Surviving and Growing a Business during this Recession
The recent low point of my business career came when I found out that the deal to sell my condo was not going to happen. The buyer was backing out and wanted to buy something else. This was mid-December of 2008. The economic news was getting very bleak and I was stuck with a condominium that I had to sell. What made matters worse was that the condo was the last unit of a failed project. My break-even sales point was $145,000. I had sold the identical unit above for $180,000. And I still have the condo and it is listed at $79,000. So, I was no longer a real estate developer. I was out of business. I still had Progressive Office, my IT Support firm. But I had neglected it for about 3 years and it was not making any money.
I was faced with a declining economy, 2 failing businesses and I also have my wife, young son and a baby was on the way. At the time, it felt like I was in an impossible position. I didn’t think it would be possible to recover, so I considered moving out of the country. I could have created a positive cash flow from my home and lived in a cheaper country or moved to a small town. And eventhough we have always lived modestly, DC was just too expensive.
This was also the beginning of a wave of layoffs. Every month the news was that 500,000 to 600,000 jobs were being lost. And since I had been self-employed for over 20 years, it felt like I was not likely to find a job. With two failed companies and no likely chance of getting a job, I was really shocked to find myself in a position where I might not be able to provide for my family.
I really didn’t want to move. We love living in the city. I live and work a block from U Street. And it is such a convenient, interesting and fun place to live. So, I decided that I would just have to figure out a way to make more money. And although I have debt I also had the good fortune of having some savings that could provide a cushion for me. The other advantage that I had was that I had a business in place. Progressive Office is incorporated, and licensed. I have procedures, accounting and marketing ideas. But I had a very thin client base. So, I was really challenged to figure out a way to grow my business during a shrinking and failing economy.
The first think I did was to study my industry and to see if I was still competing with the best tools. What I found was really shocking. My industry had changed during the last three years. It had gone from a “break-fix” model of supporting businesses to a “managed service” model of IT Support. Break-fix is a reactive support service where I would wait for my clients to have problems and then they would call and I would have a technician fix it. The Managed Service model, I call ours NetworkCare, deploys a software agent on each client system that performs daily diagnostic routines and reports back (over the Internet) to a dashboard at my office. I had totally missed this shift in my industry. It started to happen a big way asI was becoming a real estate developer.
So, I immediately hired a consultant to help me understand how to market managed services to businesses and I began designing my website to reflect this new business model. I also began sending out a monthly newsletter via email. I had a pre-existence database of email addresses that I imported into Constant Contact and I made a point of writing and sending out articles that would be helpful to a small business person. I also began drawing on my community and marketing myself. I always carry business cards with me and I hand them out if I feel someone is an appropriate potential client.
But, really, the most important part of my effort was the discovery that Internet Marketing could help make it easier for companies to find me. I discovered that many companies are still employing outbound marketing techniques such as mailers, radio ads and cold calling.But I had no budget for an expensive advertising campaign that might not work. But I do have the ability to do some basic web design work. So, I found that the trend in marketing is inbound. What that means is to make your company available and easy to find when someone is looking for what you do. Rather than blast them (outbound) with messages that most people are trying to avoid with things like Tivo and spam filters, Inbound Marketing draws in potential clients by making it easy for them to find me. This is only possible by making a website that is easy to find and that converts visitors into potential clients that are contacting my company.
So, I began employing techniques that increased traffic to my website and also converted visitors to clients. Here are the main goals of creating a website that attracts and converts visitors.
- Create lots of unique and helpful content. Every page of a website is searchable.
- Make sure every page has unique Meta tags (keywords, description, and titles)
- Create a blog and write articles that are helpful to your potential clients
- Create external links by commenting on relevant blog postings and leaving behind a link to your website
- Join Facebook, Plaxo, Merchant Circle, LinkedIn and Twitter and any other social or business network. Look for friends and colleagues. Stay active. Contribute.
- Add analytic code to your website so that you can track your progress. I use Google Analytics. It’s free and very powerful.
- Also, work your network of friends and colleagues. They might need what you do!
- Don’t stop working just because things are slow. Stay busy. Do what you need to do to get the phone ringing again.
I am still building my business. But my efforts are paying off. Web traffic has increased by 230% compared to the same period a year ago. And I am winning over new clients every month. I am still drawing on my savings but I am very close to making enough to support my family and I am very confident that I can continue to expand and grow my business in this unfortunate business climate.
If you need any help, feel free to contact our office. I will happily take some time to talk to you.
I hope this article is helpful. Please leave a comment! 🙂