2020 was a bumpy year. Viruses, wildfires, political turmoil, and a damaged global economy care little for the carnage they’re causing. Now, businesses with big aspirations for the new decade are pivoting just to survive.
Your small business doesn’t have to become another 2020 casualty. There’s still time to rescue your company. You don’t need a miracle—you just need perseverance, commitment, and a little know-how.
If your business is trending in the wrong direction, now is the time to make a change and start your comeback story. Below, we’ll walk you through 29 ways you can rescue your small business from the jaws of defeat.
It’s easy to get stuck in the hopeless cycle of woe is me. But, you’re not alone. Millions of individuals and businesses around the world are struggling to get by. However, you’re not going to rescue your business from the quagmire with pessimistic eyes fixed on the ground.
Change your mindset. Silence the negative messages of failure and despair. To make a comeback, you need to see the glass as half full. You need to believe your business can be saved.
Now, we’re not saying you should ignore your problems and frolic through the fields with reckless abandon. No. Acknowledge the good and the bad, but then focus your time and energy on optimistic change—which dovetails us nicely into our second rescue tactic.
Control What You Can—Ignore What You Can’t
You can’t control the economy, but you can control your business’s cash flow. You can’t control your customers, but you can control your customer service. You can’t control government-mandated closures, but you can control how much cash is in your rainy day fund.
Don’t waste your valuable time stressing about Trump’s latest tweet’s impact on the stock market or trade war tariffs with China. Focus on your business. Spend your time vigorously controlling every aspect of your business that you can manipulate. Everything else—just ignore it.
Create a Plan
It might be tempting to look at this list of 29 rescue tactics and start throwing darts, hoping that one of them works. Hold up for just a second. Saving your business won’t be an act of luck—it’s going to take a thoughtful approach. Let’s create a plan first.
You may have already created a plan, but let’s be honest—COVID-19 has likely rendered it outdated. Follow this Step-by-Step Guide to Creating a Business Plan to revise your strategy or start from scratch. With a new, updated plan in hand, you’re ready to start making intentional changes to your business.
Perform a New SWOT Analysis
As part of creating your brand-new business plan, you’ll want to perform an updated SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis:
- Strengths: What are your business’s advantages? Do you have loyal customers, an in-demand product or service, or a healthy rainy day fund?
- Weaknesses: What are your business’s disadvantages? Are employees leaving, or is money slowly draining out of the company?
- Opportunities: What new opportunities could your business seize or take a risk on? Is there a gap in the market, or did a competitor recently go under?
- Threats: What has the most potential to cause your business’s demise? Are delinquent customers causing cash flow issues, or did a new competitor recently join the market?
Identify Your Evolving Target Market
Your typical customers of the past might not be your customers of the future. For example, some people never used a delivery app before COVID-19—now, it’s all they’ve done for the last 5 months, and there’s no going back.
Talk to your customers and do some market research to identify your “new” target market. Once you know who you’re selling to, you’ll be better able to create products, services, and marketing materials that resonate.
Before, American Airlines primarily targeted working adults who frequently traveled for business. Now, with business travel at a standstill, American Airlines is pivoting to attract “customers who really weren’t travelers before.”
Your business may need to adapt similarly to accommodate shifting behaviors and consumer preferences.
Add an Online Store
Not too long ago, online stores seemed like something only big businesses and retailers needed. Now, companies big and small (whether they sell vacuum cleaners, lawn mowing services, or burritos) need to provide an online shopping option to tap into the growing digital market.
An online store can present your business with lower costs, greater availability, and a broader market. Plus, it’s a safer shopping experience for your customers and employees in the “new normal.”
If you already have an online store, congratulations! You’re one step ahead of the game. Now, try these 21+ ways to boost your sales by optimizing your digital store.
Boost Your Digital Presence
COVID-19 proved to the world that every business needs a digital presence. This goes beyond having an online store—it’s much more:
- Digital communications (email, text, messaging, social media posts, etc.)
- Social media profiles (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc.)
- Website (news, information, products, contact information)
- Marketing (email marketing, content marketing, SEO (search engine optimization) and more)
The internet isn’t a passing fad—it’s here to stay. The sooner you take your business online, the sooner you’ll secure a valuable piece of digital real estate that doesn’t close when it’s bedtime or when a global pandemic stops the planet.
Get started building and optimizing your online presence now with our All-in-One Guide to Taking Your Business Online.
Nail Your Shipping Strategy
Getting your shipping game right can lower your expenses, boost your cash flow, and entice new customers. And shipping isn’t just a logistical necessity—it’s a part of your brand, messaging, and competitive strengths.
