The COVID-19 pandemic has left businesses in flux, with a handful thriving because they conveniently deliver critical services, and others struggling under strained supply chains, shutdowns, and a sagging economy. Despite these challenges, though, businesses stuck on the slow side can still find ways to thrive, even as infection numbers rise again. By approaching the current sales slump with a spirit of creativity rather than one of despair, these companies can reach customers where the need is greatest, develop new relationships, and much more, all in service of their long-term survival.
Slow Down Stats
Before digging into the ways businesses can improve their positioning in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s worth looking carefully at current conditions – and the general consensus that things aren’t as bad as we think or might expect. Rather, while a few sectors, such as restaurants, have done very poorly, larger operations are still in strong financial positions. Furthermore, while bankruptcy filings are up year-over-year, stimulus programs like the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) have helped slow the overall rate of filings and helped keep more small businesses afloat despite months of overall losses.
The Advantages Of Slow
Now, turning to the issue of business slowdowns, while it is true that generating fewer sales generally represents a financial threat to businesses, it’s also the case that such periods can open up new opportunities. Think of it as a fallow field; farmers have always been encouraged to rotate their fields, leaving them unplanted once every few years so that they could be rejuvenated.
In the business world, slowdowns can happen for many reasons, some of which are easier to counter than others. Right now, though, we’re facing a large-scale economic decline, which is hard to address internally – marketing and strategy can help, but they won’t change global financial realities. However, economic slumps can still be an opportunity to develop new skills and strategies. They are a fallow period, enabling refreshment and development, allowing businesses to ready themselves for what comes next. This is particularly important given predictions about the post-pandemic economy. When things reopen, they won’t “go back to normal.” We’ll be facing a whole new world.
One thing we’ve seen a great deal of since the start of the pandemic is business restructuring, and that can take several forms. Sometimes it’s a firm pivot, like manufacturing companies that shifted to develop ventilator parts or fashion houses that began sewing masks. In many other cases, though, restructuring is the code for filing for bankruptcy.
Despite common perceptions, bankruptcy doesn’t always mean shutting down entirely, which is why it can be such a powerful tool for businesses struggling with declining sales in a recession – though it can also mean a complete closure. For example, filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy requires businesses to liquidate their assets to pay back their debts. This is the end of the line. Filing for Chapter 11 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, however, offers businesses an opportunity to restructure their operations and pay back the debt in a controlled, negotiated fashion. For some companies, this can be a good option, particularly after an extended recession, and it can even make it easier for them to rethink their operational norms.
We’ve seen a large number of well-known businesses file for bankruptcy since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of which were already in trouble prior to its start. These filings shouldn’t be considered giving up; they are a creative way of escaping financial trouble. The large Golden Corral franchise operator who filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection expects to continue operating 24 of their 33 restaurants. By filing for Chapter 11 protection, they gave themselves space to rethink what continuity would look like and reopen in ways that served both customers and their own financial stakes.
Obviously, many businesses will neither want nor need to file for bankruptcy protection because of slowing sales but can thrive with more moderate changes. For these businesses, then, the best path forward is to find ways to stimulate more sales – and there are many ways to do this.
Companies can increase sales volume by taking time to perform market research, honing their social media outreach, and surveying existing customers. These steps will allow you to develop targeted offerings, identify what’s working in your current strategy, and identify concerns relevant to the current economic and social situation. Though a handful of businesses were able to pivot to pandemic-ready operations without substantial research, most need more feedback before they can take such steps.
If you want to increase your business’s sales during a slow period, another thing you need to do is develop effective email campaigns that will keep you connected with customers. Such an approach should include multiple types of campaigns, though, with some emphasis on current sales and other elements focused on relationship development. It’s important to keep in mind that, as much as they may want to, at least some part of your customer base isn’t in a position to make purchases right now. Continuing to cultivate those relationships, despite not generating sales, will help ensure those customers come back when conditions change.
Devote Time To Development
Finally, during slow periods, one of the most important things that businesses can do is to commit time, energy, and money to personal and staff development. If you have the funds in reserve, this is the perfect time to invest in education, whether that means learning a new hard skill, taking a professional development class, or even studying another industry to see what you can learn through comparisons and parallels. Much like the casual office encounters that generate some of the best ideas, unexpected educational opportunities can transform your business in exciting ways.
A Time Of Opportunity
There is no one right thing to do when business is slow – but there’s one thing you shouldn’t do, and that leaves the future to chance. To navigate moments when all you have is your savings and determination, you need to stay focused, think strategically, and encourage customers and staff alike to think about what comes next. Whether that’s a new product, a new website, a change in branding, or something else entirely is up to you, but you need to keep your eye on the horizon. Eventually, the recession will end and you want to be ready to stride into the future, with energy and excitement.
Stressed businessman -DepositPhotos