Seven tips on how to use the gloom to get your business in shape

Penny Haywood Calder has seen the ups and downs of recession, booms, busts and bursting bubbles, but her own business has survived and is now stronger than ever.

14th January 2009 at 6:12 pm

Although it’s tough, with hindsight there’s always a lot of good things that come out of a recession. In fact, Doug Richards, from the Dragon’s Den has been quoted as saying there’s never a better time to start up a business.

That’s because you make every penny count in this climate and set up a robust business model. And established businesses can use the recession to get back to a robust model too.

1) Boosting your credit control efficiency has less chance of offending potential clients in tough times – in fact, it’s expected. Increase the references you take up and use a credit reference agency. And sharpen up your money collection: although you can use late payment interest warnings, I find that offering inducements for early payment works better. Plus immediate invoicing, done right first time, with correct references to PO numbers and contracts. Log those who are dodging payment & chase: go round to collect in person.

2) You’ll never get a better time to persuade staff to sharpen up their act. Use the economic climate to really crack down on expenses control, budgeting, efficiency and productivity. If you have lost work and need to make redundancies, plan carefully how to lose the staff that don’t deliver. And look to see what work you can outsource through sites like

3) Drive down costs going green – it’ll never be easier to sell in to staff, but develop a policy for your business and do it with commitment so it still has traction to save you money when the going gets better. Gain green credentials on the back of saving money by driving down energy & travel/transport costs, keeping company cars longer, etc – and publicise your green-ness to benefit from increased access to public sector tenders and business from not-for-profits & charities etc. Consider outside accreditation and green awards.

4) It’s much cheaper to boost your sales enquiries conversion rate to customers, but most people try to increase sales enquiries which is the most expensive option. You can’t improve your conversion rate if you don’t track it, so set up a spreadsheet, amend your database or use sales software (there’s free options at Become brilliant at converting enquiries to sales with win:win strategies and teasing out the personal benefits the buyer needs to look great because he/she bought from you. And use well written case studies to poor peer group pressure to buy from you and bump up your SEO content. Fix the conversion rate before you start raising your profile and driving traffic to your business with on and offline PR and marketing.

5) And boost sales per customer through cross-selling, great newsletters, and referrals programs with rewards for referrals – it’s much cheaper to sell to the converted than start from scratch.

6) Then work out what brings in business and do more of it! Spend more on the things that bring business in, so if it’s referrals work out how you can get more – by networking? By increasing rewards to referrers? Increasing profile on and offline? If all the sales enquiries come through your website: consider getting professional help with Pay Per Click campaigns. Plus boost natural search optimisation with blogs, newsletters (posted to your website as well as distributed by email to your mailing list) and press releases to on and offline media to add external media endorsement and boost SEO rankings.

7) Don’t forget to keep trying out new markets too – either new sectors or new geographical areas – not forgetting online. Companies are laying off some gems of experienced people and others in work are looking for extra cash. They could help you open up new routes to market.

So, use the gloom to get your business into shape to sprint away as soon as the recession ends with great new ideas, new markets, a green gleam, the best possible team, and a sharpened up set of business procedures. Plus fantastic sales conversion rates, superb cross-selling, and of course brilliant sales, referrals deals, marketing & PR.

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Penny Haywood

Penny Haywood founded the eponymous Penny Haywood PR in 1986, initially focussed on PR for financial services and IT after launching the world's first online bank (HOBS) in 1985 while at Bank of Scotland. She serves clients all over the UK and is a member of the international PR network of small, client-focused agencies: PR Boutiques International.

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