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Bringing sales up in a down economy

Connect with clients, consider a merger and retool products to expand in tough times.

August 25, 2008|Jamie Herzlich | Special to Newsday

Expanding your business in a down economy can be difficult. In many cases it requires you to think differently and more creatively, as well as to re-evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, experts say.

In the end, this can be a great time to reconnect with customers and find new opportunities that you may not have explored during better times.

"In a robust economy it's easy to become complacent," said small-business expert Rhonda Abrams, president of the Planning Shop, a Palo Alto-based publisher of books for entrepreneurs. "You can afford to let the customers come to you."

In a down economy you can't just sit back and say "woe is me," Abrams said. "You have to get out there and be hungry again."

So where do you start?

* Reconnect with existing customers. If you have a strong sense of empathy for your customers, then you'll have a better idea of how to create solutions, products and services that resonate with them, said Alonzo Canada of San Mateo, Calif.-based Jump Associates. His business helps companies create new growth opportunities. During busier times you may not have had the time or inclination to get out there. Spend time with your customers, he said, and make sure you're fulfilling their needs.

* Contact former customers. They've given you business before, so why not try to entice them again, said Janet Attard of BusinessKnowHow.com, a business information website based in Centereach, N.Y. Tell them about some new product, special sale or offer you thought they might want to know about, she suggests.

* Expand your referral network. Referrals can be a powerful way to drum up business, said Kevin Kragenbrink, franchise owner of Estrada Strategies in Knoxville, Tenn., an executive training and business development firm. Don't just ask friends and colleagues for names and phone numbers of business leads, but rather ask for introductions and then follow up on them.

* Look for or expand your strategic alliances. Are there complementary businesses you can team up with in creative ways to help bolster sales? For instance, a custom home remodeler might team up with a high-end retail appliance store to do a special in-store informational presentation, Kragenbrink said. It will help draw foot traffic into their stores, and you may end up generating new business.

* Consider a merger. There can be power in numbers. If you're looking to expand your specialties or markets, sometimes the most efficient way to do that is by merging with another company. "There has to be synergies where people complement each other," said Jeff Forchelli of Mineola, N.Y., law firm Forchelli, Curto, Crowe, Deegan, Schwartz, Mineo & Cohn, which recently completed a merger that helped expand its offerings.

* Consider cross promotions and joint mailings. They're a great way to put your name out there without busting your budget, said Gloria Glowacki of the Small Business Development Center at Stony Brook University in New York.

* Expand your product line. Consider adding products or services that your customers could use, Attard said. For instance, a Web designer might add search-engine marketing.

* Reevaluate your business. A down economy may require you to reframe your business to better fulfill customers' expectations.

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