No-one could have ever predicted that a virus would bring the world to its knees with a global lockdown including for shops (apart from essential retail like supermarkets), restaurants, bars and offices. What this has meant, is that whilst some businesses including residential design businesses have done really well, scooping up the clients who have been locked in their homes, noticing all the refurbishment jobs that they let slide because they were too busy to do anything about it, other businesses have had their projects have come to a grinding halt. Some have even had to temporarily close their doors whilst the COVID numbers abated in their area.

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By now though, most lockdowns have eased with non-essential shops opening, including gyms and restaurants, resulting in paused projects starting up again, and a flow of new work coming their way.

However, just because there has been this ray of hope and sigh of relief that things are moving forward again, even if it’s not at the same pace as before, it’s important that businesses don’t rest on their laurels thinking that the worst of it is over. This is partly because our economy has not yet fully opened which means high streets, offices, and shops remain closed or empty, there is still the threat of a second wave on the horizon, and on top of that, as of 12th August, the UK has officially entered into a recession, (and I’m sure other nations are set to follow). We have therefore not yet felt the full impact of what this means, especially for small businesses.

With so much out of our control what can you do so that your business not only survives but possibly thrives? Here are 4 tips to recession-proof your business. It also includes input from Design business owners who have had business throughout the 2008 recession: 

1. Don’t adopt a “wait and see” approach

Whilst this approach isn’t unique to Design business, it does seem to be something that most small businesses do when faced with uncertainty or possible change, whether it’s adopting GDPR legislation or putting in place contingencies for the impact of Brexit, they make the mistake of not being proactive. The reason being is that it can often be viewed as too expensive to put in a contingency plan only for it to have to change, to just being too busy with ongoing client work to work ON their business.

However, planning now rather than later means that you plan from a position of being proactive and in control. When things are going well, you can capitalise on that, rather than the reactive and panicked state of desperation that can happen when the negative impact is felt. Your plan doesn’t have to be perfect, nor too detailed, but it’s easier to work from something, whilst also getting into the habit of brainstorming and developing new ideas with your team and problem solving for your business.

2. Get your finances in check

It’s important that you look at your numbers, and to be fair, this is something that you should be doing all the time, but I get it, being busy means that it often falls by the wayside. However, now is the time to review your monthly costs, including for the software apps that you use; understand what’s coming in and what is going out, look at the best way to streamline what you do, as well as pay off any debts that you can faster. This way you can make a reasonable analysis of what can be cut back and what can be invested in, therefore avoiding a slash and burn when a downturn begins. 

A tip from Cinzia Moretti, Creative Director and Co-founder from “Moretti Interior Design Ltd” who started her design business 14 years ago is to: “Have good financial control. Make sure that you know exactly what your business needs and what can be cut during difficult times. Always stay positive. [Have] Good Analysis of the target market. Never give up and be open to restructuring your business if needed”.

A way to rethink what your business needs, is that whilst it can be tempting to bring on new team members because you are super busy, instead look at creating and cultivating relationships with freelancers who could work with you on your business or on your projects, including Virtual Assistants and Project Managers. That way you are able to call on them as and when they are needed so that you can better manage your staffing levels.

3. Look for different ways that you can work with your clients 

A. Diversify your services

With so many businesses being forced to work online, design businesses have turned to e-design as an alternative to traditional design, or as another option to offer their clients. But of course, this doesn’t have to be the only option. 

Through research including asking your clients what they want, as well as leaning into the goals and ambitions you already had for your design business but may have put on hold, you could look at other options such as: Business coaching or training such as through workshops or Designing furniture, if you’ve always wanted to do that. Or perhaps like Maria Martin, Founder of “Interior Design Works” who couldn’t find the right tool for her needs and so created “DesignAppy”; a Visualiser and construction tool for Interior Designers. Her tip is to “create an opportunity for people to work with you in (a limited capacity) (limited budget) to increase your business reach. Marketing and advertising is always encouraged during a downturn but just opening your business to a broader base is a form of long term advertising”.

B. Diversify your industry

Yes, you may have worked in Hospitality, maybe even specialised in designing luxury hotels for years, but maybe you could explore and expand into another industry, one that is thriving or will thrive during this recession, like Healthcare and Offices specialising in co-sharing spaces or redesign of offices spaces for the flexi-workforce. Ann Clements, Founder of “ac design: Interior Design Agency”, who started her business almost 16 years echoes this sentiment with her advice: “consider options and what’s the new norm, refocus, plan and make the change”.

4. Continue to market yourself and your business 

And finally, remember there are still clients out there ready to spend their money and want an expert like you to help them. Don’t think that because there is a recession that you’ll go under. Susan Van Meter, Managing Director of “SVM Interiors”, who has built Interior Design businesses both in the UK and the US advises: “Don’t give up, there are plenty of opportunities in a down market. Look at what you’re offering and see if you can micro-niche it even more. Create unbelievable value. Talk directly to your avatar and niche. Think what their pain points might be. They won’t have gone away. Don’t discount. It’s always tempting to do that. Think value. Now might be the time to pivot the business and really hone your business, streamline it”.

So just like you shouldn’t go missing from social media when you get really busy, it’s just as important that you don’t stop marketing yourself and your business when there is an economic downturn.

In fact, you need to be even more visible, letting your potential clients know that you still exist and how you may be able to help them, so when they are ready to buy, you are top of mind. 

And if you need further convincing, remember that many design businesses are born during a downturn, and continue to flourish. Julia Alexander, founder of “Julia Alexander Interiors” who Designs and provides Staging services, started her business when made redundant during the 2008 recession, combining her experience in corporate training with design to also provide training through workshops. 

So, from Julia, who has done it:  

“It’s interesting looking back at what has come out of past recessions – Art Deco followed The Great Depression. DIY and upcycling really gained momentum after the Financial Crisis of 2008.

As we very slowly emerge from lockdown people value their homes even more and there are still opportunities if you can be adaptable and creative. For example, now many more businesses are still working from home and creating garden offices or readapting their homes to work from home alongside a family. Plus, more homeowners are taking advantage of the stamp duty relief so there is movement in the housing market”.

Meet the author

Maria Mustapha is a Business Strategist helping Architects and Interior Designers plan for what next including growing your business with ease and diversifying your services by creating the right solutions for their clients.

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