Article

Janki Sharma
Janki Sharma 20 July 2021

The Opportunity of Downtime: How to Get Ten Steps Ahead

When things slow down, some leaders give into fear and uncertainty. The worst end up sinking their boats. But even those who survive might end up missing the boat because they are so focused on the fear — rather than the opportunities downtime presents.

In business, there are two types of failure — sinking the boat and missing the boat.

Sinking the boat is when you make a bad bet, and it ends up costing you your company.

Missing the boat is when you fail to take advantage of an opportunity and end up worse off.

When things slow down, some leaders give into fear and uncertainty. The worst end up sinking their boats. But even those who survive might end up missing the boat because they are so focused on the fear — rather than the opportunities downtime presents. 

How do you react when things slow down?

Do you let fear and anxiety take over, causing you to miss the boat, or do you focus on the opportunity of downtime by finding ways to focus on your firm and streamlining your business?

Strong leaders understand that sometimes bad things happen — it is simply part of the business.

Instead of letting fear and anxiety take over, you need to shift your mindset. Ask yourself how to create opportunities — to grow, to work more efficiently, to better connect with the people in your community and your firm. The result will be a stronger firm that is better prepared to weather the ups and downs.

In this article we'll give you actionable strategies to get ten steps ahead during economic recession or industry slowdown.

Preservation vs Taking Advantage of Opportunities  

When challenges arise, there are two paths you can take: work to preserve what you've built by cutting costs and working to keep your firm afloat, or taking advantage of the opportunities you have right now to create a stronger, more resilient firm.

The right path for your firm will depend on your situation and the challenges you are facing. If you can't pay your office rent, it doesn't make much sense to hire more people. 

But, there is a strong argument for not cutting back when times are tough.

Here's why: businesses that invest during an economic downturn do much better in the long run.

For instance, during the Great Depression, cereal companies Kellogg and Post reacted very differently.

In the 1920s, Kellogg and Post dominated the packaged cereal market. It was still a relatively new market, so when the Depression hit, no one knew how the consumer market would react.

Would consumers buy more cereal — or would they look for ways to cut their food budgets and stop buying packaged cereals? There was no roadmap on how Kellogg and Post should react.

Post chose to play it safe and cut back on advertising. They were looking to preserve their company and wait out the recession.

Kellogg went the opposite direction. They chose to double their ad budget rather than preserve by cutting costs and laying off employees.

They actually moved into a new advertising medium — radio — and aggressively pushed their new product (Rice Krispies) which you might have heard of…

Rice-Krispies.png

(Image source)

By 1933, Kellogg's profits had risen more than 30%, while Post (who cut investment in both marketing and R&D) struggled to regain its market share. 

The same thing happens every economic downturn — including in recent years. 

A Bain study followed 700 US companies during the 2001 recession. They found that twice as many companies moved from the bottom to the top of their markets during the downturn, compared to times of economic growth.

To put it a bit more simply — it's easier to move up in the market during economic downturns.

The moral of this story is that investing in your business during down times puts your business in a strong position. Prospective clients will be aware of your brand and view your firm as stable and trustworthy.

If you stand still, your firm will end up losing out to a competitor who has the foresight to keep pushing forward when times are tough.

So, how can you take advantage of this downtime to get ahead? It starts by reframing your mindset to look for opportunities.  

How to Take Advantage of the Downtime to Get Ahead 

When times are tough, law firm owners have the opportunity to take stock, focus on growth, and put new initiatives in place to help them come out stronger. Instead of reacting with fear, strong leaders know that now is the time to focus, to invest, and to build a stronger, more flexible firm.

Here are five steps you can take today to come out of an economic downturn stronger than ever. 

1. Don't Make Decisions Based on Fear  

It's easy to get caught up in fear. Revenue is down; it makes logical sense to cut costs where you can, to pull back.

The problem is that making drastic changes right now, like laying off staff or cutting marketing campaigns, can backfire on you in the long term. But at the same time, the last thing you want to do is figuring out how to work with credit repair companies because you’ve gone into debt you can’t recover from.

Some of the most effective marketing strategies, like brand building and content marketing, take months to work. If you cut them off now, you are shooting yourself in the foot — you will need to spend months rebuilding that lost momentum.

And those are months you can't get back. If you focus on the long-term outlook, there's never been a better time to invest in your business.

This does not mean throwing money at new strategies and doubling down on ad spend without looking at the effectiveness of those strategies. If you don't have the cash to make payroll, there are more significant issues you need to address.

But don't allow fear to make your decisions for you. Look for ways to invest in your business now so that you can come back stronger than ever. This includes reaching out to investors to inject much needed capital to grow your business.

2. Review and Streamline your Processes  

In the last few years, more businesses have focused on finding ways to be more efficient by utilizing technology.  A quick Google search returns more than 215 million results for "how to work more efficiently," for example.

