Numerous studies indicate that small businesses have had a gradual uptick in optimism about the economy in general and their individual prospects since the year started. The Enterprise Council on Small Business (ECSB) has tracked a series of metrics throughout the recession and a particularly compelling statistic has just emerged: Pessimism among small businesses has dropped a staggering 54% from earlier this year.
As of August, fewer than one in five small business owners believe the economy will continue to decline. While the economy is still stagnant, these changing attitudes suggest that small businesses should begin planning for recovery in the year ahead. In preparing your marketing and business plans for 2010, consider these six key things to place your business in a stronger position:
- Plan for a 2010 Rebound. With signs of growing confidence about the economy, small businesses should embrace a sense of "cautious optimism" in both their own planning and in their marketing messages to end customers. While no one expects recovery to be easy or immediate, preparing for recovery is good positioning.
- Think “Customer Centric.” Instead of thinking in terms of providing “customer-service,” adopt a mindset of being “customer centric.” Matthew E. May, author of “In Pursuit of Elegance,” just wrote an outstanding blog about this topic, explaining how successful businesses watch the customer, become the customer, and involve the customer. Frame your market research in terms of “living the customer’s life,” and get into the hearts and minds of the people who use your products and services.
- Leverage Technology Efficiencies. An ECSB survey found small businesses are, for the first time, widely reevaluating their suppliers – and the reason they’re doing so is important: They aren’t looking just for cost savings but for greater efficiency, so they can serve their own customers better. In preparing for the new year, closely evaluate things like your cell phone, inventory management and other technology to ensure you are equipping your people with the best tools to perform at the highest level.
- Maintain Face-to-Face Time. While intensely bottom-line conscious, small businesses are also spending more on travel and entertainment, according to an ECBS survey. As you shape your marketing plans, weigh cost cutting against the need to maintain close and intimate relationships with your customers and partners.
- Collaborate Online. Making and maintaining connections with customers and partners does not only take place in a face-to- face setting anymore. Small businesspeople are spending three hours a day on social networks – a dramatic increase from even a year ago. Online destinations like LinkedIn, Facebook, and OPEN Forum provide unlimited access to expertise, knowledge, and partners. Explore ways the Internet can immediately connect you with resources around the world, as well as provide inexpensive and effective focus groups to test and refine your ideas.
- Find “Pockets of Optimism.” Not long ago, many small businesses could only access customers and sourcing partners in their region, country, or their local town. Thanks to the Internet and global networks, any kind of business of any size can now extend its reach across the globe, providing access to billions of customers and providing protection against regional downturns. Recently, FedEx produced an article for OPEN Forum, citing seven ways small businesses could easily extend their global reach. As you look to 2010, expand your market reach and search for “pockets of optimism” around the world, where the recovery is happening faster.
Karen Rogers is vice president of FedEx marketing. Jeff Berry is vice president of the Enterprise Council on Small Business, a leading research firm formerly known as Warrilow. For more information on research from Enterprise Council visit www.smbm.executiveboard.com.
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