Make the most of your business downtime
Nº2 in the series
‘Managing your Business in a Crisis’
Using all that new found time to good advantage
I was going to make my second post about cash but I have demoted this in favour of some thoughts about how to productively use all the time that we said we never had, but we now have in abundance. The post has two headings; firstly how to hold on to your clients and secondly the best use of your time.
Five tips on holding on to your clients
Perhaps the single most important activity for the coming weeks is to do everything in our power to keep the clients we have and to retain any orders that were placed before the lock-down but which we are unable to fulfil. Here’s some ideas:
- Keep up the Comms
As I have said many times before – no one ever did their business any harm by communicating regularly with their customers. Providing the content of your message is relevant and interesting you’ll get engagement. A wise copy-writer once said to me ‘Remember, you can never be too long, only too boring’. Clearly Tolstoy knew this.
Keep your customers informed about what’s going on, what might have happened to their orders, how they can contact you and tell them how you may be able to help.
Let your customers know you’re alive and kicking. Tell them what your plans are and how you intend to ride out the crisis. We like to be paired with strong and confident businesses – make sure you’re on the list
- What is your website homepage doing to help?
You should have all your re-assuring messages on the homepage of your site and include a contact form on the homepage inviting people to leave their details so you can be in touch as soon as you start trading again. Not only is this a good way to capture business in the down-turn, it’s a great way of building your database. The best way to do this is via a mailchimp sign up form – not only is it fully automated but also will help you comply with GDPR laws.
Please contact me if you need to change your website homepage or would like a mailchimp data capture form set up.
- What can you offer your customers for free?
We tend to forget that with each transaction, we are helping to improve our customers’ and clients’ lives. Think about how your product and / or service does this and see if you can add value by explaining what your company does for them and how you can help. The most commonly quoted business mantra is ‘Find out what the customer wants and give it to them’. However, a much more powerful paradigm is ‘How can I solve your problem?’. Think about adding some content to your website based around this idea.
- Keep talking
If you were in the middle of negotiating a deal or you have a partially fulfilled order then don’t stop the discussion. If you sense that the deal is slipping away seriously consider closing the deal with a down payment and extended credit if you possibly can. We all want ‘Jam today‘ but as the jam shelves are empty then ‘jam tomorrow‘ is surely the next best thing. (Enough Jam metaphors now thank you).
Seven things to do now to use your time productively
Apparently the Duke of Wellington used to say that he always ensured that he ‘Got the work of the day done in the day’. Well that was all very well for you your Grace and it just about worked at Waterloo, but for the rest of us, the idea of tying up everything we planned when we got to the office at 8.30am by 6.00pm, is a hilarious joke. The fact is most of our days are spent dealing with what Harold Macmillan referred to as ‘Events dear boy, Events’ – those things that crop up on an hourly basis and need attending to immediately. We simply don’t have time to do SO may things, but now we do. So here’s a, non-exhaustive, list of some of them:
- Business Costs Review
- What are my over-heads? How can I reduce them?
- What are my direct costs? Am I buying as efficiently as I can?
- Products and Services Review
- Products – what do I sell the most of? What makes me the most profit?
- Products – what do I sell the least of? Do I still need these lines? Can I have an end-of-line sale with these products to generate some cash?
- Services – is what I offer what the market really needs? Has the market moved on since I last reviewed my service?
- General – Is what I’m charging correct – too high. too low?
How good is my CRM data? Indeed, do I have any? Understanding your customers’ behaviour; how, what and when they buy, how much they spend and how frequently, is business gold. You only need to study the history of the Tesco Club card and how Terry Leahy built a retail behemoth using it to understand just how important this data can be. Ok – so few us have the resources that Tesco had in Dunnhumby but it’s important lesson. Now is a great time for either adding a CRM management system to your business or, if you already have one, making sure the data you are capturing is up-to-date and relevant.
- Prospects and Business Opportunities
One of the problems of living in the business day-to-day and reacting to ‘Events‘, is that we spend way too little time considering the future. What better time to sit down and draw up a list of business prospects and to research them. Also, what untapped business opportunities exist? Who am I not dealing with and why? Why am I not in this or that sector? What new businesses have emerged in my sector that I am not dealing with?
- Competitor Analysis
If there’s one thing that we all hate almost more than cold calling it’s competitor analysis. The problem is we have to face up to the fact that there may be people out there who are doing things better, cheaper, faster and more efficiently than we are. But steel yourself – it’s better to know this and adapt than to not know it and die.
- How’s my Marketing?
I will be posting more about the importance and power of marketing later. For now, use your time productively to review your:
- USP – it’s such a cliché that most businesses ignore it, but if you don’t differentiate life’s always going to be very tough
- Business Communications – what are you saying to your customers? How are you saying it and how often. Are you using a programme such as mailchimp to analyse the results and hone your mailings?
- Website Content – When did you last update the content of your website? Does your website reflect the current status of your products and services? See Content is King
- Promotional Plan – do you have a promotional plan in place? Now’s a great time to get in the habit of developing a plan to promote some aspect of your business once a month; thinking of seasonal peaks, traditionally quiet times, times to clear unwanted inventory etc.
- What’s my exit strategy?
An appropriate one to end on this. Once again we tend to be so buried in the day-to-day detail that we tend to forget that every business should have an end in sight. It’s an undeniable fact that those of us who own and run businesses don’t intend to be doing this forever, unless we’re Rupert Murdoch. Knowing how it’s going to end for us at least shapes the way we do business in one simple positive way; our aim must be to build the business into the best possible shape either to hand over to the next generation or to sell it. Who’s to say that running your business with this goal in mind is a bad thing? Here’s two things to consider towards this end:
- Is your business franchisable? – I’m not necessarily suggesting this as an exit strategy but, for the right type of business, it’s not a bad one. However, thinking of your business as a franchise is a great way to get it into shape for when you depart. It’s a big subject but, in essence, if someone was to take over your business tomorrow could you hand them a book which says ‘This is how my business works’? Of course, this is a great way of thinking about your business even if your exit is years away.
- What’s the state of your assets and liabilities? – The net worth of your business, the basis from which its sale value is derived, is all about the inter-play of assets and liabilities and their relative states. What condition are my fixed assets in (property, plant & equipment)? What about my current assets? If they are defined as ‘assets that can be converted into cash within one year’ is this true for my business?
What about my liabilities? What are my loans looking like? Are they on track to repay? Am I paying the correct amount for them? Can I borrow money more effectively (eg. converting an over-draft which is unsecured into some more secure borrowing? What about my creditors? Am I paying them on time? More importantly am I paying them too soon?
In summary – now is a truly great time to do some things in your business that could have a long-term positive effect.
You may be familiar with the government propaganda poster from 1915 “What did you do in the Great War?”. It’s a question must all now be asking ourselves again. There are two possible answers: “Well I ran around with my hair on fire and my business went down the pan” or “I used the time productively to improve the way I ran things so we emerged that bit stronger and quite a bit of distance ahead of our competitors”. Which answer will you give?