When you first open your business, you may be full of optimism. It may even be a smashing success for the first few months or even years. However, every company faces difficult times.
Today’s business world is extremely competitive. There are fewer barriers to entry, and it is easier for anyone to build a website or sell products online through marketplaces like Etsy or Amazon. In an ideal world, strategic planning and strong leadership could prevent a rough patch from happening. But, as a business owner, you may know firsthand that some factors are simply out of your control. The economy could take a turn for the worse or the market could shrink. It’s not a matter of “if” tough times happen, but “when”.
Facing and overcoming struggle is a part of building a company. Even the most iconic brands that are looked to as examples of success have hit a few rough patches in their time. (Remember Apple before Steve Jobs?) At 10twelve, we have helped many clients launch and grow their businesses.
To get through those hard times, and get your company back on its feet, keep these 9 tips and advice in mind.
1. Face the facts
Don’t avoid looking at the numbers, because you know they are not good. If you have admitted that your business is struggling and are actively looking for ways to pull through it, then you are already off to a good start. Problems will only grow bigger if you try to pretend like they don’t exist or that they will work themselves out.
2. Take a step back
It is easy to get lost in the day-to-day tasks and lose sight of the big picture. However, to identify the problems in your company and develop a plan to address them, you need to take a step back. Get a 30,000 foot view and try to see the whole picture. Analyze the hard data. Look at your sales, customer retention and other key performance data to try to identify what didn’t work and what did.
Try to get feedback from employees, customers or others who may have a knowledgeable and objective view. The key is to find out what you can from your current customers, those you’ve lost and potential customers that left your site or location before making a purchase.
3. Take a second look at your personas
If you are going to be successful, you absolutely have to know your customers. Customer or buyer personas are vital to getting to know your audiences, their interests, passions and buying behaviors. If you don’t have them, then you’re probably not targeting anyone at all and shooting in the dark. You can’t be everything to everyone. You need to offer a value proposition that appeals to people that are the most likely to be interested and make a purchase.
Are your personas correct? They may have changed over time or you might not know your buyers as well as you had thought. If you are targeting the wrong type of customer, you are wasting your time and money. Hold focus groups or conduct research to see who is really buying your products or services and why. If you aren’t using a customer relationship management (CRM) tool, you may want to start. You need to be able to track the interactions you have with audiences and the channels that are best to reach them. This way, you can devote your energy and resources into what is working and stop wasting it on ineffective tactics.
4. Check up on your website
We live in a digital world. If your business doesn’t have a high-performing website or any site at all, it can kill your bottom line. In a multigenerational survey, over 40% of those between the ages of 18 and 54 said that they are more likely to contact a local business that has a website. Even 43% of those over the age of 55 said that a smart and clear website gives credibility.
If your website is slow, poorly designed, full of coding errors, or nonexistent, it could be hurting your sales. Ask: When was the last time you touched your website? How is the user experience? Are you keeping graphics and content relevant? Do you update inventory in real-time and post new products and content? How are your calls to action?
5. Get more involved
Some of the most accomplished entrepreneurs attribute much of their success to the knowledge and experience in the industry. They also usually have a network of mentors and industry experts that have guided and supported them. Are there networking events, trade shows or community events that you can join? It’s a great opportunity to learn from people who have probably been in your shoes and to form connections in the space.
6. Study your competition
What are your competitors doing that you aren’t? Take a look at their website, promotions, content and social media. If there are new players taking away some of your business, you need to find out why. Maybe they have a lower price than you, better customer service or an app that helps personalize their experience.
7. Don’t be afraid to change directions
It is easy to become attached to an idea and to get comfortable with doing things one way. However, it may be time for a change. In fact, you may want to adjust your business plan.
Almost every successful brand has made adjustments to their plan several times since it was created. Amazon started selling books. PayPal started as Confinity, a company that built security software for Palm Pilots and other handheld devices. The founders of Rent the Runway suggest never even drafting a model, because it will inhibit you from shifting when it’s necessary. If you aren’t changing, chances are you're not innovating and improving your offerings.
8. Explore and experiment
There are thousands of emerging tools and technologies that are reinventing how companies operate and interact with customers. You may be able to reach a new audience or engage on a higher level with your current audiences with some experimentation. Are you on social media? If so, which channels? If you are a restaurant, you may want to start a Pinterest and share cooking tips and recipes.
Another option to explore is location-based apps. Mobile devices and geo-targeting are changing how people find information and how brands advertise. Local businesses can focus their targeting to a select number of miles from their location, and increase the likelihood that people will visit.
9. Ask for help
Whether it is a respected mentor, a consultant or an agency like 10twelve, you may want to seek expert outside help. Getting an outsider’s view could help you see faults and mistakes that your are blind to. They could also have skills and expertise that can help you and your team turn it around.
Struggle is a natural part of running a company. There will be bad days and good ones. If your business is struggling, it might be the wake up call that you need. The problems won’t go away on their own. You may need to step back and look at the big picture, change directions and ask for some help. For more strategies to improve and grow your brand, connect with us at 10twelve.