The recent pandemic has forced the whole world to change the way we work. People who weren't on the digital bus now realize how critical it is to streamline processes, utilize technology, and find ways to work more efficiently.

You might have heard the phrase "Work smarter, not harder." Now is the time to look for ways to do just that.

For example, can you streamline your client call back process? Automate some of your marketing strategies? What about document sharing and collaboration?

Here are several tools to help streamline and automate your business' processes:

Acuity Scheduling

Acuity helps to streamline client appointments, preventing the back and forth of "What time are you available?" and makes it easier to organize your calendar.

streamline-client-appointments.png

Buffer

Buffer is a social media scheduling tool that allows your business to schedule social media posts across multiple platforms, track the effectiveness of specific content types, and listen to what people are saying about your brand.

Buffer-is-a-social-media-scheduling-tool.png

(Image source)

Asana, Trello, Pipefy, ClickUp

All four of these project management tools can help your business' teams stay coordinated. They improve communication, help you meet deadlines, and facilitate project completion with easy-to-use dashboards and scheduling tools.

project-management-tools.png

Frevvo

Frevvo provides a variety of tools to automate business processes. This includes workflows to automate employee onboarding, travel authorizations, leave requests, and other administrative tasks.

They also provide useful form builders to automate things like procurement, sales orders, and mobile forms.

Frevvo-provides-a-variety-of-tools-to-automate-business-processes.png

What if you could spend less time working in your business and more time working on your business? These tools take over or streamline the administrative side of your job, allowing you and your team to spend more time on client work that actually drives revenue. 

3. Check-in With Your Clients 

When things are slow, it is a perfect time to check in with your clients — past and current.

Meetings and court cases may be canceled, but the people are still there. Find out how they are doing, see if they need anything, and remind them that you care.

They'll remember you when things get back to normal, but now is not the time to focus on what you do. Instead, focus on what they need and how you can help.

We recommend using a CRM (customer relationship management) software solution to help you track details about your clients and make it easier to keep in touch.

Each client and customer file includes contact information and details about any conversations or work you've done with them in the past. 

CRM-(customer-relationship-management)-software.png

No matter what the conversation is about, it's vital that you let them know you are thinking of them and that they can reach out if they have any questions.

Don't just use this as a marketing ploy, use it to build a genuine connection. 

4. Keep Investing in Marketing  

When times are tough, it is tempting to cut back on costs. In some cases, that makes sense — in areas like office supplies. Even rent can be cut by moving to a smaller office or renting out unused spaces.

One area where you shouldn't cut back, however, is marketing.

Remember the example above about Post and Kellogg? Kellogg doubled their investment in advertising — and came back stronger than ever.

Why?

It's all about psychology.

When times are tough, consumers reevaluate how they spend their money and gravitate towards brands that reinforce an emotional connection and demonstrate empathy.

For your business, that means investing in long-term marketing strategies like brand building, which gets your brand in front of prospective clients now — before they even need your service or product.

Here's another reason to keep investing in marketing — during economic or social uncertainty, it's actually more affordable than ever.

Social media CPM (cost per mille, or much it costs to reach 1,000 people) often falls drastically.

In March of 2020 (during the Covid-19 crisis) Facebook CPM, for example, fell by 20%. That means running ads cost less. At the same time, internet usage is up as more people stay home.

All this means that economic uncertainty results in your business more affordably reaching prospective clients. 

5. Focus on Professional Development  

Successful businesses are committed to continuous learning and skill development for their employees.

If you want to stay at the top of your game during downtimes, now is the time to double down on professional development.

Why does professional development matter?

It is critical for overall business growth and retaining employees.

According to a study by the Association for Talent Development, companies that offer comprehensive training programs earn 218% more per employee than companies without formalized training. These companies also enjoy a 24% higher profit margin than those who spend less on training.

Using downtime to grow skills ensures you are able to get back up and running faster — and more efficiently — when the time comes. There are a plethora of online learning platforms out there to brush up on your skills, whether its marketing, web development, or even business communication.

Platforms like StuDocu, which offer access to thousands of university courses and study materials, allow you and your employees to pursue continuing education in any area of expertise which interests you.

As a leader, learning helps you better serve your clients, your staff, and your community. Fields like digital marketing change constantly; if you aren't staying on top of the changes, you are going to get left behind. 

Final Thoughts  

When you face challenges, the first step is to adjust your mindset.

Stop thinking about what could go wrong and focus on uncovering opportunities. Look at initiatives you can take now to make your organization better and more flexible in the future.

Operate from a position of potential, opportunity, and positivity. Find ways to help your staff, your clients, your community through this.

Don't let fear guide your decisions. Instead, look for ways to invest in your business and your people so when things get better (as they inevitably will), you're at the top of your game.

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