The idea of starting a business during a recession or growing a business during tough times may sound like the ultimate challenge for any entrepreneur or small business owner. Yet, time and time again, small businesses prove that with agility, planning, and the right resources, tough times aren’t just survivable – they can spur growth.
Take for example SBA’s 2011 National Small Business Person of the Year, Rick Cochran, whose Vermont-based Mobile Medical International (MMI), provides advanced medical care to underserved areas.
From humble beginnings in his basement, Cochran created a design and prototype for a mobile surgery unit and quickly expanded his market. Cochran hit a rough patch in 1999 when financing ran dry and the company nearly closed its doors. Much of Cochran’s core team – inspired by his own perseverance, optimism and faith – worked without pay. They were reimbursed later, when the company rebounded.
During his tenure in business, Cochran has benefited from the support of three SBA loans. Driven by his perseverance, today MMI’s staff has grown to 54 employees with gross revenues of more than $14 million.
Strategies for Growth in Tough Times
Independent strategies for survival and growth vary, but there are many common denominators and tactics characteristic of small business success during tough economic times. Here are a few strategies and tactics to consider:
1. Focus on Core Strengths
Diversification into new products and markets is a core growth strategy, but in tough times it usually pays to stick to what you do best and refine your business’ strengths in key product or market areas.
2. Find the Right Team
In order to grow, you’ll need the right team behind you, and you need to be lean. Finding the right talent the first time means that a smart hiring strategy should be part of your growth plan. Some Small business owners have the knack for identifying the right employee fit. Some don’t. Understanding the talents you need to help you grow can be challenging. Consider consulting a mentor – a business acquaintance or someone from a professional and free mentoring organization like SCORE. These folks have walked in your shoes and can help.
3. Look for Ways to Cut Costs
From buying used office furniture to moving back into the home office, savvy business owners can save money on just about everything. Here are just a few ideas:
- Market Smarter – Cut your marketing budget and develop a smart marketing strategy. Can you refine your online marketing plan and focus on using your Facebook page to grow and nurture your specific target demographic? If your business depends on local custom, consider more community marketing activities that will put your business in front of your target customers. Sponsoring charitable events in your community or setting up a fundraiser for a good cause can generate great exposure for your business.
Use technology, such as online videos, as a sales and marketing approach to replace expensive brochures and collateral. This blog is loaded with cost-effective tips and tactics that you can apply across your marketing efforts: A “Complete” Guide to Small Business Marketing (featuring the best of SBA.gov’s blogs).
Smarter marketing also means having more oversight over campaigns and programs with a view to return on investment. Don’t just let campaigns run their course; get more from your dollars by adjusting your tactics, segmenting your lists, and delivering targeted messages. Rieva Lesonsky’s guest blog explains how to Give your Marketing a Checkup.
- Cut Your Business Expenses – It sounds obvious, but a review of all your outgoing expenses can point the way to quick savings. Create a list of necessary expenses and optional expenses. Pay close attention to how your employees spend your money. Use plastic – it may sound contrary to a cost-saving plan, but credit cards can give you perks such as miles and other benefits. You can put limits on cards so employees can’t overspend.
- Automate Your Systems – Automating systems, such as accounting, invoicing and payroll, can save time and money. Here are some tips for doing that:
-Use Technology Wisely – Cut back on business travel and other communication expenses by using free web conferencing tools like Skype. What about cloud computing? Migrating business functions online (or to the cloud) can realize big savings. Even your tablet computer can help you cut staffing costs! These blog posts offer more tips:
- Hire a Virtual Assistant – Virtual assistants are a low-cost way of handling business administration functions, freeing up your time, reducing staffing costs, and making sure you have the back-up you need to keep your business running smoothly.
- Buy Surplus – Can you save money on office equipment and electronics buying from eBay or buying government surplus?
Legal Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only and by no means should replace or substitute other legal documents (governmental or non-governmental) reflecting similar content or advice. If you have any questions concerning your situation or the information provided, please consult with an attorney, CPA or HR Professional.