Growing Your Small Business in the 2009 Economy

Aug 18, 2009, Written by Sue Miley

How will small businesses and Christian Businesses manage in the new economy?
How do you cope with unemployment through the roof, the stock market at nearly 1998 levels, personal assets losing 30-40% of value, scarce credit, and dropping revenues for many small christian businesses and non-christian businesses alike.  I don’t know about you but for me there is always room to tighten up my operation. While many big businesses must institute dramatic changes to stay healthy ala massive layoffs, hiring freezes, expense cuts; small businesses can move quickly and impact change in positive ways. Think about the analogy of a yacht turning around vs. a speed boat. Entrepreneurs and small businesses are the speed boat. We can make sharp turns and we don’t have to slow down very much to head in a new direction.

How does that look for your business? Everyone has different strategies; however, here are a few ideas as you plan for the New Year.

Focus on growing not shrinking. Our first inclination is to cut back and hunker down, however, we are small and we cannot last with a shrinking strategy.

In order to grow, we need to go back to the foundational business values of any strong business.

  1. Customer service – whether you have clients, patients or customers all are more likely to stay loyal when they feel they are receiving value for their patronage. Being extra service oriented does not even have to cost more money. Customer service is a combination of:
    • Clean and comfortable facilities
    • Warm and friendly staff who is focused 100% on the customer
    • Listening and responding to the customer’s needs
    • Following up when it is appropriate
    • Providing education and resources
    • Being flexible whenever possible
  2. New Products or Services – many books and articles have been written stating that our best opportunity for new business is past customers and clients. What do you have to offer your customer base? Do you have a good database of past customers? My advice is to:
    • Get your database in order – whether email, phone, or regular address.
    • Contact past customers to remind them of your products and services.
    • Brainstorm new products or services that you could offer to past customers/clients.
    • Keep in touch.
  3. Enhancing Operations – I am not a proponent of growing a business through cutting expenses, however, I always believe in cutting out waste and enhancing efficiency. Here are some ideas:
    • Eliminate or reduce wasted expenses i.e. subscriptions, extra phone lines, discretionary entertainment, etc.
    • Re-visit or bid out your phone service, insurance plan, supply vendors, etc. Keep the services you need at more competitive prices.
    • Improve operational efficiency through more consistent and accurate policies and procedures. This will limit costly mistakes, reduce or eliminate overtime, enhance service and is just the smart thing to do.
    • Hire up – unfortunately many large companies are laying-off 10-15% of their employees. This is an opportunity to find very qualified employees for salaries you can afford. You are not taking advantage; you are providing opportunities in a shrinking market place.
  4. Create a secure environment for your team – you may think you can’t make promises right now, and that is probably wise. My idea of a secure environment is keeping the team informed and empowered. Each business is in a different position at the moment; however, without scaring your employees if things are not great, I think the following may help keep your team feeling more secure and loyal:
    • Performance indicators – let them know what performance standards you are trying to achieve and make sure they are educated on how they impact this performance.
    • Feedback – give individual and group feedback on a regular basis on how their efforts are working. Notice their performance and discuss if it is positively impacting the business.
    • Innovation – invite suggestions and ideas from the employee on their area or the business as a whole. Truly listen and give direct feedback to the employee. Even if you don’t think the idea will work, discuss it and explain why. This is respectful to the employee and will encourage continued creativity and buy in.
    • Cross-train – continue to train and invest in your employees. The benefit of cross-training is having backup if someone is out and being able to grow with fewer employees in the short-run.  People appreciate having a job right now and if able will gladly add responsibility and flexibility.
  5. Take care of yourself– even Jesus stopped to rest and pray. He knew it was important to stay close to the Father and to take care of himself along the journey even with the lofty goal of reconciling the world back with our Father in heaven. We need to take care of ourselves in all areas to ensure our long-term fortitude in business and to maintain proper priorities.
    • Relationship with God – we need to stay close to God regardless of the challenges in our life. The best thing for our life and our business is to follow God’s path and will. Fear sometimes causes us to react in worldly ways. We take control and start throwing spaghetti at the walls to find a quick answer. But the world’s ways are not the answer.
      • Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2
      • Being close to God in prayer and scripture are my doors to God’s will and plan for me.
    • Family – business stress often trickles down in our closest relationships. We are most comfortable showing our stress to family, but this has a negative impact on them and our home environment. If we take care of our family relationships we will maintain our home as a place for love, rest, and support. A haven from the difficulties of the world. Plus, they deserve it don’t they!
    • Health – eat properly, get enough sleep and exercise. (Okay, those that know me realize exercise is one I will probably just preach but not practice!) If we are rested and feel good we will think better, have a positive attitude, and have physical energy to do what we need to do at work and at home.
    • Education and Development – when things are slow in our business it is easy to get sucked into depression. Use this time for personal education and development. Even if you are busy, make sure you are working on some form of personal development. This also enhances our enthusiasm, keeps us competitive, and keeps us productive.
    • Volunteer – TD Jakes said in one of his books this paraphrase: There is stuff that needs to be done all around us. Find something that needs to be done and do it. God will bear fruit from these efforts. You are giving Him the opportunity to use you for His Kingdom. And, even if things are going well, let’s be grateful and give back!

These are a few ideas to get you started in 2009. Take time to think about these suggestions and other ideas you may have. Bring them to God in prayer first as his plan for you may be specific. The media and journalists are saying the economy is shifting to the hands of small businesses. I pray that your business will be a part of turning the economic tide in our nation.

Sue Miley MBA, MA, LPC is the owner of CrossRoads Professional Coaching providing business coaching to small businesses and professionals based on christian business values.

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Sue Miley

Sue Miley MBA, MA, LPC helps small business owners build successful businesses on a foundation of Christian values. After 20 years in business, and 10 years as a Christian counselor, Sue uses a combination of faith, business and psychology to help clients in business and in life.

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