If you are struggling to find new business, or have experienced a critical decline in revenues for your organization, you may be floundering, seeking a fast-acting solution.
This sort of desperation can result in both positive and negative consequences. On the positive side, with urgency, you are ready to ditch old habits and entrenched (and ineffective) processes. On the negative side, you may do desperately foolish things, or worse, fall for a con artist who promises a magical answer to all of your problems without an ounce of substance beneath the gleaming veneer.
I’ve had my share of crisis situations in the past quarter-century in business. Perhaps it is selective memory, but I’ve pushed out of my mind the negative elements — but remember a few positive outcomes. In practice, these solutions are effective in good times as well as bad, and it is probably wrong to say they are fast-acting — even though I implemented them with vigor, it still took a couple of years to successfully complete the turn-arounds.
Double down on really improving client service and value
Your current customers, especially in a crisis, are like gold. You want to preserve them, build good-will and — if all goes well — they will purchase more, quickly, or provide the valuable first-hand referrals and references. I’ve been saved by the bell a few times by existing clients who placed timely, highly profitable orders — and I’d like to believe these purchases were more than blind luck. Look at your value/process delivery and improve it. You don’t need to lower prices or cut your margins — but the soft touch of really embracing and listening to your clients will provide insights and new business leads.
Discover a great consultant (who will work — at least initially — on contingency)
This one is something of a two-edged sword. In one of our biggest crisis points, we signed on with a consultant who agreed to work on contingency, and provided us with a crash course education in business systems management and operation (something we badly needed). He hosted an urgent crisis meeting, where our staff gathered for a couple of days of timely business review. The most profitable immediate action: A summer student reminded us that we weren’t properly invoicing for a long-standing directory service. This generated $10,000 in much-needed cash (and restored a handy annual recurring revenue source).
We still use the consultant’s systems. But why don’t I name him here? After the crisis ended, he rightfully started charging fees. But after a few years, the value-for-fee diminished — and he became a parasite on our business overhead. We were paying for a recurring service we didn’t need any more. It wasn’t fun, but we needed to ditch him.
Embrace technology (but frugally)
We’ve adapted to new technologies with an extreme budget-sensitive approach to purchasing or implementing online services. Some of the cost savings have been astounding. I purchased our email management program for a one-time $50 fee. It works fine, and though we have a massive list and many segments for our different US and Canadian publications, we rarely experience problems and do not have spam complaint issues. We also use online listing/recruitment services for technical support and often have received consulting services and solutions that could have cost thousands of dollars, for $10 or less. You need to be ready for things go wrong when you go cheap like this, but error recovery isn’t hard — you simply pick yourself up, and try again.
Be open where appropriate: Seek help from within
In many cases, you rationally don’t want to share your woes with current employees/contractors and (even more crucially) your clients. But there are times when openness can save your day (though usually this is more with employees than customers!) In my experience, staff crisis meetings and planning sessions have revealed sometimes surprising but wonderful results. Employees suggested cost-savings initiatives, helped build an internal budgeting and management system, and rolled up their sleeves to help find new business and collect old accounts. We pulled through.
Have you experienced a business/marketing crisis? How did you make it through? I welcome your thoughts and observations as a comment or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.