Many small business owners are struggling to keep their heads above water in today's economy. Even though large corporations are faring reasonably well, small businesses are suffering in the downturn from which America is just beginning to recover. Recent legislation provides hundreds of millions of dollars for Small Business Administration loan guarantees, but entrepreneurs can't plan to expand unless their revenues recover.
To that end, what can a small business owner do to avoid seeing red in the reports generated by his financial software? Three key tactics can help entrepreneurs make it through today's downturn and come out stronger on the other side.
Tactic 1: Be Mindful of Appearance
Small business owners offer either a product or service, and keeping appearances in mind can benefit both types of owner. Companies that provide products should be most concerned with the image that their product conveys. It's likely that a product provider is already cognizant of his goods' attributes and has optimized their appeal.
A small business owner can always focus on his own appearance, however. A financial planner (for example) who wears casual clothes may want to seem relaxed and laid-back, and in better times that may have been a workable branding strategy. But people are scared; they want an authoritative expert to help them with their finances. Suits or jackets are more appropriate, and sartorial trends have been moving this way in the corporate world, too.
Retailers are another group of small business owners who can benefit from increased attention to appearance. Stores should be clean and inviting; products should be logically displayed. Now is a good time to make long-delayed cosmetic upgrades, as long as they don't break the bank: contractors are widely available and ready to do business.
Tactic 2: Expand a Business' Presence
Low-margin small businesses have used fairs and markets as a revenue source for decades. It's unlikely that organic farming would be viable without farmers' markets. But a small business owner doesn't need to be a purveyor of candlesticks or vegetables to have a presence at farmers' markets and other community gatherings.
A restaurateur can showcase his cooking at a holiday event. An office supply store owner can sell products at a market. Private practice lawyers or other service providers can have a presence at community events; handing out business cards or promotional items can lead to increased revenue in the future.
Small businesses are a popular media topic at the moment. Business owners can contact local reporters to express interest in interviewing for a future story; if the reporter agrees, free publicity is a guaranteed result.
Yet another way to expand brand awareness and earn goodwill is to offer seminars to community groups. Many local colleges offer small business courses; contacting the schools to see if they need another speaker or panelist can lead to raised awareness of a business within the community.
Tactic 3: Look for Synergism on the Community Level
It's likely that an entrepreneur's community has many small businesses. Chambers of commerce hold networking events, as do some business owners themselves. An entrepreneur shouldn't miss an opportunity to network locally, especially with the economy in its current state.
Networking can lead to both more business and better business opportunities. By discussing a company's activities or prospects with other small business owners, the chances of creating new revenue streams are increased. A coffee shop proprietor may find that he can collaborate with an art dealer to hang artwork for sale in the coffee shop. Alternately, the art gallery could use the coffee shop for catering services at an opening.
Similarly, a calligrapher can work with the owner of a stationery shop to create personalized paper goods. A bait-and-tackle expert can pursue collaboration with the proprietor of a marina to offer fishing supplies to boaters.
Synergistic opportunities are endless, but, as they say, it takes two to tango. Unless a small business owner puts himself out there and appears willing to collaborate with fellow business owners, he cannot expect to see revenue growth via synergy.
America is recovering from the worst recession since the 1930s, and many small businesses are barely scraping by. Not every small business can survive today's economic situation, but creative and resourceful small business owners significantly improve their firms' chances.
If desperate times call for desperate measures, the state of the economy calls for unconventional measures. The economy is projected to improve in 2010 - Dean Maki, Barclays Capital's historically accurate forecaster, expects 3.5 percent growth - but until consumer spending rebounds, businesses large and small will have to think unconventionally.