Thursday, January 22, 2009

Thriving In A Down Economy


Written by Mike Tafoya

Okay, so we are in a recession, but how will it affect you and your business? Money is tight. People aren’t spending. Companies are struggling—some are going out of business. The future looks bleak. What are you going to do? Is it really possible to thrive in a down economy? We at Estrada Strategies believe it is. However, it depends on how you manage a number of important factors, beginning with you and your mindset.

What is your outlook?
Your outlook will largely determine whether your company dies, barely survives or thrives during difficult economic times. If you pay too much attention to all the negative comments coming from the media, other businessmen, clients, friends, etc., you may come to the conclusion that all is lost and that your chances of success are so slim, you might as well give up and close your doors.

What conclusions do you make about the economy based upon what you are hearing? The first step toward forming a healthy outlook for your business when the “bears” are all around you is to be aware of the messages you are receiving. So, make a list of everything you have heard about the economy in the last 90 days, and access the effect they have had on you as the leader of your business. In short, what is your current outlook?

Next, identify the steps you have taken in the past or that you already plan to take to deal with the economic situation as you see it today. These simple actions will help give you a clear picture of where you are and how you may need to take some additional steps to alter your outlook.

Create a Place for Growth
One of our CEO RULES is: “People tend to be down on what they are not up on.” That means that in the absence of good information, we tend to form negative opinions. It is especially important in a down economy to be well informed. A few keys to remember in this process include:

1. Don’t Believe Everything You Hear on TV or in the News
Remember that the popular media thrives on bad news, and that often the easiest way to “sell newspapers” is to claim that the sky is falling. If you allow the media to determine your outlook, you may never see any good—ever!

2. Understand the Indirect Impact of Negative Talk
It is virtually impossible to maintain a positive business outlook if you make a habit of speaking negatively, or surrounding yourself with people who do. You set the tone and the pace for your business. If you constantly talk down the economy or your company’s prospects for the future, it will affect everything that takes place in your organization. Your words will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, so watch what you say and what you allow those around you to say.

3. Be Positive and Proactive
Smart people and business leaders find opportunities in difficult times. They’re not unrealistic dreamers; they merely look for the silver linings where everyone else only sees the dark clouds. If you can maintain a positive attitude when everyone else is down instead of passively waiting for things to get better, it will position your company for the kind of pro-activity that will lead to success and growth.

4. Keep Your Outlook and Your Information Fresh
If ignorance feeds negativity, then knowledge is key to maintaining a positive outlook. So, be as informed as possible about what is going on in your line of business, about trends, best practices, the latest technology, etc.

5. Set Specific Goals for Growth and Believe in Them
Even in a bearish business environment, growth is possible. Don’t let the market determine whether or not your company prospers. Maintain a positive outlook and set realistic goals for growth that you truly believe your business can achieve.

Refocus Your Growth Strategies
CEO RULE for Marketing: “Know who should know you.”
Not only should you know all the “players” in your field of business, but they should know you. That includes your competitors, client pool, related business, chamber of commerce, potential advertisers…

1. Increase your Visibility
What activities and events can you host to attract those in your target market, whom we refer to as “suspects”? For one, you can give seminars or presentations to past clients, or host social gatherings. These provide valuable opportunities to connect or reconnect with others that could lead to future business. Networking is another way to increase your company’s visibility in the marketplace. Attend strategic professional or trade association events, where your suspects hang out on a regular basis. Write articles for your local newspaper and place them on the Internet. Post videos on youtube.com. Don’t sit in your office hoping for business—get out and make yourself visible.

2. Build on Your Existing Relationships
What have you done for your clients lately? I am not talking about delivering products or services. They pay you for that. What are you doing to make them feel special and show them you really care about them? Have you taken them out to dinner, or to the theatre—maybe a sporting event or concert? And, I mean with no strings attached: no sales pitch, and no business talk. Just to have fun! Do this, and your clients will become raving fans. Don’t do this, and you will be just like everyone else. Next to your employees, your existing clients are your most valuable assets! Oh, and by the way, what have you done for them lately?

3. Strengthen your Strategic Alliances
This is HUGE. Building strategic alliances is an art. Everyone talks about them, but seldom does anyone really get any measurable results from these relationships. The first step is to establish the ground rules. What is expected of the members, especially in terms of commitment and accountability? How will you track the results? Once you establish the ground rules, you have to follow through. We have a rule that says, “Your Future is in Your Follow-up.” This is so true with alliances. Alliance participants should regularly attend each other’s activities, introduce clients to each other and invite one another to client events. These kinds of activities will lead to future business, even if you never give a referral.

Rules for Advertising
CEO RULE: “Advertising is for the consumer, not your ego.” Things to consider when developing your advertising plan are:

1. Know how your competitor’s are advertising.
2. Know your market.
3. Know your business cycles.
4. Be committed and consistent.
5. Advertise with a result in mind (goal is to be top of mind).
6. Track, measure and monitor the results.

What are Your 10 “Balloons”
Balloons are your sales channels that bring leads, prospects and sales. How many balloons do you plan to float this year? The more the better! Where and how are you generating leads for future sales? Do you know where to find them, or are you just making sales by accident—a chance meeting or some other weird situation? Balloons are defined strategies for mining, developing and harvesting leads. From there your sales process takes over. Here are some balloons:

1. Speaking engagements in your community.
2. Networking at the chamber of commerce.
3. Networking at professional and trade associations.
4. Alliances: events and referrals.
5. Direct mail advertising.
6. Yellow Pages.
7. Warm calls connected with a direct mail campaign.
8. Community service.
9. Referrals from existing and past clients.
10. Internet leads through SEO Strategy.

There are as many possibilities as there are fish in a pond, but if you have only one channel of business, you may be just one moment away from losing all your business. I always shoot for at least 10 channels. What were your 10 balloons again?

Once you have established a positive, forward-looking outlook for your business, have gathered as much information as possible related to your product/services, have reviewed and adjusted your marketing practices and have established realistic goals and a strategy for increased sales, you have done everything possible to position your company for continued growth. Of course, these practices are always beneficial for any business, but they are especially important in a down economy.

For more information you can contact Mike Tafoya at (303) 524-1270 or email him at miket@estradastrategies.com

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