How to Build Resilience into Your Business During a Recession Here are three key steps to help you build resilience in tough economic times.

By Scott Scully

Key Takeaways

  • Cross-train your people
  • Run financial decisions through a smart meter
  • Lean into revenue stream diversification

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When the chaotic events of 2020 hit, the companies that survived (and thrived) were those that faced their financial fears and ramped up their service offerings, customer service and marketing. Look at how well commercial cleaning companies have done in the last few years; they saw an opportunity to make themselves more relevant than ever in the midst of hygiene concerns. IT companies did likewise, focusing their sales and marketing efforts on serving businesses whose remote teams required better infrastructure, software, training and security measures.

However, too many businesses seem to have already forgotten these stories of resilience, innovation and optimism. As mentioned in CFO Dive, 99% of corporate leaders said they planned to cut their budgets because of economic rockiness. Regrettably, marketing departments are feeling the greatest pinch. Marketing Dive reported in late 2022 that half of all U.S. companies are tightening their marketing belts.

This is a mistake.

There's a reason you invested in your selling and marketing in the first place: to bring in leads. You can't afford to turn off your lead generation spigot in tough times, or you'll be left high and dry and unable to make up for any turnover that comes your way.

At Abstrakt, we worked hard to keep our marketing and selling activity consistent. Our competition was making cuts. We went the opposite route, stayed the course and were able to bring on new partners as a result. This allowed our partners (and us) to grab a bigger piece of market share despite tough times. Our clients knew they could rely on us when they saw that we were stable and able to keep our foot on the gas.

If you want to increase your flexibility and resilience in hard times, start with these steps:

Related: 5 Ways to Protect Your Business From a Recession

1. Cross-train your people

A cross-trained team is an agile team. When multiple people understand how to handle multiple roles and navigate several types of assignments, the entire organization benefits. So-called mobility culture eliminates restrictive "tribal knowledge" and prevents the company from losing precious time and money if only one person knows how to complete tasks. You never want to be in a position where you have to answer the proverbial "What happens if Bob quits tomorrow?"

Ensure your team members are aware of each department's core functions and capabilities so they can step in to help if there is turnover or an urgent need in that department. Having employees who are confident about taking on new roles effectively gives you a huge advantage. You'll be less worried when someone with vast knowledge leaves. Plus, you may be able to avoid that problem altogether by encouraging cross-training and promoting from within.

When Pew Research asked people why they left their last job, 63% said it was because they saw no way to advance up the corporate ladder. By investing in a formal cross-training program, you're giving workers the skill sets to be assets in multiple areas of your company. This ultimately increases their value to you and your value to them.

As part of your cross-training endeavors, insist that all core processes be documented in standard operating procedures (SOPs). Nothing workflow-related should ever live in one person's head; that's dangerous to the future of your organization. SOPs ensure that there's a way to train and track the performance of each function across your operation. You'll find that cross-training new hires is far simpler when you have instructions and policies outlined and accessible to all.

2. Run financial decisions through a smart meter

Before making any major purchases or spending significant amounts of money, ask yourself a few things. First, "How does this benefit our team or our clients?" If you can't see a benefit, you probably need to put on the brakes. Secondly, ask, "Will this contribute to our long-term marketing and sales goals?" You should have both short-term and future-focused objectives planned out, and financial choices should help move the needle on those plans. Basically, your questions are going to ensure that you're prioritizing high-impact, effective spending aimed at giving you the most bang for your buck.

Be sure to take your data into consideration to help guide you through this process. RTInsights cites survey results from HFS Research showing that 75% of business leaders distrust their data. If you're among that group, find a way to feel more comfortable with the data available to you, such as improving your data collection and analysis system or software. Leveraging data to help you make more informed decisions (especially during economic turbulence) makes more sense than gambling on gut instincts, which can feel right but can be very wrong.

Related: 4 Ways To Sustain A Recession-Proof Business

3. Lean into revenue stream diversification

In 2020, our company was in a fortunate position; we have an international client base, meaning our revenue streams were diversified across organizations in multiple industries. This variety prevented us from being in a position where we'd lose a ton of value if a single client submitted a cancellation.

Look at your client base today. How much revenue would you lose if your biggest client decided to go elsewhere? A healthy response would be 10% or less. That way, you won't be completely wiped out in the event that the unthinkable happens. You'll take a hit, for sure, but it won't be something that you can't recover from with some extra hustle.

The good news is that if you're keeping your marketing and sales efforts strong, you shouldn't have a problem replacing a lost client. Never forget that even in recessions, businesses are hiring B2B outsourcing partners. With leads coming in and salespeople working hard, you can still succeed even if you experience churn.

There are never any guarantees in business, and you can't control the marketplace — but you can control the way you prepare for and respond to economic tailwinds. Instead of assuming you have to slash and burn across your operations, take a more thoughtful and nuanced approach to where, how and when you scale back so you don't accidentally cut off sales and marketing, your organization's lifeblood.

Related: Economic Downturns Don't Last Forever — Here Are 5 Ways to Maintain Resilience During a Recession

Scott Scully

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

CEO Abstrakt at Abstrakt Marketing Group

Scott Scully is the CEO Abstrakt at Abstrakt Marketing Group, a business growth company that provides lead generation solutions.

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