For example, free shipping might be earning you more customers, but it may be dramatically lowering your profit margins. And self-fulfillment may be saving you money, but it could be draining your valuable time.
Take a fresh look at your shipping strategy with our quick-and-easy guide. You’re bound to find new tactics to help you cut costs, save time, and drive sales.
Eliminate Wasteful Spending
Poor cash flow management is one of the biggest causes of startup failure—which means conquering this challenge will likely increase your business’s chances of survival. The difference between a profitable business and a drowning business may lie in a few reckless expenses.
Start with an audit of all your business expenses—all of them. Look at each transaction (no matter how seemingly insignificant) and determine whether it’s essential or extraneous. Keep the crucial costs and cut the fluff. This step alone can help rescue your cash flow and send your business trajectory in the right direction.
- Take advantage of independent contractors to lower your ongoing payroll expenses.
- Experiment with nontraditional marketing to reduce your cost per acquisition.
- Guard your employee morale with low-cost perks like free parking, free food (not meals), and more.
- Rent, lease, or buy used equipment to avoid costly depreciation expenses.
Streamline Your Offerings
Sometimes less is more. When COVID-19 broke out, we saw restaurants consolidate their menus to simplify sourcing ingredients to reduce waste—regardless of your industry, you can find similar ways to streamline your business offerings.
If delivery has become the primary way you get your product into your customers’ hands, find ways to expedite the process. And if no one is buying your retail store’s hats, then maybe put them on super sale to reduce inventory costs and make room for in-demand products.
Now is not the time to be a jack of all trades. Focus on what your business does best (and what your customers are demanding), and perfect that offering.
Secure Top-Notch Financing
Get the cash you need to get your business back on its feet. That could be a big ol’ loan, a business line of credit, accounts receivable financing, or something else entirely.
Review your financial needs and determine which financing option will be most appropriate. Here are a few to consider:
- Short Term Loan: Get quick access to a lump sum of cash to survive a slump, finance a project, or cover pretty much anything else you can imagine.
- Term Loan: The perfect loan when you’re looking for simplicity and predictability. Finance practically any business need and get back on your feet.
- Business Line of Credit: A business line of credit boosts your cash flow by giving you access to additional funds. Use it to cover day-to-day expenses or keep it in your back pocket as a last resort—either way, a business line of credit can get you out of a bind.
- Business Credit Card: Business credit cards work just like personal credit cards—purchase now, pay later. Whether you need to pick up supplies, purchase equipment, or restock your inventory, a business credit card can help cover the costs.
- Accounts Receivable Financing: If your clients’ late payments are slowing your business down, convert your outstanding invoices into cold, hard cash with accounts receivable financing.
- Merchant Cash Advance: Borrow against your future earnings to get quick capital now.
Master Remote Work
Remote work was once a nice-to-have perk that employers nonchalantly added to their catalog of benefits. Now, it’s a nonnegotiable way to keep your teams working and your business operating.
However, remote work isn’t performed equally. To become a lean, mean remote-working machine, you’ll need to prepare your business adequately:
- Invest in the right tech solutions: Sometimes you have to spend money to make money. Reliable messaging apps (Slack, HipChat, Teams), conference call services (Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype), and task management software (Asana, Trello, Monday) can help make your teams more productive. Here’s a list of other helpful remote work tools.
- Provide sufficient training: Remote work doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Train your employees on everything from productivity tips to software walk-throughs.
- Empower your employees: Remote work is all about trusting your employees to make the best decisions and giving them the autonomy to do so. You don’t need employee monitoring software or time tracking apps—you just need a healthy work culture.
Don’t worry if you’re new to the whole remote work thing—we got you covered with our Guide to Remote Team Management.
Negotiate With Your Creditors
Your lenders don’t want you to default, and your landlords don’t want to evict you—talk to them. They may be able to offer you lower interest rates, deferment plans, and extended terms to help lower your monthly payments.
Talk to your lenders. You won’t know unless you ask. In that same vein, remember to be lenient and empathetic toward your debtors, too. Remember karma.
Retain Top Talent
Your business’s most valuable asset is its employees. Do everything you can to protect their jobs and their morale. It’s impossible to save a sinking ship if the crew jumps overboard.
Find a loan or tap into your business line of credit to help pay your employees on time. As long as you have a team, you stand a fighting chance.
The CEO of Columbia Sportswear decided an annual salary of $10,000 would be better than losing employees. While this might be an extreme case of talent retention, it illustrates an important lesson: employees are everything.
Build Customer Loyalty
It’s 5x more expensive to attract a new customer than it is to retain an existing one, and increasing your customer retention rates by just 5% can increase profits by as much as 25%. Don’t glaze over those numbers—take them to heart.
