll save on paper and ink.
13. Look for Free and Open Source software first – There is a ton of really good free stuff out there, for basic business purposes, and specialized purposes. Try Open Office, NotesBrowser, Serif PagePlus, The GIMP, Inkscape, Scribus, Audacity, CamStudio, and much more.
14. Look for bootstrap options instead of debt. Debt places a burden on you each month, bootstrapping gets you profiting faster, by work and workarounds. As business grows, you can move from bootstrapping to a healthier cash flow based on revenues instead of debt.
15. Invest in things with reasonable assurances of returns. Don’t gamble, and throw away money in the hopes that it will yield a high return. This goes for marketing, buying more computer or web services than you need, and other business purchases.
16. Set up a support forum – you can reduce support costs this way, because even though you have to answer a lot of questions there, the answers benefit more than one person. Other users will come in and help you also.
17. Review your internet connection. Too slow a connection can cost some businesses more than the price of an upgrade. Faster speed for others mean only minimal compromises that do not harm productivity. Analyze your needs, and adjust your plan accordingly.
18. Save money in your home. If you can live on less, you can survive tough times better in your business. Our best advice for saving on groceries? Use your crock pot. Soups, casseroles, and roasted meals are easy to prepare, just a few minutes tossing ingredients in the pot, and you’ll have dinner 8 hours later. Combined with a bread machine, a crock pot can be a means of avoiding fast food and quick fix purchases. Since dinner can cook while you work, you save time, and avoid impulse purchases.

Look at your business with new eyes. Where can you find alternatives, cut waste, save pennies, and compromise without killing the essence?

Keep what truly matters. Take the cuts where they are less important.

Recession Survival Tactics – Products and Services

Part 3 of a 6 Part Recession Survival Series

Sometimes you are going to have to change more than marketing messages to survive great changes in the attitudes and priorities of your target market. Sometimes you have to change your very product and service line.

At its most obvious, it means offering lower cost options. That is sometimes possible by offering less. But sometimes “less” guts it of value. So to offer a lower price, you have to find a way to do it that is new – that preserves the value while lowering the price.

But it can also mean simply finding ways to change your product from a non-essential product to an essential one, or making your luxury a more affordable one, finding ways to enhance the value of the product or service, or changing the offering to make it more fitting to people who are struggling.

And sometimes you have to completely abandon a product line, and move to something else. Some product lines just won’t survive. If there is a high chance that your target market is going to dry up, don’t delay! Explore alternatives NOW, and get them lined up, ready to roll. Start selling them alongside, and have your fallback product or service line working as soon as possible.

When looking for ways to offer more, for less, start with office economies first. We’ll have an entire article on that, but basically, look for ways to save first.

Then look for ways to produce faster. This may mean starting with templates, creating package deals instead of custom deals, investing in intelligent automation for selective areas, or developing systems for speeding up your work.

If you can’t do that without removing some value, then look over your product or service carefully – what is the MOST ESSENTIAL value point? What are the least essential value points? Can you drop a few of the less essential ones, while keeping the most essential, and lower the price that way?

When you are looking at new product lines, consider things related to what you already offer if at all practical. Then you don’t have to completely change your business. The key is though, that you want to either pick up your existing target market as they drift (to a different pricepoint or value emphasis), or you want to pick a newly emerging target market early on. Look at where your customers are going when they leave you, or look at what they are retaining while they let go of your product or service. Go into that, because it is more likely to last through the crunch.

Self-sufficiency and affordability are on the rise – those markets are booming. But they are also becoming much more competitive. People are looking HARD for the best deal, and you’ll have to work harder to persuade people that YOU are the best deal, in more than just price.

For 90% of the businesses out there, change will be required. And some of it will be dramatic, painful change. But without it, you sink. With it, you grow in new ways, and become a better business person.

Recession Survival Tactics – Marketing Messages

Part 2 of a 6 Part Recession Survival Series

So things are changing. That means you have to change. Only a very fortunate few are going to survive it without changing, and then only if their business is already providing rock bottom value. Everything else is going to require change on the part of business owners to be able to keep business coming in.

