Business in the doldrums? Here’s how to kick start it back into life

If you’ve clicked through to read this article, the chances are your business is a little bit stuck at the moment. The phones aren’t ringing, your inbox is empty and your sales team aren’t delivering the goods. You could of course, put it down to Brexit, or the Election result or even the hot weather, but that doesn’t help to get things moving again. What you need is a plan of action, a business turnaround plan to get you back off the blocks and below we’ve listed some key pointers to help you do just that.

Be Brutal

It’s time to cut needless expenses out of the business to give you more money to spend on creating new business. Here’s what to check:

  • Technology – Are you paying for software you’re not using? Are there cheaper alternatives to the software you do use? Are you getting the best value from your IT support contract? Are there any contracts you can renegotiate?
  • Utilities – Don’t pay over the odds for your electricity, water, gas or internet. Shop around and you could save big
  • Rent and business rates – Do you really need that expensive office in that exclusive postcode? Do all of your employees need to come into the office every day or can you hot desk and downsize your office space?
  • Staff – Is every member of staff adding value to your business? If not, why are they on the payroll? What about your sales team? Are there individuals that always have a deal “just round the corner” that never closes? If so, it’s time to give them a deadline to close their deals or find a new job.
  • Your bank statement – Last but not least, go through your business bank statement with a fine toothcomb. You’d be amazed at what you’re probably paying for on a monthly basis that you hadn’t accounted for. Eliminate all unnecessary expenses and question any payments you don’t recognise.

Go back to basics

For many business owners, the idea of writing a business plan when you’re already years into your journey could seem like a waste of time. After all, you know your business, you know your industry and you know your clients, right? But times change and if that were the case, the business wouldn’t be in the position it’s in today. A business plan forces a business owner (or leadership team) to ask itself questions about the business that are often overlooked. It questions the assumptions a business has been built on and can lead to genuine business insight which can help to reshape the company going forward. Putting a business plan in place with strategic objectives and revenue targets for the next 1 – 5 years helps to focus your mind and your business development activities on achieving those goals at all costs. Most importantly perhaps, it can help to justify any expenditure needed to change the business to meet those long-term objectives. The savings you made in point 1 should go some way to help pay for any changes that need to be made.

Look at the market and adjust your message

Following nicely on from point 2 – if you’ve done your business plan correctly, you’ll have taken a deep dive into your customers, your competition and your industry. That means you will hopefully have identified if your customer’s needs have changed. You’ll also have noted if the industry or most importantly your competition are talking about the product or service you offer in a different way. Ask yourself, is your message and your offering still as relevant today as it was when you set up the business? If it’s not, you need to adapt to survive. Failure to do so will almost definitely result in the failure of your business.

Communicate

Having a business that is not hitting its sales targets is not just a worry for business owners and CEOs. It’s a worry for employees too. It’s important to explain the predicament the business is in to employees, particularly if you’re planning on making changes. Make sure they understand the gravity of the situation and their role in helping the business move forward to better times. By keeping your team in the loop, there will be less pushback about any changes that need to be made and it may even work to your advantage by bringing everyone together to work towards a common goal. Remember, communication is not only about delivering bad news. It’s important to celebrate the good news too so be sure to make public any big business wins.

Put a comprehensive sales and marketing strategy in place

A common theme with many companies that find their sales figures heading south is their reliance on just one method to get new business through the door. Enterprise software companies for example, tend to focus heavily on using sales teams to make outbound, new business calls. E-commerce websites rely heavily on Google Ads, whilst restaurants tend to rely on review sites and online guides. Of course, they use these methods because they work, but they need to be backed up with secondary and tertiary business development channels at the very least. This means that when one method is drying up, the other methods can pick up the slack. A good business will use an array of business development tools including Google PPC, social advertising, blogging, email, events and outbound calling.

Don’t get complacent

So you’ve reshaped the business and things are looking good. Now it’s time to sit back and reward yourself for all the hard work you’ve put in… or maybe not. Industry leading companies are always looking for new ways to drive their business forward. They want to be ahead of the competition, trying new ideas, engaging with potential clients in different ways and innovating wherever and whenever possible. It’s a good strategy to have. The best time to try new things, is when you’ve got cash in the bank to absorb anything that doesn’t work out. If it does work out, you’ll be in even better shape should you run into difficult times again in the future.

Start-ups – Don’t crash your plane

As businesshands comes closer to turning four years old, I’ve been mulling back over the journey and the emotions that I’ve experience since it started out. It occurred to me that having a start-up is a bit like flying a plane… or more appropriately – finding yourself in the pilot’s seat of a plane at 15,000 feet with no engines running… that’s just about to stall.

That’s pretty much where it started for me. Tired with office politics and frustrated with my role, one day around four years ago I just quit. I’d been thinking about it for a while, but when I did it – it was so sudden it even surprised me. I was in tech sales and for anyone that’s worked in technology sales, you’ll know that once you quit – your company doesn’t want you hanging around on the off chance that you’ll lure their customers away or steal all of their customer data. So there I was, not long after the words came out of my mouth, buzzing off down the London streets on my scooter, wide eyed wondering what I’d just done and most importantly, what I would do next.

It took a month of figuring out that I didn’t want to work for anyone else again. During that time, I’d interviewed for jobs I didn’t want and unsurprisingly, not gotten any of them. So I decided to set up my own company and that was the moment I took control of the aircraft at 15,000 feet with no engines that was just about to stall. The 15,000 feet represented the total value in cash of everything I owned and all of the credit I had left on my credit cards at that point.

