Sales slumps happen to most businesses and usually they happen more than just once. It can be a deeply isolating and demotivating nightmare to face. Especially when the downturn strikes at a time when it’s neither expected nor planned for, small businesses can easily succumb to a tailspin headed for disaster. There are several strategic ways to get your business back onto a winning streak. In our five-part series on how to tackle a sales slump, we will be discussing how to approach this problem, starting with the most important part of your business – you.
Firstly and most importantly: don’t panic. You need to stay engaged and creative if you want to tackle the problem head on, which is impossible when anxiety and dread are dominating your thoughts. It is a cliche because it works: take a deep breath and count to ten. You can do this, you will bounce back, you just need to be smart about it – that’s why we’re here to help.
Next, get an idea of how serious the problem is so you can face it. Don’t live in terror of everything tumbling down. Calmly assess where your business is at, what your cash flow limitations are, and how far “behind” on sales you actually are. Look at specific sales data from last year and see how much you can glean about previous customer choices at the same time last year. If you are a new business or don’t have this data saved, do some research about your industry’s cycles and trends.
If you already feel behind and overwhelmed by the immense pressure of a seemingly compromised income stream, do your business a favour and reset. Restart the month/quarter at zero and effectively reset your goals, starting from fresh without feeling like you first have to dig yourself out of a hole before you’ll make any progress. Make sure that you are realistic about what you can achieve, but take a moment to reboot and start over. You are not just simply putting blinkers on and ignoring the issue, but recalibrating and approaching it from a better equipped standpoint.
Go back to the basics and look at every part of your operation with fresh eyes. Re-ground yourself in the “basic tools” of your trade that you know you can rely on. Strip down the fluff, and excess and focus on what is working. They say that most business problems are caused by “the right thing being done just a little bit wrong”. Wherever the less productive parts of the business are, they’re probably really simple to address and won’t mean a large-scale overhaul. Fearlessly, conduct an honest assessment of your sales strengths and weaknesses: what could be better? Which methods have been working, ones you know you can excel at, and which you could be taking better advantage of? Change doesn’t have to be scary if it involves maximising the efficacy of what you do well.
Reconnect with your vision and dream – remind yourself why you are doing this, why you love what you do and why you will keep doing whatever it takes to succeed. Cast your mind back to the days before you managed to get your business up and running, how impossible it all seemed and how you probably had no idea how you were going to make this thing work. The zeal and optimism of that phase is precious – when your dreams are still unbruised by the practicalities, natural peaks and valleys of business and opinions of others. Reconnect with the spirit of that time, and try to resuscitate your slightly more idealistic self.
Get inspired and nurture a more productive state of mind. Listen to interesting entrepreneurial podcasts, take a short online course in an area of business that excites you, watch inspiring TED talks, listen to energising music, reconnect with hobbies you love, or reread your favourite motivational books. Get out of the house or office, go for a long walk in nature and find a way to recharge your brain. It may feel self-indulgent or uncomfortable to begin with, but keep reminding yourself that your ability to think unencumbered and creatively is the only way your business will recover.
This should go without saying, but many self-starting, high-achievers take care of themselves last, getting swept up in the work and the challenges of ongoing excellence. Other than the need for cerebral inspiration, it is absolutely vital to get physically healthy – try your best to eat healthy food, exercise regularly (don’t underestimate the power of physically blowing off steam), or meditate to calm the voices in your head and cut out the noise. The more balanced and energised you are, the easier the work will feel, and the less insurmountable the challenges will seem.
Lastly, no matter what, keep your chin up and don’t give up. Know that the slump will end – inspiration will come, the crowds will return, and there will be a time when you can look back at this difficult experience and marvel at how well you survived. Celebrate what you have already achieved and focus on feeding your confidence and enthusiasm.
In the next part we’ll look at the ways you can improve your product. If you see a sales slump as an opportunity, you might find that a product refresh may be the way to go.