The following is a guest blog by Karen Metz of Keystone Mobile Shredding:
The economy started a slow descent in 2008 and caused business owners to slash costs and attempt to do more with less. Unemployment rose as a result and we officially entered our “recession”. For the shredding industry, this meant that business owners were reluctant to spend money on destroying documents – there were more important things to worry about like meeting payroll. Even though the information protection laws were becoming stricter, companies were struggling to simply stay afloat in a sluggish economy and tended to ignore new legislation and threats of data breaches.
And just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, a national giant in the industry decided to infiltrate central Pennsylvania and purchased two companies to compete with me. For the first time in eight years, I actually thought of jumping overboard and selling out. I was not only sailing in murky waters, I was surrounded by sharks!
As a small business in the shredding industry, I needed to reflect on what we do that sets us apart from our competition. I found some comfort in looking at the professional awards that my business has won – more awards than any other shredding company in the state. So I must be doing something right…I needed to reassure myself that I should keep going and continue to grow in spite of the economy and competition.
So how do you sail in murky waters filled with sharks?
You have to take a good look at what your strengths are. If that is customer service, then do it bigger and better than before. Get involved in your local Chamber and other associations and network with other small businesses – it’s easy to sink into depression and think that you are the only one affected by the recession – but you’re not. Get out into your community and make yourself known. We offered 16 “Shredding Events” throughout Pennsylvania in 2010. Sure, it took time but the exposure and free advertising were worth it. If your customer base is your strength, implement a leads generation program or a referral campaign and get them involved. Your customers can become your greatest sales force. Take the time to write (hand-written) notes of appreciation for those referrals. Become the expert in your field. Your customers have questions and by educating yourself and being available, you can become the expert that they will rely on and that relationship can grow into more business. You can present your expertise in social media, face to face networking events or news releases.
In a slow economy, it’s tempting to take on the “Wal-Mart mentality” and drop your pricing. Avoid it if possible. Customers who are looking for the lowest price are not the customers that you want anyway. They’ll only be committed to you until the next low price comes along. Stay competitive and stay true to your values – offer great service and be the one who stands out in your industry. You can survive the murky waters and learn to swim faster than the sharks!