How to Make Your Service-Based Business Recession-Resilient in Our New Normal

Updated: Mar 8

Well, friends, what can I say about the situation we’re in that hasn’t been said before?

COVID-19 is an unprecedented disruption to our way of life. And I know a lot of service-based businesses are being impacted financially already. Those who haven’t are worrying about what’s on the horizon. A recession? 

First, I want to say that we’re all going through this together. I believe—no, I know—that we owe it to ourselves and each other to keep sharing ideas and strategies. The rising tide does lift all boats.

If we support one another to do our best during this time, we’re going to be part of each other’s resiliency stories. We’re going to be sharing in a healthy economy with enough for everybody. 

That’s what this post is about. I want to help if I can. I believe there are productive steps we can take today to reduce our vulnerability to a recession.

I’ll get right to it.

Here are a few ways to increase the resilience of your service-based business in the face of this new climate and in preparation for potential recession: 

1. Re-visit your brand strategy and amp up value to existing customers

Take some time to consider what life and business is like for your clients right now. Then, take a good hard look at your brand strategy and where you’re going to need to pivot by asking yourself these questions: 

  • How are your clients being impacted? 

  • Do your clients have needs they didn’t have before? 

  • Does your service/product still serve those needs?

  • Are your company values in line with the current climate now?

  • How do you add value in the short term and the long term for your clients?

  • What value can you offer right now that would definitely trump their cost-savings if they simply stopped working with you?

I know a writer who sub-contracts with strategic planning consultants. Normally, she writes long-form content (non-fiction books) for them. During the upheaval of early COVID-19 days, she was able to seize an opportunity by becoming part of their communications team. The crisis and its fallout necessitate delivering information to people in a timely, consistent and fluid way. So, she is using her skillset to help them to do that. Her new service offering was born out of identifying new needs and re-imaging how she delivers her services. So, far it’s working out well. 

2. Re-define your audience personas, update your messaging, and communicate 

At a time when you might feel shy about adding to the noise, don’t stop connecting with clients and prospects. But do get clear on your positioning. 

The habits of your customers are changing. What they are thinking, feeling, and doing all look different now. And they’ll keep evolving in the days to come. 

What won’t change is the importance of knowing your audience. Don’t be fooled into thinking that your audience will go back to being the same. Figure out where they’re at to stay ahead of the curve. 

So, do be sensitive in how you approach them, but don’t fall silent. It’s much more difficult to come back from a period of no communication than to have weathered the storm with your clients. 

The rule of thumb for your communications always— but especially now—is: offer value, offer value, offer value. Think about how you can offer assurance in a wildly disruptive time. Is there any information your clients really need to know as it concerns COVID-19 and the way in which you serve them?

3. Leverage your built-in flexibility and have a contingency plan 

Every business develops systems and processes that help it create, market, or deliver products and/or services.

Ask yourself: Is there a capability in your business that can be pivoted into a new service or offering? 

For example, now that in-person events are off the table, the rise of webinars for service-based businesses are growing quickly. Is that something you could be doing? If you’ve been running webinars as a way of doing your business, you most likely have a really good system for producing them. You may not have gotten paid for it before but it’s now a capability in your business that is relevant and valuable.

How do you leverage things that you do well but may not have monetized in the past? This could be your contingency plan in the future!

4. Don’t stop marketing

Your first instinct may be to shy away from marketing.

And, ok, a period of sensitivity is definitely in order. No tone-deaf messages that fail to acknowledge the stress people are under, please. But also: if you get your messaging right, this can be a great time to drive awareness.

There are, in fact, many companies that are doubling down on their efforts to be heard. Think about it: if there’s less competition, it can be faster and easier to get results with marketing dollars. You’re still hearing from companies right now…who are they and what are they saying?

Now, I don’t want to underplay the support of big brands supporting communities in big ways right now. I know that many big brands are run by people with even bigger hearts. But it still remains true that the COVID-19 relief efforts of certain businesses also function as marketing messages. When a brand like Kraft-Heinz donates $12 million in support of COVID-19 impacted communities, that’s quite simply great PR. They’re legitimately helping people, and they’re doing what they need to do as a business.

Just think: what message makes sense during this time? Tell a story or highlight the ways that you support communities. Get it out there and don’t be shy about it. 

5. Get sustainable through systems

The right business systems can enhance performance, mobilize strategic planning, reduce costs, and grow revenue. These are all benefits you need right now to become sustainable. 

Make no mistake, systems and processes are going to change. In particular, there are six systems that every business will need to re-evaluate: 

They are:

  1. Marketing systems to attract clients or customers

  2. Sales systems to convert prospects into clients 

  3. Delivery systems implement your service or ensure your product reaches your client in the most efficient manner

  4. Support systems are administrative systems like the tools you use for meetings, project management, and communication

  5. Growth systems help you hire the right people and scale your team

  6. Training systems reduce the friction for new hires so that they can get up to speed in less time

What will changes to these systems look like? To pivot quickly, you’re going to need to activate minimum viable processes. These are lean workflows easily communicated to your team that can be implemented in a short period of time. Your goal is to launch and iterate in steps. Minimum Viable Processes don’t just make sense now. You can use them to plan for the time following COVID-19. 

What I’m currently focusing on is helping clients consider the not-so-far-away future. That means developing a lean re-launch plan with minimum viable processes for the systems outlined above. With this, they’ll be able to emerge thriving in our new reality. 

Want to be putting the other tips I’ve shared into practice? Want to capitalize on opportunities and exercise agility? Guard your time as a business owner and give yourself the essential space to operate as a truly strategic leader. 

If you’re going to weather this storm—and there’s no reason you can’t—you need systems that crank up your resilience on every front. (Talk to me about this).

I believe in you. I believe we can get through this. In fact, I believe we can get through this better and stronger. Don’t forget how valuable your offerings truly are. And don’t let this disruption stop you from giving your gifts to the world.

The great poet Maya Angelou once said that “I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.” If COVID-19 and its fallout changes us—and I can’t see how it won’t—that’s ok. But there’s no reason why we need to be reduced by it. It doesn’t need to stop us from providing value to one another, from operating as essential linkages in our collective success.

By choosing resilience, we do our part to keep this collective success story going. Stay safe and don’t lose faith!