Anyone can grow a business in a thriving economy. Separating people from their money is easy when there is a steady flow of income and every economic news story promising more. Implementing successful growth strategies is more challenging when the economic environment includes the threat of lost income and little hope for new opportunities.

Continuous news coverage of failing businesses, lost jobs, corrupt management, and devastating wars is terrifying. Fear paralyzes people even when they haven’t lost their job, been affected by management corruption, and are not near a war zone. All they want to do is bunker down and hold on to their belongings. If your business includes bunker construction or survival kits, this is your economy. For the rest of us, we have to find new ways to grow our companies.

It’s challenging, but growing a business in a down economy is not an impossible task. Successful companies like Walt Disney, Hewlett-Packard, and Microsoft were launched during a recession. If you have an established business with a customer base, you already have a foundation. Building on it is easier than starting from nothing.

The growth tactics that work in a down economy will continue to produce sales as conditions improve. The investment you make to turn your business around will continue to generate a return for years to come. It’s hard to think about long term returns when facing short term disaster but knowing that the things you do now create a sustainable foundation makes it easier to justify the effort and expense.

The first steps to turning your business around are:

Stop the bleeding

When disaster strikes a community the first responders use a process called triage to sort injured people into groups based on their need for medical treatment. This allows them to maximize the effectiveness of limited resources. Businesses in trouble need triage. Management has to take an objective look at where the money is going and how well it is working for the company. Expenditures that don’t improve customer relationships, increase sales, or reduce costs have to be eliminated.

Improve your service

Keeping the customers you have is a top priority. Review processes and policies to insure that you are providing top notch service. The easier you make it for your current customers to buy from you, the more likely they will remain loyal. Streamlining processes to improve the customer experience has the added bonus of reducing costs. Fewer steps mean less handling is involved. This is a win-win step. It increases customer retention and saves money.

Challenge your team

If your business fails, your employees lose their jobs. They know this, but most people don’t think about how the company’s health affects their livelihood until it is too late. Ask your team to share ideas on how to improve service, acquire customers, and reduce costs. The people doing the work often have the best ideas for making it better.

Reactivate old customers

Sometimes people stop buying from a company before their customer life span is complete. Reaching out to good customers with a history of purchases can provide insight into why they stopped buying, re-engage them, or both. Doing this well requires strategic planning because it can be expensive. Start with the ones who spent the most money before leaving and work your way down the list until it stops being effective.

Engage current customers

Your best sales team is the people who love your products and services. Contrary to social media lore they will not aggressively promote your business without encouragement from you. Give them a reason (or ten reasons) to share their experiences with friends and family. When you reward their efforts, they are much more aggressive in their sharing.

Expand your business

Increasing products, services, or territory is counter intuitive when sales are down and costs are increasing. Even so, this step can create a turning point for your company. Look for opportunities to repurpose products or services, add accessories to best sellers, and opportunities to attract new customers. Assess the costs and risks but don’t let fear drive your decisions.