By Warren Coles
19 October 2020

Dealing with Economic Downturn: How Trades and Services Businesses Can Optimise Their Business in 2021

The economic downturn and continuing uncertainty caused by COVID 19 has severely affected livelihoods for people running service, trades and small businesses of all kinds. In 2021 we will also the end of our trading relationship with Europe as a member of the European Union, and whether there is a trade deal or not, there is likely to be further economic disruption and a possible recession. If you are focused on selling services in the UK, you may feel that you won’t be affected, but drops in disposal income and higher food prices will mean people cut back on all but the most essential services. It will still be necessary to fix your roof, plumbing and electricals but home improvements, gardening, and services like personal training may see reduced demand. With 2021 likely to be another very tough year, read on to discover the things you must do to maximise the chance of your business surviving and even thriving.

 

Do More Marketing

This may sound counter-intuitive, but it is not. With costs an issue for everyone, it is likely that households are going to look around for other suppliers. In good times, households will rely on the handyman, builder or cleaner they usually use because it is convenient, but in more difficult times they will do a Google search or ask around, and get two or three quotes to see if there is a better best price in the market.

This is an opportunity for you to pick up business if you improve your marketing. Start by making sure you have an SEO optimized website or at least a social media presence in place and post regularly, join forums and groups to comment and offer advice, get Google My Business Listing up-to-date and ring around your clients to try and get them to give you a review. All these items – apart from the website and you can set up a basic site for a limited amount of money using a platform like Wix – will only cost you your time.

Even better do some Facebook and Google ads, you won’t suddenly get billed for more than you expected if you set a budget.

 

Automate Customer Engagement

If you are in the field all day, you don’t have a chance to take calls or monitor who is messaging you through your Facebook page. Unfortunately, if you don’t reply to a message quickly your customer will go elsewhere. You can solve this by using a chatbot platform. They are inexpensive at the basic level but can help you answer basic questions about your business, take a name and email, or notify you so you can follow up.

 

Adapt to Online

If the service you offer needs you to be on premise then this won’t apply to you, but if you sell a product or service you should think about whether it is viable to sell online – This applies not just to physical products but many service businesses like teaching or personal training. You may feel like you have already passed the critical COVID 19 wave and you are back to house visits, but another lockdown could happen soon and, anyway, many people got so used to doing things online, they are happy that way. Continuing to teach online reduces your travel and means you can earn more or offer cheaper classes to attract more students.

If you are selling products there are numerous ecommerce products that will enable you to set up for free. Similarly, if you are selling services you can use a card payment platform for easy invoicing and payment collection.

 

Improve Customer Service

When price is the bottom line, you should work doubly hard to make sure you leave a good impression. If you are visiting people’s homes ensure you put them at ease with following all the correct social distancing guidelines and have PPE equipment or a mask – and also clean up properly.

If your client is elderly or vulnerable and is living on their own take five minutes to have a conversation with them. You are not only being a good person you may discover they have other jobs that need doing and an opportunity to upsell or introduce to a friend. This can sound a little mercenary but as long as you are offering a good service then there is no need to think that way. In fact, people in those groups may have been isolated for a while and unable to find someone to help with certain tasks.

 

Make Sure You Get Reviews

I mentioned above but it is absolutely critical if you want to get new business. Don’t forget to quote from your best reviews in all your promotional materials and across your web presence.

 

Offer Card Payments

You may prefer to take cash because you are concerned about the transaction fees on card payments and being locked into monthly fees. However, cash can be costly in terms of lost customers and wasted time. Even more important now are hygiene concerns around handling cash. Modern card payment solutions enable you to take payments anywhere without any fixed monthly costs.

 

Look for Government Loans

The UK government has help for small businesses in terms of grants and banks have loan opportunities. Even if your business is doing OK, take that cheap loan or grant opportunity and use it on a rainy day when sales suddenly dries up or you need to buy new equipment.

 

Become More Efficient

There are a host of free software applications out there that can help you save hundreds of hours through better management of your time, accounts, and payments. They can help with templates for quotations and invoicing as well providing you with notifications to ensure you are on time. Look for solutions that enable you to sync information between them all to make things even more efficient.

 

Manage Cash Flow

Cash flow is the major reason for small businesses going under. When cash is tight, you need to have a payment solution in place that gives your customers the maximum choice of payment options and makes it as convenient as possible. For example, invoices with card payment links - rather than compelling them to go to their bank account to do a transfer – facilitate faster payment. You also need that payment solution to offer tracking for invoices sent and give you quick and clear dashboards of payments owed and paid to help you understand exactly where your finances are.

 

Cut Costs

Do everything you can to try and see if there are ways to reschedule clients in the field to reduce petrol costs and save time. Look around for cheaper suppliers for both essential tools and items like business insurance.

 

Focus on Core Competencies

You may feel that you want to start expanding your services or product offerings, but understand it is extremely difficult to bring new products and services to market, especially in times of economic downturn.

While 2021 will prove to be extremely challenging for all, it is an opportunity to learn and find ways to optimize your business processes and efficiency that may strengthen your business in the long term. Go to Aceworks to learn how our payment solution can help you take payments anywhere and better organise your cash flow.