Right now, prioritize your existing customers. Resist the urge to pinch pennies by driving up prices, reducing hours, and lowering service quality. Remember, your business’s purpose is ultimately to serve customers. Fortunately, the better you do that, the more likely they’ll reward you with their lifetime loyalty.
A lot goes into customer loyalty. There are brand, vision, sustainability, quality, endorsements, price, consistency, customer service, and more aspects to consider. You can’t be everyone’s friend, and you shouldn’t try to. It’s better to have a small community of loyalists than a vast network of flaky customers.
Become More Agile
COVID-19 showed why businesses need to think and act quickly. If your business is currently in the trap of corporate processes, then break free of it now. You need to be able to adapt to change and pivot with speed to respond to ever-changing economic conditions.
Now, that’s not to say you should throw caution to the wind and make decisions all willy-nilly. Instead, develop more agile processes that empower you to make strategic decisions without weeks of meetings and debate.
One popular decision-making approach is the RAPID framework. This framework clarifies decision roles and responsibilities to accelerate strategic decision-making. Here’s how it works:
- Recommend: The people responsible for making a proposal and offering alternatives.
- Agree: Those who sign off on the proposal or alternatives to move the decision forward.
- Input: These individuals work with the recommenders to help refine the proposal to a point where the agreers can sign off.
- Decide: One person holds the D—the decision-making position. This is the person who decides to commit to a plan of action and passes it off to the performers.
- Perform: These are the individuals with the final role in the process of executing the decision.
Delegate Like a Boss
A captain doesn’t save his sinking ship by pushing the rowers out of the way and picking up an oar. No, instead, he calmly oversees activity, looking at the big picture, and delegates appropriately.
When money is short, you may be tempted to do everything on your own: bookkeeping, sales, marketing, designing, recruiting, and the list goes on. However, your most valuable asset is your time.
Don’t try to do everything yourself. Your time is valuable, and you need to focus your energy on the big-ticket tasks that only you can accomplish. Delegate the minutiae to employees and freelancers so you can spend your time doing what nobody else can do—growing your business.
Automate the Trivial
While you’re in this mindset of saving time and money through delegation, hand over other responsibilities to automation (yes, that rhymed).
Automation can be more timely and reliable than your own manual labor, and it’ll save you minutes and hours every week. Look at how you spend your time and identify which tasks you can automate. Here are a few of the typical easy automation wins:
- Bookkeeping: Use bookkeeping software to import and categorize your expenses automatically. Software can also help send recurring invoices and reminders, as well as help calculate your tax obligations.
- Messaging: Set up messaging automations to send everything from welcome emails to follow-up abandoned cart reminders. You can even set up chatbots on your website and social media profiles to empower your customers to problem-solve on their own.
- Task management: Get organized by scheduling your activities and repetitive processes so you can stop checking your calendar and planner throughout each day.
Become Data Savvy
The answers to all your business problems likely lay behind raw data. It’s your job to become data-savvy (or hire someone who is) to extract, organize, and interpret that data.
Fortunately, nowadays, software solutions make it easy for nontechnical folks to analyze data. Don’t just settle on the tools with the lowest prices or all the bells and whistles—experiment and demo different software tools to see which ones are more user-friendly.
Anticipate and Adapt
It’s much easier (and cheaper) to proactively act than it is to react. While you won’t be able to predict every hiccup and calamity (who saw COVID-19 coming?), you can regularly review your business plans, look for industry trends, and analyze your financial reports to anticipate the future.
Increased insight into your business’s health and direction will help you make faster, smarter decisions—and these decisions can be the difference between going under and staying afloat.
For example, don’t wait to look for financing until the bank account’s empty. Instead, forecast your cash flow and start applying for capital well before you need it.
Your business’s survival may be your number one priority, but you won’t have the strength to keep it afloat if you burn yourself out. To battle burnout, remember to practice deliberate self-care. Find balance in your life by committing time to all aspects of your health:
Focusing on your wellness will impact your bottom line for the better. Find time to relax and decompress, get adequate sleep at night, stay physically active, and make time for your relationships.
If you’re already feeling overwhelmed, don’t panic. Bounce back from burnout by reducing your workload, increasing control over your work, and improving your support infrastructure—learn how to do it here!
Make Safety a Priority
Even if COVID-19 was completely eradicated tomorrow, the world’s been forever changed. The living population has now experienced a global pandemic that attacked the rich, poor, young, old, and everyone in-between. Things will never quite be the same again.
Don’t try to hold on to the past—embrace a safer future. Make safety a priority for your employees and customers by improving sanitation measures and sick leave and reducing touchpoints and unnecessary contact.
