Spending Smarter, Not Less: Guiding SMEs Through a Recession

By October 18, 2023 Insights

A recession inevitably brings challenges for all businesses, especially Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). During these testing times, the common advice is to cut costs, but this does not necessarily translate to indiscriminate budget slashing. Instead, SMEs need to understand where to spend smarter, not less. Investing in the right areas, while curbing expenditure where appropriate, can ensure survival and even enable growth during an economic downturn.

Invest Wisely: Areas to Increase Spending

1. Technology and Digital Transformation: Investing in technology is not just about saving costs; it’s about enhancing capacity, efficiency, and competitiveness. Cloud-based operations, digital marketing, remote communication tools, and automation can offer significant returns in the long term, making them worthy of investment even during a recession.

2. Employee Training and Development: While it may seem counterintuitive, a recession may be the ideal time to invest in your workforce. Upskilling employees can boost morale and productivity, making the business more resilient and adaptable to change.

3. Customer Retention: During a recession, attracting new customers can be more challenging and costly. Instead, invest in enhancing relationships with existing customers. Improve customer service or offer loyalty rewards to ensure they stick around during tough times.

Spend Less: Areas to Decrease Spending

1. Office Space: With the rise of remote working, reconsider the need for large office spaces. Downsizing or shifting to flexible co-working arrangements can result in significant savings.

2. Non-critical Operations: Businesses should scrutinise operations and identify non-essential areas where costs can be cut. Whether it’s excessive printing or unused subscriptions, aim to eliminate unnecessary expenses.

3. Traditional Advertising: Digital marketing often provides a higher return on investment compared to traditional advertising. It’s measurable, targeted, and generally more cost-effective. During a recession, it can be wise to reduce spending on costly traditional advertising methods.

Lessons from the Last Recession: SME Success Stories

The 2008 financial crisis was a turbulent time for many businesses worldwide. However, amidst the economic crisis, some SMEs managed not just to survive, but to thrive. They provide inspirational examples of how strategic spending and smart decision-making can lead to immense growth, even in a recession.

1. WhatsApp: Launched in 2009, in the midst of the financial crisis, WhatsApp is an excellent example of how investing in technology can pay off. Despite the economic downturn, the founders launched this innovative messaging platform, which rapidly amassed users around the globe. By focusing on a straightforward, ad-free user experience, they retained and grew their customer base. The company was eventually sold to Facebook for $19 billion in 2014.

2. Groupon: Also launched during the recession, Groupon adapted to the economic climate by offering discounted deals, making the most of people’s tightened budgets. Through investing heavily in customer acquisition and digital marketing, Groupon saw exponential growth, reaching a billion-dollar valuation in just 16 months.

3. Innocent Drinks: This UK beverage company faced the 2008 recession head-on by prioritising customer retention and investing in their brand. They launched a creative marketing campaign, including the ‘Big Knit’ initiative, which not only increased brand visibility but also maintained strong relationships with their existing customers.

4. Aldi: The German discount supermarket increased its UK market share significantly during the 2008 recession. By offering quality products at low prices and ramping up their marketing efforts, Aldi attracted cost-conscious customers and saw substantial growth in a challenging market.

These success stories underscore the benefits of spending smarter during a recession. By focusing on customer needs, investing in technology and innovation, and building strong customer relationships, SMEs can turn economic downturns into periods of exponential growth. While every recession and business is different, these examples provide useful insights to guide SMEs towards successful strategies during economic downturns.


Navigating a recession requires strategic decision-making, especially when it comes to spending. By emphasising investment in areas like technology, employee development, and customer retention, while cutting back on office space, non-essential operations, and traditional advertising, SMEs can emerge from economic downturns stronger and more resilient. It’s about spending smarter, not less – a strategy that enables SMEs to weather the storm of a recession and come out on top.

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