Finding Opportunity in a Shrinking Market

Companies thrive in legacy industries when they become thoroughly entrepreneurial.

learn more about Tanya Hall

By Tanya Hall

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Bright entrepreneurial minds frequently shy away from shrinking industries (think publishing) in favor of sexier growth industries (think mobile). Interestingly, the same disruptive factors that earn an industry the scarlet "shrinking" letter are the same factors that present great opportunity for those entrepreneurs who think in terms of evolution rather than extinction.

Here are some starting points to help you uncover opportunity in a shrinking industry.

1. Listen. A surprising number of businesses have no mechanisms in place to periodically conduct satisfaction surveys for existing customers. Even fewer actively track the various reasons why their prospects decline their offerings.

Related: How to Always Be Ready to Adapt Your Business to Change

A trend in either category indicating a preference for another business model, delivery system or service altogether should be treated as a serious bellwether of change afoot. Solicit and pay attention to customer feedback and you will understand where your customers are going and/or why your business is no longer of benefit to them.

2. Ride the Change. Simply acknowledging that your industry is shifting does nothing to help you evolve with it. Many newspapers have acknowledged their industry's challenges in the Internet age while simultaneously failing to evolve their business models to reflect a digital-first world. Legacy thinking is the enemy. A strategic vision guiding a plan to adapt with changing times is critical for retaining top talent and addressing shifts in revenue streams.

Related: The One Thing You Need to Keep Your Business Relevant

At Greenleaf Book Group, our authors have voiced concern regarding the shrinking retail presence of chain bookstores. With Borders disappearing completely and Barnes & Noble closing locations, they rightfully worry about the impact of fewer brick-and-mortar bookstores on our book publishing and distribution company. At the same time, our own surveys and anecdotal evidence have told us authors succeed when they connect with an audience through social media, online learning, keynote presentations and so on.

Our first strategic step was to diversify our account base and push for more sales in airport bookstores, office supply stores, grocery accounts, etc. Next, we recognized the opportunity to provide great value connecting our authors creating content with the many channels clamoring for good content. We help our authors manage their social media accounts, outline months' worth of blog ideas for them, write presentations based on their books and connect them with other influencers in their communities in a fee-for-service model.

The development of these services was a natural progression of our efforts, given our staff's collective experience and how close our publishing team is to our authors' ideas, and it differentiates us significantly from other book publishers and distributors.

3. Plant Your Flag. Once you've done the difficult work of updating your business model and/or service offerings, it's imperative to make a strong push to get the word out about your reworked identity. It takes time to shift the public's perception of a brand, so the effectiveness of this push can make or break your company's evolution. To win new sales from established competitors, you'll have to be especially convincing. Highlight what you do best and why you are the best firm to serve your prospects.

Support some of your best clients by providing your new services pro bono. Use their feedback to refine your offerings and create tried-and-true advocates for what you've developed.

Take a close look at your overall brand messaging. Ensure that all marketing and sales materials, public relations messaging and so forth reflect a forward-looking vision. Incumbents often struggle to objectively evaluate their own messaging. Consider bringing on an outside branding firm to support the transition in messaging. Those fresh eyes, scrutinizing the launch before it goes live, are critical. In fact, your survival may depend on it.

Related: 7 Ways to Help Ensure Your Business Succeeds

Tanya Hall
Tanya Hall is CEO of Greenleaf Book Group, a publisher and distributor specializing in the development of author brands. 

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