Technological improvements--new billing software or an online ordering system, for example--will allow you to add new customers with little additional cost when business picks up. If cash is short, try rolling out new technology in waves. Installing a new tracking system on 5 to 10 percent of your vehicles, for example, will allow you to test how successful the new system is, and whether you should expand it to the entire fleet.
Because of record layoffs, the job market is flooded with qualified applicants. Take this opportunity to hire talented employees at a discount. Whether you are looking for an experienced M.B.A. to join your executive team, or an enterprising college intern to add perspective and fresh ideas, all kinds of potential hires are looking for employment, and are willing to be put to work for less than you might expect.
Identify employees' strengths and weaknesses and invest in targeted training and development programs to prepare them for the upswing. Growth without proper preparation can be dangerous. Make sure new hires are trained and existing employees are retrained so they are poised to take advantage of whatever growth opportunities arise.
Make the most of the business slowdown by striking up partnerships that will pay off down the road. Rather than selling services or goods that require buyers to shell out cash outright, look for opportunities to provide incentives to close a sale. Buyers will be more receptive to you if you offer to cut your commission or other fees.
Build relationships with potential customers and learn more about their needs, then tailor your offerings accordingly to position your company for the future. Many would-be clients will shy away from meetings because they cannot currently afford any additional expenses. By alleviating some of that sales pressure and focusing on the future, however, you will be poised to make the most of the customer whenever they are ready to grow.
You'll never be able to take advantage of the upswing if you don't survive the downturn. Instead of making across-the-board cuts, analyze costs carefully and reduce spending in ways that are unlikely to impair future growth. Be sure to put controls in place so spending stays in check after the rebound. Identifying excesses now will also help keep costs down as you move forward.