Protect yourself from COVID-19-related lawsuits by taking steps to reduce your legal risk:
- Know the law: The law is a fluid list of ever-changing regulations on a federal, state, local, and industry-specific level—it’s a lot to keep up with. Enlist the help of an attorney or small business associations to help stay in the know on relevant regulations.
- Follow safety guidelines: Implement and enforce all safety guidelines published by the CDC, your local health department, and industry guardians.
Grow Your Rainy-Day Fund
Even if you’re not in the best financial situation, start contributing to build (or rebuild) your safety cushion. It doesn’t matter how much—just make sure you’re preparing for more unexpected twists and turns.
Here are a few proven ways to grow your rainy-day fund:
- Cut back on your spending and put that extra money in savings.
- Sell your unused inventory, equipment, supplies, and even furniture.
- Set up automatic deposits to avoid the temptation to spend your savings.
- Revise your budget to make saving a priority.
If you don’t have any extra cash to grow your rainy-day fund, then consider getting a business line of credit to cover your expenses in case of an emergency. You’re under no obligation to use your line of credit, so it’s a handy-dandy financing resource you should keep in your back pocket—just in case.
Increase Your Marketing Budget
It might sound counterintuitive, but to save your business, you’re going to need to spend more. Now is the time to spend on marketing. Your competitors are likely lowering their advertising spend, leaving you with a prime opportunity to seize a greater portion of the market at a reduced price.
Time and time again, history shows us that businesses that increase their marketing spends during a recession reap the rewards. “When times are good, you should advertise, but when times are bad, you must advertise.”
Resist the temptation to cut your marketing budget and curl up under a rock until this pandemic and recession blow over. Get your business out in front of your customers.
Monitor Your Finances
Keep a close eye on your financial situation. Generate weekly, monthly, and quarterly reports to understand your position and forecast your future.
In the TV show The Office, Michael Scott is excited to realize his new paper company (Michael Scott Paper Company) is making sales and stealing customers from Dunder Mifflin. However, an accountant informs him that his fixed and variable expenses are set to continue exceeding revenue, even if sales volume increases dramatically.
Don’t be like Michael Scott. Monitor your books and stay on top of your finances so you’re never hit with any unwelcome surprises. Just keep crunching those numbers.
Provide Outstanding Customer Service
Times aren’t just hard for your business—they’re hard for everyone. The businesses that show empathy toward customers will be the ones that earn their repeat business.
Millennials are willing to spend 21% more for excellent customer care, and 70% of US consumers spend more money to do business with a company that delivers excellent service.
Provide outstanding customer service, and your customers will reward your business with their wallets and word of mouth. Need some inspiration? Discover how Zappos launched an “ask anything” chat line to let people call for anything—even just to talk.
Recoup COVID-19-Related Costs
COVID-19 has caused a double-whammy punch to most business’s balance sheets—it’s decreased revenue for many and increased costs (masks, sanitation stations, social distancing adjustments, etc.).
Recoup these costs by using one (or all) of these 3 methods:
- Absorb the costs: Find small business loans, government grants, and COVID-19 tax credits to increase your cash on hand.
- Add a COVID-19 surcharge: Attach a flat fee or percentage charge to your bills to compensate for the increased COVID-19 expenses. First, check if a surcharge is legal in your state and then decide if your customers’ potential negative reception is worth the extra cash. The choice is ultimately up to you.
- Raise prices: Rather than adding a temporary charge to your bills, raise your products’ and services’ prices. If you generally have a high sales volume, you can recoup costs with just a slight price bump.
Read here to learn more about the pros and cons of these methods.
Stay in the Know
Since you’ve made it this far through this guide, we’d say you’re doing a pretty good job of staying in the know. Continue reading the news (not too much, though) and industry-relevant information so you’re up-to-date on regulations, available financing, and more.
Here are a few reliable ways to keep yourself educated:
A reliable way to reduce payroll expenses while getting the job done is to hire freelancers. Many costs go into hiring a new team member, and while there are advantages to full-time employees, now’s a good time to cut costs by hiring contractors. Here’s why:
- Better quality of work: While full-time employees often have to act as a jack-of-all-trades, freelancers can specialize in a single task.
- Better price: When you pay for a freelancer, you pay for the project—not the health insurance, office space, training, etc.
- Better efficiency: You don’t have to worry about freelancers wasting time—you pay them to accomplish a task, and then you don’t have to manage them until you have another job.
Rescue Your Business
Embrace the “new normal” and accept that things will probably be different for a long time—if not forever. You can save your business, but realize that you may have to make significant modifications for it to work. For example, professional sports teams have to learn to play in front of empty stadiums—but they’re making it work for now.
Try these tactics and find what works for your business. Surviving and thriving will look different for every company, but where there’s a will, there’s a way.