Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Small Business Tips to recession proof your business

By Star Sosa of Spectrum Art & Jewelry

I’ve been self employed for over 22 years. I made it this long because I was always open to change. While what I’m doing is very similar to where I started, it has evolved over the years into a much different and more comprehensive business.

How does a small business manage in these trying times?
Is it possible we have a better chance than the big box businesses to make it through?

Why? Because like the small mammals that survived the environmental changes that did in the dinosaurs, small businesses can more easily evolve, adapting to the changing surroundings. Keep an open mind, look for the need, find solutions and make the changes as needed.

Here are some ideas for ways to recession proof your small business:

Remain optimistic - know enough about the current circumstances to make informed decisions, but don’t dwell on bad news. Times like this require an open mind and a creative outlook. Think of the whole “make lemonade” thing – what twist can you put on the situation to attract people to your product or service.

Take a close look at your expenses and overhead and make an effort to streamline, refine and minimize them. Just like hunkering down for a pending storm, you’ll need to be sensible about your exposure. Your vendors are experiencing much of the same issues as you are. Talk to them and see if you can’t negotiate more favorable terms or arrangements that will help both of your do more business in the long run.

Set yourself apart by providing your customers with an optimal experience. Win their loyalty and continued support, not by lowering your prices but by providing the best relationship, support, products, services and experience out there! You’ll never be able to compete with the big guys on price and buying abilities.

Here at Spectrum Art & Jewelry we have created a unique environment and community experience that people a drawn to, over and over. Many of my best customers have been regulars for ten years. They keep coming back because we treat them well and provide an ever changing selection of fabulous and unique artworks and services.

One of the main ways we promote our business is through events, such as wine tastings. I’m always looking for interesting things to host at the gallery to give my customers another reason to drop by. Every time I can get them here I have increased the odds that they will find something they can’t live without.

Support the other small businesses in your community. Keep it local. Give your loyalty to your neighbors and they will give it to you.

We buy the wine for our wine tastings at a locally owned shop.
When we can’t provide something specific a customer requests we make every effort to refer them to someone who can. Those businesses return the favor as well.

Form strategic alliances with other business owners to get your messages out to each other’s client base. There is strength in numbers, this is especially important for small business owners. Find non-competing businesses to partner with to give your customers even more reason to do business with you.

For instance, I produce a small magazine called ViViD on a quarterly basis. It is intended to promote the gallery, our artists and community and to foster art collecting. In it we partner with select businesses that share our demographic. They provide value with offers and coupon and they assist in the distribution by sharing ViViD with their customers.

My neighboring stores share the same type of clientele. In the coming year, we will be partnering on various promotions to create the critical mass necessary to draw more people to our center and our shops.

Review your product and services. Are they really meeting your customer’s needs?
Are they priced right? Can they bear even a small price increase (to increase your margin)? Survey your customers and find out what they really want and if you have been successful in providing it. You may be surprised by what you learn. This responsiveness is a critical tool to adapting to the changing economic environment.

Review your message. Are you putting out the right message to the right people? Evaluate what works best and what you can let go of. It is crucial in the coming year to keep promoting your business however you have to ensure that you are investing your marketing dollars wisely.

Become a public relations expert. There are a myriad of ways you can take advantage of free publicity. Create newsworthy press releases and sent them to the local media.

Refine and expand your Internet presence. Keep your website current and interesting. The more frequently you update the information, the better you’ll look in the search engines. Optimize your site to improve your rankings in searches.

We found that with some simple changes we were able to greatly improve our search rankings in just a few days. There are classes and webinars out there to help you learn this. It’s not difficult and you don’t have to pay someone a lot of money to do it for you.

Make use of the Web 2.0 tools available to you to keep you top-of-mind with your customers: e-mail newsletters, blogs, myspace, twitter, the list goes on. Use all the different facets to drive business to your website and ultimately to your business.

This can be really grass roots. Find the tool that works for you and run with it. Give value with your blog. Provide education or information that people need or enjoy. For instance, this information will be posted on the Spectrum Art & Jewelry blog so you can reference it there. Link everything together and add links to your e-mail signatures. Watch how it all grows organically.

Recognize that every business is a community. It is intended to support you, your employees, your vendors and your customers. Show your appreciation to every aspect of this dynamic. Maintain an attitude of gratitude. Involve your team in the process to instill ownership. After all, your success should mean their success. Give them a reason to help you pull through and to flourish, because they will be rewarded as well!

Don’t miss the opportunity to partner with local charities. This year they are facing bigger challenges than ever to meet their budgets. Pick something you are passionate about and get creative about ways to share your message and raise money. Giving back to the community will boost your karma as well as your customer’s perception of your business.

There you have my ten points on surviving the economic challenges facing us. Many of the pundits are saying that this is a time of opportunity as much as anything. The forward thinking, creative, flexible and savvy business people will come out even better in the long run. Business as usual will send you the way of the dinosaurs. Wake up and get to work.

You Can Do It!

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