Now Is the Time to Assert Yourself

I speak frequently to contract manufacturers and job shops about their businesses. Despite the economic conditions we hear about everyday in the media, many machining and metalworking businesses are busy or are maintaining their orders at 2008 levels. Things still have to be made, even in times like these. Everything may just work out, they say.


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But I’m also hearing that backlogs are down while machines are running, or that the customers of these businesses are pulling back work in-house to maintain their own workforces and leaving their suppliers in the cold. And these concerns are driving SMMs (small- to medium-sized manufacturers) to pull back themselves.

If anything, the past six months of government inaction and international financial concern indicate that the coming months are unpredictable, at best.

So, what’s a small- to medium-sized manufacturer to do? Some SMMs are laying off staff, while others are reducing shifts. Cost-cutting and other tactics are being implemented quickly, mainly out of concern for the well being of their customers and how dependable orders will be from them in the short-term. And of course, the availability of capital has many taking a “wait and see” approach.

But I don’t buy this. Sure, it’s prudent instinct to guard your business and survive. But I also believe strongly that now is the time to be aggressive and market your business to take advantage of conditions when many are timid or fearful.

The key is to think ahead—beyond current market and economic conditions. SMMs rarely think of market share—but previous downturns show that those businesses that remained active and aggressive during tough times enjoyed improved business over their competitors when conditions improved. And they will improve again.

If there’s one characteristic I regularly see among SMMs it’s the reluctance to market efficiently and aggressively, and I think I know why this is: We’ve never really had to.

We’ve always been comfortable working in the established channels to gain work from customers. Maybe you’ve seen the majority of your business come from word-of-mouth, or maybe you’ve been a captive shop in an industry ecosystem that provided work on a regular basis. But odds are, you’ve seen those resources change dramatically in the past year or two.

I believe that now is an excellent time for bold, competent shops with the smarts and technology to seize work from sources and not wait for new customers to find them at random.

Develop a strategy to create lists of prospects and communicate to them regularly examples of what your business is up to—briefly describe projects you’ve completed, new equipment or training you’ve invested in, and services you’ve provided to previous customers that make them more successful. Send e-mails, faxes and voicemails to these prospects regularly—but not too frequently—that assert your dependability and competence as partners. Show examples of your work, to remind them that you’re available to make them heroes to their customers. And show specifically how you’ve done that for others.

Get involved in the Internet—your own Web site and those marketplaces where your prospects gather—and become actively involved in professing your capabilities and prowess. Develop a message that resonates with other manufacturers that encourages them to see you as a resource for quality parts, quality service and reliability.

The days of relying on the randomness of established industry and market orders are all but gone. Today, the uncertainties of economics and shifting supply chains mean that you have to use the tools that your prospects use to get in the game.

I encourage you to take control of your message in the marketplace to assert your business as a preferred source and supply chain partner. You may have avoided or overlooked a strong Web strategy in the past because it didn’t seem profitable. You may think that a strong push on the Web these days is a luxury that doesn’t warrant the investment. I say, it’s an investment you can’t afford not to make.

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