12 ways to save a sinking business

By Henry Brown

Every small business goes through bad patches. Running a business isn’t an easy feat and there may be times when you have to work extra hard to keep things going. However, there are also times when it’s obvious that a business is on the brink of sinking. If you’re looking for ways to save your small business from going under, here are a few tips.

Assess the damage

The first thing you need to do when your business is in trouble is to find out exactly how much trouble. You can’t tackle a problem until you’re willing to look it directly in the eye. Try to identify the areas where the business is failing. It’s easy to overlook signs as they develop because you’re so busy with the day-to-day running of the business, but if you look hard enough, you should be able to spot discrepancies leading up to the problems.

Talk to customers/clients

Your customers are arguably the most important aspect of your business. Without them you wouldn’t be bringing in the revenue to keep your doors open. It’s important to get as much feedback from your customers as possible. What were they pleased with? What could the business have done differently? If you aren’t collecting information from your customers, you have no idea on how to successfully move forward. Ask your customers to take part in a survey and offer a nice prize to one lucky partaker as a reward. Better yet, sit down with a handful of long-time customers and have an open conversation to gather in-depth information about your business and about any unmet needs they might have to you could fulfill.

You may also want to conduct market surveys beyond your customers to learn what potential customers or clients need or want from a company offering your products or services. Make sure you understand key points of such market research so you don’t waste money or time. Sampling in research, for example, is one such topic that you should thoroughly understand so make sure you’re including enough people in your survey to make the results valid.

Trust your employees

Your employees know your business and your customers as well as you do. They may have some insightful information to offer when it comes to saving your business. You should be able to trust the employees you have and work together as team to solve problems.

If production is a problem, you need to find out why and how to fix it. Perhaps employees are easily distracted in the work environment or different teams aren’t communicating well. You can solve those problems by getting your employees to take part in team building and communication exercises.

Get outside help 

If your business is in trouble, don’t do it alone. When you’re facing a crisis, there’s no time to waste. Instead of trying to figure everything out on your own, it’s best to get a team together. Because it’s much better to reach out for outside help if needed. Talking to your friends and family is an excellent place to start. They are likely willing to lend a hand if you ask them nicely. You can also look for volunteers online if there are any organizations that specialize in helping small businesses. Just make sure that they are legitimate and that they are willing to help you out. If they don’t want to take on the extra work, they probably aren’t the best fit for your needs.

Another good place to start would be to reach out to other business owners who can offer you advice and support. You may also want to seek help from an accountant, financial advisor, or look into a managed marketing solution. If you can’t afford to hire an external professional, try contacting your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC) for free counseling services. They can help you with everything from filing taxes to marketing your business. While these resources won’t come cheap, they could be worth their weight in gold if you need them.

Make use of networking

If you aren’t already, it’s about time you started business networking. It’s not just about meeting other business owners in your area. It’s a great opportunity to raise your business profile and meet potential new clients. You can raise your profile with promotional gifts like pens, custom car air fresheners or business cards. You can also learn from successful business owners. What are they doing differently to you? Are there any tips they can give you that you can adapt to your own business?

Manage your money

One of the main reasons small businesses go out of business quickly is that owners fail to manage money well. If your business is going through a rough patch, it’s a good idea to create weekly budgets, instead of monthly and annually. When it comes to your cash flow, you should have tracking down to a fine art. If you do end up struggling with money and you have debtors to pay back, make sure they’re aware of your struggles. Contacting your debtors and explaining the situation will put you in a good light, and they’re more likely to work out a payment deal than come after the business.

Reduce expenses

When a business starts to fail to bring in profits, it’s a clear indication that things are going wrong. However, it doesn’t mean it’s the end. If you need to get back on your feet to invest in the business in order to offer what your customers are looking for, it’s time to reduce expenses. It could be anything from letting staff go to reducing office space, opting for Central Stations managed by a third party to reduce the cost of maintenance and upgrades for in-house stations and monitoring and even lowering costs on office supplies or the cost of shipping or other services you routinely buy. Every little bit helps when it comes to reducing business costs, so don’t be afraid to be tight pocketed.

Use online tools

Time is money, and business owners have never got enough of it. If you’re running low on time, it may mean you aren’t giving your business the quality it deserves. There are lots of ways you can increase the amount of time you have. Online tools like Basecamp allow you to communicate with colleagues and clients on one platform, along with send documents, pictures and invoices. Other online tools will help you to manage your time by reminding you of meetings, posting to social media regularly, and limiting the amount of time you spend on distraction websites. The more spare time you have to think deeply about your business, the more likely you’ll come up with a solution to save your business.

Quality marketing

You may be scratching your head at why your business failing. Sometimes, you can have everything you need for the perfect business – products, target audience, right prices – but something still isn’t right. That’s the time when you need to look closely at your marketing strategies. If the customers aren’t biting, it could be that they aren’t seeing the fish. It’s important to invest in quality marketing so the people you’re targeting actually see what you want them to see. Don’t make the mistake of doing exactly what your competitor is doing. You need to figure out what sets you apart and play to your strengths. Show your audience you’re one of a kind.

Long-term solutions

One of the biggest mistakes failing businesses make when they’re trying to save the business is to invest in short-term solutions. It may be lowering the prices of products, offering discounts for limited periods or even pep talking employees and hoping for the best. When you really want to save your business, you need to look at long-term solutions, even if they’re harder to implement. Rather than finding a temporary fix, stay focused on your real goal – making sustainable changes.

Stay objective

As a business owner, it’s often hard to separate yourself from your business. After all, you have so much invested in this venture. However, you are separate from your business. Keep assuring yourself of that fact so you can remain objective when it comes to looking at your business. If you can take a step back and look at your business clearly, it will help you to distinguish the type of advice you need and where to seek it.

Go back to square one

When you want to save your business, sometimes it’s just a case of getting a fresh start. Maybe you made mistakes in the beginning that led to this point, but you’ve identified your mistakes and you now have the chance to go back and correct them. Going back to the root of the problem will mean you get to build a stronger, more durable business. Make the adjustments you need make and remember to take things slowly and not get ahead of yourself.

Protect your assets

If it does come to your business failing, your assets could be your only back up. For instance, a construction company may be able to hire out equipment or a company that purchased an office space could lease out that space. Protecting your assets could be the leg up you need to save your business or start again in the future. Similarly, if you own an office building, you could sell the building to a buyer who is willing to lease it out to you. That way, your business doesn’t have to stop operating; you just have to make other arrangements. Whatever the situation, your assets are extremely important to your business finances.

A sinking business doesn’t always have to fail, so when you’re struggling try to change your perspective and see your business in new lights.


Henry Brown is an online marketing executive. When he isn’t talking shop, he’s roaming the streets of London, uncovering the extra-ordinary in the ordinary.


  1. Great post. Can you explain more detail about how to increase cash flow management for small business. Thank you

    • Jeanne Yocum says:

      Here’s a good piece from Bank of America on this topic that you might find helpful: https://www.bankofamerica.com/smallbusiness/resources/post/tips-for-cash-flow-management/
      From my own experience, I found that being on top of receivables was key. The squeaky wheel does get paid so never be shy about asking for the money that is due to you. And finally, I never hesitated to “fire” a client who I always had to chase to get my money. Dealing with late payers is just too tiresome and time consuming to make it worth it. Better to strike that person off your client list and put in the work required to find a new client who will treat you respectfully by paying on time. Hope this is helpful. This is a topic I write about in my book, The Self-Employment Survival Guide: Proven Strategies for Succeeding as Your Own Boss. — Jeanne Yocum

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