There are several facets to this, which we’ll cover in separate articles.

The principal thing that happens in a recession, is that people reprioritize. If you were on their list of affordable choices yesterday, you may be struck from it today – or they may decide that they can only justify half the expense that they could justify the day before. And it literally happens that fast. It doesn’t stop there either, because one day they’ll decide on half. The next day their hours at work may be cut, and you may be stricken entirely.

How are you going to keep people coming to you as a viable option? Maybe your marketing message has always emphasized quality, indulgence, service, the extras. People still want that, but when money is tight, they see dollar signs in front of those words! So somehow, you have to get words in there that emphasize value, affordability, low cost, better results for the expense, etc. Concepts that now take precedence.

People will be concerned primarily with two concepts:

1. How to save money on essentials or reduce the cost of their favorite indulgences to the point that they can still justify them.
2. How to make money, in a lower risk environment.

If you can demonstrate an ability to help them with either of those goals, in a way that helps them feel that you have sympathy for their situation, you have a good chance of keeping business. Maybe you can do that just by pointing out things you didn’t emphasize as much before. Maybe you’ll have to completely revisit your target market – will you shift from a mainstream item to a luxury item, or will you rescale to adapt with your existing target market as they change?

Find out what your customers most want and need. Then find ways of communicating the ways that your product or services supply those needs and wants.

Be willing to change your slogan. Be willing to change your primary marketing messages, and indeed, the very identity of your business if necessary. We are heading into something that will affect our nation strongly for a decade or more. You won’t be wasting your time on a temporary change. This kind of action is necessary, or you’ll be too late.

Recession Survival Tactics – Are You Essential, or a Luxury?

Part 1 of a 6 Part Recession Survival Series

As belts tighten and budgets squeak, people are drawing new lines to define what they think of as essential, and what they classify as a luxury. They’ll hang onto essentials, they’ll either let the luxuries go, or they’ll find lower cost alternatives to them.

Right now, that line is being redrawn almost constantly. As people realize that it isn’t just a blip. That it isn’t going to go away, that it is going to be long, ugly, and bad. This means their idea of what you are, is going to be in a state of almost constant flex. It means you have to think ahead, not just about what they think today or tomorrow, but how they will think if worst comes to worst, and life gets very hard.

So who decides whether you are essential, or a luxury?

You do. But you can’t just TELL your customers or clients that you are essential and BE essential.

You have to listen. You have to HEAR what they think essential is. Then you have to BECOME what they define as essential.

It means being creative. Maybe soap is essential. But maybe the good soap becomes a luxury because now they can only afford $1 per bar for soap instead of $5 per bar. How will you become essential again when they decide like that? Can you?

If you insist that the $5 bar is better for their skin and preserves their health, reducing the cost of lotion, or allows them to wear less expensive fabrics and be comfortable, or that since they use less of the expensive stuff to get clean that it is actually a better deal that it appears, then maybe you can be moved into the essential classification again.

Half of this is going to be marketing. How you describe the benefits. What was a benefit yesterday may not rate as an important benefit today. “Indulge yourself” as a slogan may become completely irrelevant. Cease to exist as an effective message. “Affordable Indulgence” may be a message that was scorned yesterday, but embraced today. People may want you to tell them what a good deal it is today, when yesterday they were only concerned with how good it was. Mincsets and thought processes, priorities, and values, are GOING to change.

The other half is the actual product or service. Can you change it, make the effort to contain costs, through creative strategies, while still keeping the price the same (while your expenses rise), or even drop the price, offer a lower cost option, etc? I’ll address specific ideas in a later article, but this question is the one that defines the successes in a tough economy. If you can do this, you can survive. If you cannot, you probably won’t.

So go look at your business – examine your products and services with a critical eye. Look at your marketing messages and figure out whether they are going to meet the changing needs. Be creative, and come up with a way to change what you do, so you can be essential. Because if you are a luxury, you are going under.

