Recession coming? Here’s what happens in a recession and how to grow your business 

Date: January 5, 2023
Author: Kristin Zhivago

I saw an old term—“single point of failure”—used in a new way today. I’ve always thought of it as an engineering term, reminding me of that one Bay Bridge panel that fell down during the Loma Prieta earthquake in the Bay Area, in 1989, an earthquake that my husband and I experienced for ourselves—it was a whopper! But today, the term was being used to describe a business failure.

This term relates well to the current recessionary environment. There is a “single point of failure” when it comes to recessions. If you know what it is, you can avoid it and actually do better during a recession than you did when the economy was buzzing along. 

What happens in a recession is a massive reduction in confidence, shared by workers, business managers and owners, investors, governments, and consumers. Everyone, in other words. This is the “single point of failure.” 

At the very worst, some individuals get into a fetal position and go back to bed, hoping it will all pass over while they are in a comatose state. That’s the extreme, of course. Most of us can’t afford to simply stop working. So most people fall prey to two states of mind: distraction and reduced productivity. 

How to avoid being sucked into the distraction economy and reduced productivity

We’ve known about the distraction economy for a long time, not only as consumers of information ourselves, but as business people trying to get the attention of busy and distracted buyers. In the Forbes article we link to above, they state that a 2020 Economist study found that, in the U.S., 28% of working hours in knowledge work are lost to distractions, which adds up to 581 hours per knowledge worker annually. That’s a lot of productivity lost to digital rabbit holes. 

During recessions, the problem gets worse. Everyone knows that everyone is retreating, and so they join them. They spend time worrying and watching the news and the status of their retirement accounts, take longer to make buying decisions, and even fall prey to “cleaning my office” mode because the phones aren’t ringing and it seems like a great time to get those long-standing less-urgent tasks off the todo list. 

Of course, this becomes a self-fulfilling trend that gains momentum. As more people are distracted and worried, they produce less, which gives them more to be distracted and worried about, which makes them produce less . . . . you get the idea. It’s a massive reduction in confidence which leads to a massive reduction in productivity, which only makes the recession worse.

This is not the time to retreat.

Retreating in fear is exactly what you should NOT do during a recession. The whole world is moving in that direction, and if you move with them, you will suffer right along with them. 

Instead, you can avoid this trap by consciously deciding that you are not going to join them. That you are going to go on the offense, not defense. By being proactive. By seeing this as an opportunity to grow, and make a solid bet on your business. By being more confident than ever in the ability of your business to succeed.

So your recession-beating success starts with a decision not to be distracted and lax. It’s a decision you will need to repeat, because the next distraction is always just waiting for you, on one of your screens. 

How to get that revenue machine working

Now that you’re in the right frame of mind, what do you do with your new resolve? You do something you never find time for when things are crazy busy. You find out what your customers love about you, how they found you, why they bought from you, and more information that will help all of your sales and marketing work ten times harder for you than it is right now. 

The truth is, your best source of new revenue is your own customers. They will literally tell you how to sell more successfully to people like them, if you ask them correctly. 

Before I show you how to do that, make sure you also read my Guide to Mindset-Driven Marketing, which explains how to grow your revenue by understanding the Mindset of your customers when they set out to buy. 

Their Mindset consists of their desires, concerns, and questions. Knowing what these are and serving up what they want are the two keys to long-term, ever-increasing success. This is one of the goals of your customer research, and, fortunately, the method is simple.

The fastest, most dependable way to find out what you should be doing 

Use the interviewing techniques I’ve perfected with thousands of customers (chapter 3 of my book) to find out what they’re really thinking, and how they want to buy. Have someone you hire conduct the interviews, consisting of open-ended questions. Hiring someone works better, because if you make the calls, the customers will try too hard to be polite, and you won’t get the whole truth. Make sure that the person understands your business and is an eager and empathetic listener.

You only have to interview 5 – 7 customers of any given type in order to get bankable insights. The interviewer should set up Zoom audio-only calls (so they can be recorded), ask the open-ended questions I recommend, record the conversation, have it transcribed ( does a great job). The interviewer will tell them at the beginning that the call is being recorded, but that their comments will be broken up into categories in a report, so that their comments become anonymous. 

When we do this for our clients, we break up the transcriptions so that all of the answers to each question is shown in the Conversation Report. We also provide a Summary and Recommendations report. 

Doing this helps our clients see the overall strategic picture and the small things that need to be worked on. The recommendations become a todo list that starts moving the company in a new, customer-centric direction. 

This work only takes a few weeks. 

Experience the magic for yourself.

I’ve done thousands of these interviews for hundreds of companies. One thing that always happens is particularly magical. 

During the interviews, one of your customers will say something that is either the perfect branding statement, or leads to the perfect branding statement. 

For example, with one client recently, every single one of the buyers we interviewed (they sell their product to large food chains) said, as they described how they felt about the husband-and-wife team that owns and runs the company: “They’re good people.” Wonderful basis of a strong branding phrase; this umbrella concept will distinguish them from their competitors. 

We also recently interviewed dealers for another company (usually we talk to customers, but both of these companies sell their products through brokers, buyers, or dealers). One of their dealers said, “They keep working on it until they get it right.” Again, a wonderful statement about the way this company operates and what sets them apart from their competition. In our discussions after the research was completed, and as I presented recommendations, it was obvious that everyone in the conference room was proud of that statement, glad that they had been doing that right, and even more determined to keep that promise in the future. 

Remember, branding is the promise that you make; your actual brand is the promise that you keep. Interviewing your customers will unearth the promise that you are actually keeping, and enable you to carry that truth through all of your marketing efforts. It will resonate with the market and gain momentum as more customers discover how well you keep that promise. 

Now, reach out aggressively.

Armed with this very specific knowledge, now you need to make sure your website addresses their desires, concerns, and questions the second they come into your website. If they don’t see themselves immediately, they will click away. 

This is also the time to start shaking the bushes—after all, your competitors are hiding under the bed covers, so there’s more opportunity for you. And the best way to get their attention is to decide what you should teach them

Yes, that’s right. Teach them! People are attracted to helpful content and tend to share it (and Google likes serving it up). This is the secret to solid, constantly growing search engine traffic. The more helpful your articles, the more Google will serve them up, and the more Google serves them up, the more people will see them, making the articles become even more popular, which makes Google serve them up even more. 

One of the questions your interviewer will ask is, “What’s your biggest challenge right now in this area?” This will reveal what they are struggling with, and you can bet they are searching for answers. If you are the company that provides those answers, you will get their attention and appreciation. 

Appreciation leads to further investigation. Once you have helped them, they will be more open to giving you some of their time and to whatever you are selling. 

There are certainly things that you know and resources you can put together that would help them. The more helpful you are, the more you will sell. 

This is the most reliable, works-every-time way to move your revenue stream in the right direction, whether we are going through a recession or not. But the recession provides you with a unique opportunity to beat your competitors, because while you are letting your customers teach you how to sell, your competitors will be retreating, giving away market share that you can leverage. 

A recession can be the best thing that ever happened to you.

There’s a guide I’ve written about this subject that will provide even more information. Check it out!

*Photo credit: George Nikitin/Associated Press

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