Being in business is never easy, but no doubt harder when sentiment in the community and among consumers is low. Here, small-business experts and industry figures share their top tips and advice to help businesses of all sizes get ahead.
Money in, money out
Business Mentors chief executive Craig Garner says it is important that businesses pay their bills, especially tax, even if they don't think they have the money to do so. He says it is a matter of do or die.
"Avoiding paying the bills, especially your tax, is a no-win situation. If you leave payments due too long there can be a point of no return for the business survivability," says Garner.
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"Be sure that you invoice immediately for product or services delivered, and when your payments are due follow up any late payment with determination."
Garner recommends that any businesses struggling to pay their bills to talk to those they owe any money to as soon as possible and in advance of due dates to arrange a deferred payment plan.
Look after your customers
As obvious as it sounds, looking after your customers should be a priority, for without customers there is no business.
Marketing to acquire new customers is also essential to the success of a business but keeping existing customers happy is vital too, says Garner. "In times of growth, and when cash flow is positive, we can take our loyal and repeat customer base for granted. When income is restricted due to external factors like a slowing economy, this is an excellent time to ensure your core customer stream are recognise and acknowledged," he says.
"Remember the economy is impacting them too."
Have a plan and work to it
Michael Barnett, chief executive of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce, says all businesses should have a plan, and should follow it.
He also recommends operators have a plan B that can be implemented quickly. "Work out what the signs are that might indicate a slowing market and be ready to change.
"Have a plan and work that plan but have a plan B that you can quickly move to."
Barnett says owners need to be "close enough to the market" to respond to any changes in the environment. "There's a whole lot of static around the marketplace but as a small, medium business, you have to focus on your clients and have a plan to serve them.
"Don't float along the marketplace reacting, you need to driving your product and services."
Do more of what you've done well
As a business owner you will know what you are intrinsically doing well, and what customers respond the best to - do more it.
"Don't sit there thinking 'I need to change', if things are going well and you are getting a good response from the customer, the market is working for you; do more of that," Barnett says.
"If you start getting any variation or signs of a turn, have a back-up plan."
Business owners should be going through all of their accounts and expenses to make sure every business transaction is warranted. This includes staff count and wages.
"Basic costs for a business such as where you are buying from, if you are buying at the best price, costs of packaging, costs of distribution; look at every cost that you have and ask is this the best thing we can be doing for our business?"
Restaurant Association chief executive Marisa Bidois says owners should examine rosters and work schedules to manage labour costs. For a hospitality business, this may mean re-examining menus or reducing menus to operations more efficient.
Boost productivity with technology
What is the most time-wasting part of your business? Identify it, and then use the internet to find a technology answer to the problem, says Beany chief executive Sue de Bievre.
"If it's a problem for you, it almost certainly will be for others and someone will have found a technology answer," de Bievre says. "For example, what if chasing your debtors takes up your time and you hate it? Why not use a technology solution like Ezypay and set up your customers on direct debit? Or find some debtor-management software which will reduce your time on this tiresome task.
"With the time you've saved, you can find another customer or look for another productivity-boosting solution."
There's no shortage of smart solutions out there, test a few technologies to see what works for your business.
Consider opportunities in your sector
While Fonterra is struggling with its strategy, A2 Milk is charging ahead as it thought about its product and the worldwide trend towards healthier food.
Identify global trends in your business and within your industry, de Bievre says.
"How can you capitalise on the changes and move towards the trend instead of away from it? The easiest way to discover new trends and thinking is to Google it and think about how the changes might impact you, your business and your customer," she says.
"Remain alert, keep moving forward and don't be negative - good businesses learn, adapt and grow, even in difficult conditions."
Hold on to good staff
Though many industries are struggling to meet their labour demands, Bidois says this should encourage operators to retain key team members where possible even more so.
"Having a plan around retention and recruitment strategies will help," she says.
"Spend time planning for the worst-case scenario and ensure you have a plan and the funds to work through this. Smart businesses are the ones that recognise good people need to be motivated to stay with you so think about ways you can make your place of work better than the next place."