It’s Time to Leave the Harbor

A ship in the harbor is safe. Most of the time. During a storm though, the ship is safer at sea. In the harbor, the confines that make it safe at other times, becomes a trap, and the ship is in greater danger. Out at sea, navigation away from the worst of the storm is still possible, and fewer obstacles are present to dash the ship to pieces.

Our economy is heading into a storm. It is likely to be a bad one. How can you get your business out of the trap of a harbor, and out to sea away from the fury of the storm? How can you find calm seas, or at least, less turbulent waves and winds?

In a volatile economy, sitting where you are, hoping that things won’t change, may kill your business. Smart sailors watch the weather signs, listen to the reports, and steer clear of the troubled seas. If they cannot avoid them, they batten down the hatches and try to ride it out. But they try to avoid it first, and only settle to ride it out if there is no other option. And even then, their choice is backed up by changes in their actions, to give their choice the best possible chance of a favorable outcome.

It isn’t time to pull back into the false security of a harbor. It is time to move out, and take smart actions to preserve your business. To adjust for the winds and waves so they don’t swamp you.

  • Assess your current business health, and make smart corrections for current problems or deficiencies.
  • Develop a contingency plan, based on what your customers are most likely to do as things get hard.
  • Watch your stats, and be ready to act if you see declines of more than 1-2 months.
  • Implement your contingency plan, and be ready to move into different ways of doing business if necessary.

We’ve seen a lot of businesses go under recently. Big ones. It didn’t happen suddenly. The signs of an impending storm were there for a long time before the company declared bankruptcy, or sold out, or laid off workers. They either failed to adjust out of ignorance, or decided that they’d try to ride it out in the hopes that it would not get too bad (in spite of clear signs to the contrary), or in hopes that something would rescue them if they just waited. Don’t wait when you should be taking actions to adjust your business! Failure never happens suddenly, it always happens slowly, and there is plenty of time to react if you just do it in a timely manner.

Smart sailors know when to act. And they know to watch the signs. Don’t let the rut of familiarity trap you when wise action can keep your business going strong in spite of what happens around you.

Surviving a Recession

We aren’t sure if it is coming. We do know that if it does, it will affect a huge number of businesses, large and small. What do you do if it does come? How will you know if it is here, and if you are one of the businesses whom it will affect?

First, assess your business from a customer standpoint.

Do you sell a luxury, or a necessity?

Is your item high end, or low end?

Is the value of what you sell truly solid?  MLM products are not – they are priced high to allow for complex compensation.

High end products often fall in sales during hard times. So do luxury items. Items that people can put off for a year, usually get put off for a year. People still buy, but they buy more conservatively.

The next thing is to assess some other potentials:

Does your product or service offer a potential income source? If so, it may actually gain ground if it is a good potential.

Does your service enhance business success? This can go either way – when businesses are in a pinch, they will look more to do-it-yourself options, or lower end solutions, but they may feel a stronger need to compete.

If a recession comes, you’ll need to be looking at the possible outcomes within your own business. You’ll need to understand the mindset of your own customers in regard to your product or service.

Watch your site traffic and business trends. Make sure you account for seasonal trends as well, but if your business slumps at a time when it usually would not, for a period of more than two months, it may be time to call in a pro to help you devise some strategies for recovery.

It is more affordable, and easier to compensate early on. The businesses that fail will be the ones that do not recognize when they are sliding into trouble, or who do not respond in an effective manner once they realize they are there. Plenty of businesses will fail. Yours might as well be one that succeeds.

Grow a Garden!

Gardening doesn't have to be that hard! No matter where you live, no matter how difficult your circumstances, you CAN grow a successful garden.

Life from the Garden: Grow Your Own Food Anywhere Practical and low cost options for container gardening, sprouting, small yards, edible landscaping, winter gardening, shady yards, and help for people who are getting started too late. Plenty of tips to simplify, save on work and expense.