Everywhere I go, I am asking small business owners the same question: “What does your new normal look like?”
Often, I get this response: “Good question, because the way we do business has really changed over the past two years.”
That’s because our economic landscape has changed and the business owners that have survived and will continue to survive have truly changed the way they do business. Here are some things small business owners need to assess as they adapt to the changing environment.
Assess your customers
Business owners must constantly assess their customers. They have to ask what has changed for their customers. Do customers need the products and services in smaller packages, which may make it more affordable?
Do they need the services or products bundled differently? Do they need different types of products and services all together? How about how you handle payments? Will smaller monthly billings versus a large one-time payment help your customers buy from you?
Assess your competition
For every negative there is usually a positive.
Yes, many small businesses have closed their doors, and that is a sad fact. However, their loss might yield an opportunity for you to go after new business.
Look around for business gaps that may have been created when competitors had to close their doors. There may be an opportunity for you to pick up an exclusive product line that you had been denied or a potential customer looking for a new vendor to fill the void created by the closed business.
Assess your marketing
Advertising and how customers interact with businesses have changed at a phenomenal rate. More than ever, small business owners need to review their return on advertising dollars. You need to be looking at how customers want to interact with your business.
Should you be utilizing social media? Do the yellow pages still work for you? Do you have a method to evaluate your marketing dollars? In this market, it is essential you have a way to measure the impact of your marketing dollar and determine how to get the most bang for your buck.
Assess your location
Now may be the time to find a great location at a good price. If you have wanted to move but didn’t think you could afford the new rent, now might be the perfect time to see if you can get a better location at a price you can afford.
There has never been a better time to negotiate a lease for your business. You might be able to negotiate some free leasehold improvements, reduced rent, lower CAM fees and lower renewal rates.
Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. You might be surprised what the landlord is willing to do.
Assess your human capital
Now that you have cut back to the bone, you need to assess how to most effectively manage your current employees. Do you have the right employees in the right positions? If not, now with the current labor market, it is a great time to look for skilled labor to shore up those gaps.
You also need to plan how you will increase your staff when the market improves. You need to determine how to invest your HR dollars. When you add new employees, what skills will they need to have?
The key is to not only survive but thrive in this new environment by constantly assessing your business, your competition and the market. You need to look for opportunities created by these changing times. You may be surprised by what you find.
Lynn Vos is area director of the University of Georgia’s Small Business Development Center. Contact her at 912-651-3200.