Hampshire's Business Link Wessex Adviser Will Hemsley highlights how, for small and medium sized businesses, there is light at the end of the tunnel and guidance along the way.

A recently issued report from the UK's leading economic forecaster, Experian Business Strategies, highlights a continuing decline in the profitability of UK companies.

The research goes on to predict an extremely fragile outlook for 2003, decreasing consumer confidence and a slowdown in the growth of consumer spending, concluding that there has never been a more difficult time for companies to trade with each other.

Will said: "These uncertain times are not all doom and gloom for all businesses.

"Companies with relatively small market shares, especially those operating in a business-to-business environment, always have a chance of winning more business.

By considering potential opportunities and acting effectively and efficiently it can be the ideal time for businesses to prove that they are fitter than competitors and even benefit from these tough times."

Will puts forward the following ideas to consider:

- Picking up sales activity by using spare time released during low activity to get back in touch with existing customers that you haven't heard from for a while; update contact databases, put a call in or drop them an e-mail.

- Improving your customer care; it takes significantly more time and effort to find new customers than to look after your existing ones. Make them feel special and always try and give them a little more than they expect. Follow up a call after they have received the work, it shows you care and might avert a complaint. If they have a genuine complaint, make it easy for them to contact you and deal with the problem swiftly.

- Preparing and designing the next phases of your promotional campaign: eg sales promotions and training, advertising, brochure updates.

- Checking out what your competitors are doing, this will give you a good indication if your market share is small enough to be expandable.

- Calmly analysing your situation and using your intelligence to alter it. Sometimes a one-degree turn of the wheel is all that is required to get on course.

- If you have feelings of anxiety pay attention to them but don't take their counsel — everyone has moments of self-doubt, especially when stretching beyond the boundaries of their comfort zone.

Stretching these boundaries will give you a much greater chance of success than by holding back good ideas.

Business Link Wessex, is an independent source of business advice, specialising in helping businesses across Dorset, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight to establish, develop and grow by providing access to a comprehensive range of objective and affordable business information and advice.

It works with many other organisations to ensure that a complete business support service can be delivered to local businesses like yours.

For further information please call the Business link Wessex advisory line on 08454 58 85 58 or visit www.business linkwessex.co.uk.