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How Recession-Proof Is Your Firm?

A recession is clearly not something that rolls around that often. Be that as it may, firms that plan on being in business for many years need to plan for it. Usually, firms do not plan on something like this happening unless they have experienced the attrition that a typical recession generates. Although a recession is never pleasant, you can help your business be as recession-proof as it can be. The goal is to remain in business until better economic times unveil themselves.

Although everyone is exasperated with the mere mention of the word “recession”, it is still something that we need to talk about. Any firm that has been through one or more recessions will emphatically advise you that in time all will pass and the strong will survive. It is noteworthy to take a look at some of the survivors of past recessions and analyze some common characteristics of these successful companies.

Dave Gumowski, President of The Huntington Resource (www.huntingtonresource.com) has weathered through a few recessions. The Huntington Resource has been providing employment services in the Chicagoland area since 1975. Dave states that part of the key to surviving a recession is to stay with your core business values and not be tempted to get off target just because times are hard. Dave recommends calling established customers who you have built strong relationships with, and working with them in order to acquire business. “There is always some business to be had. One thing that holds true from past to present is that there is no replacement for the ‘sales phone call’. Companies that continue with their strategic call campaigns always come out winners.”

Bruce Paul, CFO of Banner Personnel Service, Inc. (www.bannerpersonnel.com) is a seasoned veteran when it comes to dealing with a recession. Banner Personnel has been through several recessions since 1970. Bruce says, “The key to riding out a storm is being prepared for it before it comes. You need to control costs and overhead. If you lose 20% of your business, you need to be able to quickly and cleanly cut 20% of your costs. The goal is to stay in business. Be prepared to scale your business to the level of business that is coming in. If you need to reduce personnel and have multiple offices, combine offices rather than leaving a skeleton staff at several locations. This will produce more synergy and camaraderie among your team. Hearing another individual getting a ‘yes’ on the phone helps encourage others to make calls. Keep pounding the phones and doing the things that you would normally do to get business. Stay with your beliefs and don’t listen to what the newscasts are saying. A good operation is vital. If you are running a good operation, you know what to do when times are bad.” Seth Dinsky, Director of Operations for Active Staffing Services (www.activestaffing.com) advises that, “The two main areas that contribute to long-term success are: cutting costs and diversification.” Active Staffing Services was established in 1947 and services temporary as well as direct hire needs. Seth states that sometimes the problem is that companies wait until bad times in order to address these two areas. Seth comments, “Companies need to spend like times are lean all of the time and then when bad times hit they are in better shape. Strategic planning and business development must take place on an ongoing basis. Attempting to tap into new areas when times are bad is more difficult. Ideally companies should always be thinking, ‘What business can I get into today that I was not into yesterday?’ Diversify when times are good. Hire some telemarketers in order to go after the new line of business.”

Glenn Bernstein is President of the Temporary Division at The Execu|Search Group (www.execu-search.com). Execu|Search is a full-service professional recruitment, temporary/consulting, and retained search firm headquartered in New York City in business since 1985. Glenn emphasizes that diversification in lines of service is key to being well positioned when difficult times hit. Glenn states, “Having accounting/finance, general office and healthcare, coupled with the ability to offer temporary as well as direct hire services has really helped. At times temp is doing well when perm is down and other times it goes the other way. Likewise, healthcare staffing demand may be high when accounting /finance is not. Another key point is managing the business as lean as you possibly can. In robust times the tendency

is to hire a couple of extra people here and there, but it’s smart to be operationally lean always and if possible eliminate non-essential, nonrevenue producing personnel within your firm. When business is down you may also need to work with vendors that you have a strong relationship with to help decrease some costs. The focus during hard times needs to be on business development and increasing market share.

By expanding market share you can position yourself for higher volume when business picks up. Your competitors may not do this and market expansion may be easier than you think because your competition may “drop their guard”.

ABD has been in business since 1982 so we have seen our share of dips in the economy as well. For ABD it has always come back to our existing base of established customers. Solid customer relationships are what will keep you in business during rough times. When you have good customers, especially in diversified areas, you will find that some business will always be coming in. Your goal must be not to simply “sell a product”. It’s about developing a service relationship that can be cultivated and made better throughout many years of a business relationship.

It’s a give and take from both sides. If a customer is having a problem financially and you are in a position to help in some way you need to reach out and help. You want your good customers to stay in business and hopefully they feel the same way about you. These are the types of relationships that truly can make a difference. Good customers are those that want you to be profitable and good vendors are those that want their customers to receive value and increase profits by using their product.

Business tools are crucial. Automation will help keep you in business when business opportunities are slim. Having a comprehensive database of prospective clients affords you the ability to create powerful marketing campaigns. To reduce costs it is not necessary to spend a lot of money on expensive marketing devices. Simply reach into your rich database of information and call prospects up on the phone. In reality, all you really need is a good software solution and a phone. Another low-cost marketing device is email marketing. Make sure you account for spamming issues when doing high volume. There are companies that can handle all of this for you at a very low cost. All you need to do is provide them with the information. If you have an updated database complete with good company information, contact names and valid email addresses you are in excellent shape to capitalize on finding good business. Emailing to current customers is always a great way of reaching out as they know you and are more likely to read what you send. If you have an extensive well-kept database you will certainly be able to find business – guaranteed. Remember, there is no such thing as too much information. The time you spent entering and maintaining a database of information will serve you now and may mean the difference between making it through successfully or closing up shop.

The common thread for survival is preparation, the way you do business in good times and how you react to lack of business in bad times.

The true successful warriors are those that never give up and refuse to accept defeat under any circumstances. They realize that all things will pass and better times are ahead. However, they never lose sight of what can be and they run their operations based upon the possibility that the business will naturally and progressively see good and bad times.

This article made an appearance in the July/August 2009 issue of staffdigest Magazine. www.staffdigest.com

Terri Roeslmeier is President of Automated Business Designs, Inc., software developer of Ultra-Staff software for the staffing and direct hire industry. Ultra-Staff is a staffing software business solution with components for front office, back office and the web. Terri’s email address is TAR@abd.net or for more information on Ultra-Staff go to www.abd.net

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