20090507-bravery

This is a scary time. Everyone you know knows at least one person who has gotten downsized and new jobs are scarce.  People are scared to start businesses and they’re scared to invest in their existing businesses right now. Part of it is that in an economy like this, mistakes are even more costly than before. And part of it is that people are just plain scared to lose anything right now. What you need to know is that the surest way to lose and make mistakes now is to NOT invest in your business. The only way to win right now is to face your fear and keep moving forward in the right way. Today, I’ll give you a few suggestions for how you can move ahead and steer clear of costly mistakes.

As with everything else, realize that the current economic conditions are temporary.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. The first thing to do is remember that economic conditions like we’re currently experiencing are temporary. Virtually every financial expert and publication has said that the recession won’t last forever. So when you start to experience fear about the economy and what it means for you, first and foremost, realign your thinking so you’re thinking about it as a temporary condition that will eventually resolve itself.

Keep investing in yourself and your business.

In this economy, a lot of business owners are cutting corners. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to who are cutting out key professionals, reducing their marketing budgets, and eliminating continuing education. What these business owners fail to realize is that it’s absolutely crucial that you continue to invest in yourself and your business to keep things moving in an upward trajectory. But be smart and invest in the right things. This leads me to my next point.

Cut costs, but cut the right costs.

When you cut costs, know which costs to cut. Analyze your business expenses and make sure you’re tracking everything. Look for ways to save. For example, if you’re low on printed material like your marketing flyers or business cards, you may be able to find a printer that charges less, but offers the same quality as your old printer. This extends beyond products you use for your business. Examine your business relationships. Are there some service providers you aren’t happy with? Now’s the time to make a switch to someone who will provide you with better service at a better rate. In this economy, you can get great service at a much more affordable rate than ever before. ..and you should.

That said, don’t cut the essentials! You need to continue learning and improving your skills, so cutting back on continuing ed is a mistake. You don’t need to go to every workshop and seminar, but you shouldn’t eliminate these opportunities to learn, network, and increase your visibility altogether. And don’t start doing your own graphic design or having your son’s best friend design your web site. Cuts like this can result in catastrophe — web sites that don’t function properly, brochures that look unprofessional, and the appearance that your business is small-time, unsuccessful, or fly-by-night. And none of these are words you want applied to your business.

Learn from Pareto.

Another place you can save in your business is by applying Pareto’s 80/20 principle to your client list. The 80/20 rule says (in a nutshell) that the bulk of your business comes from about twenty percent of your client roster. That means you may be expending a great deal of effort and expense marketing to and serving the eighty percent of your clients who aren’t producing very much of your income. So why not go through your client list and do some weeding? You’ll save money in marketing costs and you’ll have more time to cater to your most-productive and profitable clients.

Another way to implement Pareto’s 80/20 rule is to look at your current products and services. Which twenty percent of your products and services generate eighty percent of your profit? Concentrate on improving those and developing more products and services like them. You may even eliminate the products and services that aren’t generating enough interest.

Marketing, marketing, marketing.

One way you can guarantee that your business will fail is if no one knows you exist. So don’t stop marketing your business to save money. That’s the wrong cost to cut. Instead, keep up your marketing efforts, but like your client list, examine which efforts are providing the biggest pay-off. Cut back on the ones that aren’t bringing in clients and beef up the ones that are drawing attention. And, consider implementing more PR methods into your business so you can garner some good press for free.

If you’ve been using direct mail as a marketing tool, check the quality of your list. How long have you been mailing marketing materials to people who haven’t responded? Pick a cut-off date and eliminate anyone who hasn’t responded since that date, and you’ll dramatically reduce your printing and postage bills without losing the people who actually respond to your marketing efforts.

Once you’ve got ‘em, wow ‘em.

It won’t do you much good to acquire clients if you can’t serve them and serve them well. So once you’ve drawn them in with your PR and marketing, you’d better make sure you wow them. It’s about more than doing a good job. It’s about doing a great job. Deliver at least on time, if not early. Delight, surprise, and overdeliver. Make sure your clients and customers know you appreciate their business. Always thank them.

Also, survey the clients who’ve stayed with you for a long time. Find out what you’re doing right and amp up those efforts. And find out what you could do better, and improve on that, and you’ll see your client retention rates improve even more.

Save money by hiring experts.

Hiring the right experts can actually save you money in your business. Imagine all the mistakes you’ve made in your business history. Recall all the professionals you hired who didn’t work out – the web developer who charged a ridiculously high fee for every single update, the assistant who didn’t do her job, the graphic designer who charged you a fortune for a logo you now hate. Remember how much each of those mistakes cost you? Hiring a business consultant who has a Rolodex of professionals who can do that work at the highest quality, but at reasonable rates, can save you a lot of money in the long run, and in the end, the savings more than offset the price of the consultant. Plus, that same consultant can help you avoid other, costly errors, and make suggestions for other ways to optimize and save.

But beware: “consultants” are a dime a dozen out there. So find someone you can trust and someone who can really deliver, otherwise you’ll spend much more than you’ll save.

In this economy, it’s only natural that there’s a lot of fear. But knowing it’s temporary, conducting your marketing in the smartest way, continuing to invest in your business in the right way, and building a team of experts who you can trust to deliver can keep your business growing and minimize your fear. Stay strong – this won’t last forever!

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