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|The Upside of a Downturn
It may be tough to believe , but a recession can prove a very fruitful time for a business. "It's only when the tide goes out that you learn who's been swimming naked," goes the Warren Buffett maxim. And it's true: the companies that survive a recession tend to come out much stronger. They've stripped down their businesses, found their weaknesses, and fixed them.
As we work through the recession, every business should focus on restructuring. After all, you'll need to be ready for the pendulum swing. To prepare for growth , the following four items should be part of your recession strategy:
聲 A sound financial approach
聲 A competitive marketing plan
聲 An articulate approach to the media
聲 A creative edge
Cheap, Cheaper, Cheapest
How does a local, excellence-driven company compete--and turn a profit--when the only purchasing factor is how low you'll go? "For too many customers now, it's McDonald's or bust," reports Tom Van Riper , a well-known writer for , on the current consumer environment. People have been spooked into saving as many pennies as possible. They're taking the cheapest option with no regard to the quality of the product.
Can you bend over backward to offer the best bid--to be the fastest, cheapest and most innovative in your industry? For that matter, should you? Beyond simply getting thrifty, the emotional climate of consumerism is changing. The goal has shifted from luxury to deprivation, and some people feel like they need to buy bottom-of-the-barrel products and services , or they'll be "indulging." You owe it to your customers to show them how inferior service and cut-rate materials will end up costing them more in the long run.
A clear understanding of money's ups and downs is also invaluable to the success of a business, and can save a lot of money--especially for small companies without an accounting department to handle the finances. Financial literacy is a good business investment at any time, whether the economy is soaring or slumping. You can use the cash you save to invest in new equipment, employee benefit programs, and educational opportunities.
Make the Sale
"An economic downturn is a great time to go after competitors, who likely will be retrenching rather than advancing ," says Sean Silverthorne of Harvard Business School's Working Knowledge. Don't stop making cold calls, assuming that pocketbooks are padlocked until the recession is over. If other builders are slinking away to whimper about the economy, get out there and push your company (why would you stop asking for business?).
Likewise, don't stop advertising. In fact, strengthen your campaign. When a recession looms, marketing budgets are often the first thing to go. It's bizarre logic , but good for you--take advantage of others' shortsightedness, and get double the value by being one of the minority with airtime. You might also get a better deal on advertising rates right now.
Not only will your ads attract new customers; they will reassure current clients that you're still delivering strong. People are comforted by a familiar and confident image. A marketing campaign is more than just print ads; it includes any avenue for visibility. Buy sponsorships, participate in events and make donations on top of your regular advertising.
When the Media Calls
Don't neglect the public relations aspect of your business. A positive public image is actually part of your marketing campaign, a crucial part. If interviewed by an economist, the local paper, doomsayers--even when asked by a family member or colleague , "how's business?"--it's your chance to pull out your talking points. People want to see how you're reacting to the recession. Show them you're sure of your work, upbeat about the future, and adaptable.
Sit down with the team and discuss the key messages you want to project. What unique feature do you have that other companies don't? What's your plan for 2009? It's important to get everyone in the company on board, so the message is unified and everyone is prepared to give the same positive representation of the company.
What Sets You Apart from Other Businesses?
If you preserve only one thing during the recession, it should be your passion for what you do. Not only is it evident in your product, but it's what keeps you in the industry , right? It's your sense of fulfillment. The Empire State Building stands as a majestic example of industry excellence--it was completed under budget, ahead of schedule, and right smack in the middle of the Great Depression. This iconic structure was borne of innovation and engineering brilliance, despite economic conditions. In a time of economic pressure, it is crucial not to compromise your principles, and to continue shattering limitations. Be a pillar of safety , teamwork, creativity or integrity--rather than sacrificing your best assets just to get a job done.
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