As any business owner will tell you, starting a business is harder and more complex that you might think (just like flying a plane). If you’re a product based business, the product development phase can be lengthy and difficult. If you’re a services business, it could take you an age to figure out who your customer is and what you need to offer them. And that’s just the basics. Like finding and pressing the button to start up the engines, you’re still in a stall hurtling towards the ground, burning through your budget and unless you can figure out how to turn that plane around fast you’re going to crash.

And this is a problem overlooked by many start-ups and small businesses today. Simply having a good product or a service is not enough for your company to succeed. It took businesshands about 18 months before it levelled off from its initial dive. With my credit card maxed out, luckily my car had been worth a little more than I thought and that bought me a few hundred extra feet in the stall. Ever since then we’ve been climbing. Slowly at first but as the months have rolled in we’ve risen faster and faster and today I can say, we’re actually having a pretty pleasant flight. So from someone who has been through the experience, here’s some tips on how to wrestle back control of your start-up and hopefully help you fly off into the sunset.

  1. Don’t build your product or define your service offering until you have done extensive market research. It doesn’t have to be expensive research. Attending free or low cost networking groups and getting feedback on your ideas is a good start and will save you time and money later on.
  1. Complete market and competitor analysis before you begin. Again, you can do this research yourself. Understanding the market and your potential competitors will tell you whether your idea has legs and can be a success. Is the market hungry for your idea? Are there already hundreds of companies in this space? What are you offering that’s going to differentiate you? These are just some of the questions you need to be asking.
  1. Do your figures. Even if you’re not ready to do a formal business plan, ask yourself these four basic questions.
  • How much will my product or service cost me to deliver (add a least 25% to any estimate to account for marketing, personnel and other bills)
  • How much will my product or service sell for?
  • How much of my product or my service will I have to sell to make a living?
  • Is that achievable?
  1. Don’t spend any money unless you have to. No luxuries, no office space, no fancy stationary or separate mobile phone for work. Spend nothing unless it is necessary for the start-up to progress.
  1. Save half of your budget at least for sales / marketing /business development activities. There’s nothing like having a decent product or service but not having any money to spread the word. It will take more than a couple of months of marketing budget to get your business off the ground.
  1. Build/plan a structured sales and marketing journey for your business and stick to it. Sporadic sales and marketing activities cost money and deliver very little. Consistency is king when it comes to closing sales.
  1. Build a structured customer journey for your existing customers. This ensures they will get a consistent and quality service. It will minimise customer attrition whilst also ensuring you identify as many upselling opportunities as possible. Remember it’s far more expensive to attract new customers than it is to sell to existing ones so keeping them happy needs to be part of your business strategy.
  1. Pay yourself as little as you can afford to live on for as long as it takes and plough every bit of spare cash from new sales straight back into your sales /marketing /business development activities. Don’t be tempted to slack off on this, even if you’re going through a busy period.
  1. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Stop thinking about what you want to deliver and start asking what your customers need.
  1. Speak to other people in start-ups. Get together regularly to discuss the progress you’re making and the challenges you’re facing. Having someone to speak to who is outside of your immediate start-up world will bring new ideas and a different way of thinking. Most importantly though it will improve your morale and give you the drive to continue pulling your start-up plane out of it’s scary initial dive so you can begin planning a route for the long haul.

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7 ways to make the most of the quieter summer period in your business

Schools out and the majority of your customers and team are off for two weeks of sunburn and margaritas… so whilst the phones are quiet and there’s little activity in the office, what should you be doing with your business to make the most of those quiet summer months? Here’s a few suggestions…

Do a deep dive review of your business performance so far this year

Go deep into your figures to really understand what’s happening in your business. How is it performing against last year? Are you spending more in some areas than you should be? Are the buying trends of your customer base changing? Are you in front or behind where you were at this time last year in terms of sales? Why is that?

Review / revise (or even create) your business strategy for the rest of the financial year

No matter how small your business is, you should already have a well-developed business strategy in place. Ask yourself, what do you need to do, to make this year the best year ever? What is stopping your business getting more sales through the door? Are there events you could be attending, what about networking, what about your marketing / advertising?

Define / refine / streamline your customer journey

How do you currently get a new customer through the “door”? What does it take to move a prospect from an exchange of business cards through to an exchange of contracts… or from a new follower on Twitter to a new and valuable customer? Do you have a defined sales process in place? What is it? Is it effective and could it be better?

Take some time to bond with and train your team

Of course, you could continue to push you team to make hundreds of sales calls a day but the reality is, the summer months are the least effective time for many organisations to acquire new business. That means it’s the best time to take days out for training, team building and refocusing of minds for the months ahead.

Review your suppliers

Are you really getting the best deal on your purchases? It’s time to take stock of your suppliers and make sure they are still the best ones to take your business forward. If you can find cheaper or better elsewhere it’s time to renegotiate your contracts or switch to something else. Don’t just do this for physical stock either… think software services, IT support contracts, office cleaning and anything else that’s provided to you as a service.

Get your marketing in order

It’s time to do a deep dive review of your marketing. Do you have core messages that you’re delivering to your customers? Are they still relevant? Are you still pushing your messages out to the right places? Analyse your marketing in depth. Which bits are driving traffic, creating enquiries or closing sales? Which ones are adding no value to the business at all and can be stopped? Where are you wasting money? What could be done better?

Focus on your own well-being

If you’re a business owner or a senior leader within an organisation, now is the time to plan some downtime, take some time off to re-energise and reconnect with hobbies you once had, friends you haven’t seen and places you used to go. Happy and relaxed people make better decisions and are able to get more done so take some time off whilst you can.