When your business is stuck, or you had a terrible year, consider stopping and taking a hard look at your overall business. One of the most difficult but best thing you can do is ask yourself the hard questions first:

  • Do customers still want and buy the type of products or services you sell?
  • Have industries and styles changed since you started your business?
  • Have you kept up with the changes?
  • If not, what changes should you implement to make your business competitive again?
  • Do you need to develop new products or services?

Look at what’s on the market in your industry and try to get data on what’s performing. Don’t guess what customers want and will pay for. Tweet This

These questions are the beginning of creating a plan and strategy to turn things around as fast as you can.  Usually, when a business struggles or has a really bad year, there are a few things it should focus on immediately:

The People

After asking yourself the hard questions and compiling the answers, you’ll want to take a step back and analyze the problem starting with the core of your business: the people. If a once-successful business is struggling, it’s almost always a people-related issue first. Not financing, not capital: Employees, management, or owners. Somewhere along the way, something broke, and now there’s a disconnect between the expectation and the reality.  Usually when expectation and reality are far apart; disappointment is in the middle. You have to figure out what’s affecting your leaders and employees. Start with people, because it’s usually about people.

The Brand

While you may have one perception of your brand, your customers and your employees may have an entirely different perception of your brand. If sales people are closing deals with promises and manufacturing or distribution is not delivering on those promises, it can be hurting your profits and more importantly your brand integrity. That disconnect, between sales and distribution or operation, manifests itself in one of two places: on the front-end with the brand and sales, or on the back-end in sourcing and operations. You have to figure out where the ball dropped. If a brand or business once had value in the eyes of customers, it can likely recover that value.

Operations

There may be problems with the brand, but ultimately you should question operations, because if the wheels are not working, the business may still be a lost cause. Your sales pitch opens the door, but back-end has to deliver on the promise. No brand is better than its delivery. Owners get excited when they land big accounts, but if your back=end can’t feed those accounts, it can hurt your business.

Now that you have looked at these three areas, you can start the rebuilding process.

The People

Identify your employees that are producers, problems or checked out. Producers will be your catalyst for change. Determine the people who make things happen. The road to the next level is uphill, and if you are not intentionally fighting to move forward, then inevitably you can slide down. These are the people that can help you fight the good fight for your brand and company.

You probably already know who your problem employees are and your other employees probably know, too. The checked-out people are your employees who are “RIP” (resting in position): they aren’t engaged and won’t help you rebuild your business. It’s time to figure out how to turn both groups into producers, or take decisive action.

The Brand

Your brand is how others see you in the marketplace. Now is the time to take a step back and survey your customers. Try meeting with past customers to get their insights. What went wrong? What would they like to see done differently?  You should move your ego aside and seek feedback. Getting feedback and acting on it could make the difference between your company’s success and failure.

The Operations

It’s time to look at the systems and processes you have in place. A lack of procedures could cost you money. Processes keep your quality high because they create consistency. Letting people do their own thing could hurt your brand integrity in the long run. How can you streamline what you do? Does your process make sense or should it be revamped? Meet with your team to figure out what needs to be done differently.

 You’ve addressed the internal issues, so now you can move your rebuilding project into high gear:

Reconnect with Prospects

Generally, the bigger a business, the slower it is to move. The project that was put on indefinite hold last summer may become urgent this spring. Or, some other project the company is working on may be right up your alley. So touch base periodically. The more recently you’ve contacted prospects, the more likely they’ll be to remember your name – and your phone number – when they are ready to buy.

Sell Additional Products to Your Existing Customers

Often the easiest way to bring in new business is to sell more to your existing customers. You may be able to sell more of the same product to the same contact, or sell the same product to a different division of the company. Or, you may be able to sell related products and services to the customer. Keep your eyes and ears open for new opportunities and are make sure your customers are aware of all your capabilities.

Work Your Contact List

Labor statistics show people entering the workforce today are likely to change jobs seven to 10 times in their careers. You can help position yourself for new sales just by keeping in touch with people as they change jobs.

Prioritize and Act

As you review your business you may see many areas that require change. A key to making change happen – and rebuilding your profits – can be to list what needs to be done and estimate what effect each change will have on sales and profits. Then prioritize the list. What are the easiest ways to increase profits the most quickly? What should you be doing on a longer-term basis to ensure your business continues to grow and prosper?

It’s inevitable that every business will have a bad year or two at some point, but you don’t have to remain in a downward spiral if you’re willing to set your ego aside and figure out what needs to be done to turn your company around.

Top marketing influencers agree that the key to small business success is focusing on people and customers. If you’ve already followed the steps above and want to see what other steps you can take to help improve your business trajectory, see what advice marketers like Kent Huffman and Carol Roth shared with us.

Photo Credit: chrisbelcina, Twenty20