How to Keep Your Business Growing – Even When Times Are Tough

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How to Keep Your Business Growing – Even When Times Are Tough

There’s a lot of money to be made in trades and construction. In Australia, the market generates over $360 billion dollars per year, and New Zealand generates over $55 billion dollars. And that’s set to grow year on year. So there’s everything to play for. But to sink your teeth into even a tiny fraction of that figure, you need to be in growth mode 24/7.  

That means you are always pursuing the next goal and pushing yourself to be bigger and better. Sound simple, right? WRONG! Because the enemy of growth is maintenance mode, and it’s incredibly easy to split into maintenance mode. Many business owners don’t even realise they’re doing it. 

It can happen when:

  • You have too many projects on the go, and you stop your marketing
  • You’re going through tough times with employees or customers, and it takes your time away from critical business planning
  • There’s a shift in the market or economy, and you go into survival mode

You’re not moving backwards, but stagnation is not much better. My guess is that you’re in maintenance mode right now. You want to be the biggest, best, well-known, go-to tradie in your area for your service, but looking at your numbers, you’ve not made a lot of headway in the last 6 or even 12 months.

You need to be in growth mode every single day. Don’t take your foot off the accelerator for a minute.

Why you can’t afford to slip into maintenance mode

When I tell business leaders that they always need to be in growth mode, the most common response is: “But what about when times are tough?” My response is always: ‘Which part of always did you not understand?’

Too many business leaders allow themselves to be a victim of the environment around them. If you have built a robust business, and you know your target market intimately and how to deliver. tough times are survivable. You may even come out the other side better off.

This situation happened to one of my clients during the Global Financial Crisis several years ago. Plumbers weren’t getting enough work on construction sites, so they started drain clearing for ridiculously cheap prices. My client, The Drain Man, had elevated the industry until this point, but suddenly found himself competing with businesses fighting for a dollar. As a result, he lost a bit of market share. He could have dropped the quality of his own services, and then dropped his prices to compete. He could have gone into maintenance mode, managing only the present, like these other companies now hanging on by a thread. 

Instead, he stuck to his guns and pivoted plans to continue growing his business. He went backwards to go forward and started knocking on the door of some potential A-grade clients. By continuing his high-quality presence and marketing strategy of being the go-to guy for drain clearing, he didn’t need 200 jobs every day like the other plumbers, just 20 good ones.

There is far more opportunity for your business than you think 

I’ll use my own business as an example. I know that in Australia alone, there are 2.2 million SMEs turning over between $700,000 and $10 million a year. That’s a huge target market! I only want to serve 1,000 of them a month, so that’s just 0.045% of the market. That’s easily achievable.

But let’s say the economy slows down, and some small businesses close their doors, and there are only 2 million small businesses. Now I’m after 0.050% of the market – that’s a negligible difference. 2 million potential clients out there, if more than enough! And that’s just Australia – there’s also the rest of the world.

Another possibility is the knock-on effect of other businesses closing their doors. If you’re a roof tiler and there are less houses being built, that doesn’t mean you’re up a creek without a paddle. People still need roofs, just less of them. 

So, who will go out of business? It will be those who lack clarity, don’t have strategic plans in place, have low productivity, don’t know who their target market is or how to reach them. It will be those who switch to maintenance mode at signs of trouble and don’t have solid operating foundations in place. 

If you’re an A-grade business, you know where the diamond customers are, and you only need a handful of them. You’ll be the one to survive.

6 tips to stay in growth mode

I know that much of this is easier said than done. Here are six actionable tips to help you stay in growth mode and stick with it even during the tough times.

 1. Think it and you’ll do it

Keeping a growth mindset is not optional. I meet business leaders all the time who are happy to have a growth attitude when things are booming, but switch to maintenance mode when times seem tough, or because they’re focusing on completing current projects. By taking their head out of the game, they stop doing those critical needle-moving activities.

Growth mode is achieved by taking action today to affect your future. The changes don’t happen overnight, so if you pause these actions, you’ll see the consequences in the future. This can cause many problems. 

Set aside time everyday to check in with your business growth progress, even just for 15 minutes. Make this time a non-negotiable.

 2. Be clear on your value proposition

You must be clear about who you are and what you do, and how you create value. You must build your reputation and keep on building. You must provide maximum results in minimum time; that’s not about being in a hurry, it’s about getting the results first time, every time. It’s about creating value for the people you have chosen to serve.

When you’re not clear on this, a reflexive response is to throw money into advertising. It might make you feel like you’re “doing something” but it won’t help.  It’s a sign that a business doesn’t it’s target market is or how to reach it. That’s not a focused business plan; that’s pin the tail on the donkey. If you know your value and provide that value consistently, you won’t have employ random tactics not rooted in informed decision making.

 3. Have effective communications systems.

This feels like a tip you’ll never hear the end of – but it’s that important! And if you can’t honestly tell me that you’re regularly auditing your systems and processes for optimisation then I can say your communication strategy needs TLC.

Having effective systems in place allow you to communicate quickly and easily with your current and future clients. Think about your website, emails, sales team (or whoever picks up the phone when potential clients are on the line), office if customers can go to a physical location, social media platforms, your word of mouth and referral strategy. The quality of your communication can make or break a conversion, referral, and returning custom.

 4. Have effective operating cash flow management. 

This is vital. Without this, I can just about guarantee you will not survive. It doesn’t matter how many clients you have or how great your products are. If you can’t pay your bills, you are going out of business. 

Ensure you maintain free operating cash flow. Keep building your reputation. Sometimes when things get tough, people automatically turn to survival tactics, without a strategy or belief that they are better than this. Yes, we need to get through tough times, but we don’t need to throw out all our hard work and forget who we are and what we do. You may have to take a job with lower profitability to get you through the month, but don’t throw everything out and make this your long-term strategy. Before you know it, you will be in a pool of sharks and you’ll get eaten.

 5. Manage the hard decisions. 

When it’s time, you need to wield the axe. You are a leader in your business and that comes with the responsibility to make tough decisions. To grow your business effectively and efficiently you need the right people in the right seats. That might mean cutting some team members loose, or even cutting ties with long-standing customers if they no longer fit your market, services, and/or pricing.

Embrace this mindset now because these decisions are necessary for growth. If you don’t accept this role, your hesitation and inconsistency when making decisions will cause confusion. This will cause you to fail. If you can’t manage this, you shouldn’t be in business. (Brutal truth, remember?)

 6. Create a positive environment. 

If you:

  • Operate in fear of losing clients
  • Don’t back yourself
  • Don’t push yourself to the cliff’s edge to be the best you can be
  • Don’t do the things that separate you from the competition

…your business won’t survive. 

But, if you operate with an attitude of abundance, you can thrive and grow. A positive mindset is the foundation of a positive environment that nurtures creativity, happiness, passion, talent, teamwork, etc. The work will be hard, but you’ll remove a barrier the size of a tidal wave, and everything won’t seem as bleak. 

What it all boils down to

Growth mode is about planning, and maintenance is not planning. 

It’s not about who is the smartest. It’s about recognising the void and filling it. I’ve seen plenty of people smarter than I am fail at running businesses. 

When the opportunity moves from the head to the heart, you will move forward. When you fully own and take responsibility for what you are doing, and when you are committed, good things will start to happen.

Go slow to go fast.


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