Dear Dan - Our sales have tanked and profits seem a distant memory. Nevertheless, I'm an optimist who believes things will turn around. Meanwhile, how can we prepare and position our business right now for better days ahead? - Preparing
Dear Preparing: One upside of an economic downturn is that it offers opportunities to take a fresh look at how you operate and make some of the relatively simple changes that can put your business at the front of the line when things start to pick up. Small businesses can often see an immediate bump in sales just by making a few easy tweaks, such as fixing website functionality or revising a sales pitch.
Here are ten things you can do to prepare your business for profits ahead. Five are "offline" marketing fixes from Ohio-based marketing expert Rodger Roeser, who also hosts a radio show on marketing and PR. And five others focus on things you can do with your website.
1. Do something different. Unless your business is a runaway freight train of success (and maybe even then), consider shaking things up by doing some different things. As Roeser notes, the marketing universe is full of new, fun, effective, inexpensive and creative ways to market products, services and people. As the entrepreneurial axiom goes, "if it ain't broke, fix it anyway." MarketingProfs.com is a great place to look.
2. Survey your clients. This has never been easier than with today's free online survey systems such as SurveyMonkey.com and Zoomerang.com. Just craft a survey and email a link to your customers to glean valuable business intelligence. Analyzing results is also simple. But often just asking clients how you can make things better makes them feel that you care about them.
3. Set goals before budgets. "Marketing works because enough oomph is put behind it to make it work," says Roeser. Look at your marketing mix, set goals and set benchmarks for where you are now and where you want to be in overall sales, monthly sales, web traffic, coupon redemption and other areas.
4. Review all your marketing materials. What seemed like dynamite last year might look totally dead now. Make sure your message and brand identity are fresh and meaningful. Include everything from letterhead and business cards, to sales presentations, brochures, press releases and advertisements in your review.
5. Pay attention to community relations. If you take the time to look, you will probably find dozens of great local causes and programs that your business can help with and score valuable local marketing points. It's a good PR move, and also good for the overall health of your business.
And here are five ways to boost online sales from veteran web experts Lance Loveday and Sandra Niehaus, authors of the book Web Design for ROI:
1. Give online shoppers a reason to buy from you. For example, make special offers such as free shipping immediately visible on your site and on your shopping cart. Put testimonials in a prominent place.
2. Have as few checkout steps as possible. The fewer steps you have, the easier it is for shoppers to complete the online purchase. If possible, a single-step checkout is perfect.
3. Make sure your "Add to Cart" button is large and obvious. Nothing frustrates potential buyers more easily than not seeing how to actually buy something on your site. The same goes for other important buttons, such as "Checkout" and "Complete Purchase." Make these buttons distinct and more visible than less important buttons.
5. Offer help. Provide a phone number and email address for customers to contact you if they have questions or problems. And respond to those quickly. Be sure your site provides links to key information such as an FAQ section that answers typical customer questions.