The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently announced the world is now in the grip of what will become known as the “great recession” by future generations and, at the beginning of March this year, British companies confirmed 104, 810 job losses in the last four months.

Having listened to the news and speaking to friends and colleagues, it appears everyone has felt the dreadful impact of the economic slump in some way or another. My (S. Hernen’s) husband Craig, who is a self-employed mortgage broker, has had to make significant changes to his own business in order to survive downturn in the financial markets.

With a little arm twisting from me, Craig agreed to share his experience of the recession and offer advice to other business owners about how to survive in difficult times. He also threw in a few tips about where to invest your money if you have some spare cash floating around.

Craig, tell us about how you came to start your own mortgage business?

I started my own business from home six years ago when I was 25. After leaving school at 16, I worked my way up from a cashier at Yorkshire Bank, to Trainee Financial Advisor at United Friendly Life Assurance Limited and eventually as Senior Financial Advisor at Liverpool Victoria.

Over the years I built up many contacts and I dreamed of being my own boss. When I found myself working extremely long hours and constantly on the road advising clients, I decided to bite the biscuit and set up on my own.

What were your first experiences of being your own boss?

Well, I learned quickly that if I didn’t work I didn’t get paid, so the pressure was on. I had a mortgage to pay and a wedding to save for. Also, even though I was successfully generating business and closing deals, I found I might receive the equivalent of three months wages at once and nothing for the next three months so I had to learn to manage my finances and be bold in chasing outstanding monies.

I was already used to working long hours so that didn’t bother me as much but I also had to go out and source my own business and clients.

A few months after setting up from home, I moved to a small office in a regeneration area and took on a business partner. Within a year we had moved to bigger premises and were running a successful company employing more members of staff.

When did you first notice there was a downturn in the market?

April 2008. I began to find it increasingly difficult to place business with high street lenders and started to find that sub-prime lenders (lenders who lend money to niche markets such as self-employed and adverse credit) were beginning to close their doors to new business. The media were also starting to report the UK was facing a potential recession.

How did you react to this?

Our first step was to review our business expenditure and look to cut to costs. Unfortunately, this led to staff redundancies and downsize in office space. I had to look for other avenues of income within my industry. So, for example, I started to increase (mortgage) protection sales and return to my existing client base as new business was becoming increasingly difficult.

What have you seen as the main challenges of the current recession?

I’ve had to review my business practices and become more hands on again. Previously, I had advisors working for me, but now I am back on the tools. I had to look at new ways to generate an income and have to work much harder for my bread.

Has the recession benefited your business in any way?

In the last few months I have returned to working from home and I actually feel more in control of my business and life. I have reduced my business costs dramatically and am able to spend more time with my daughter and wife rather than be travelling to and from work. I am more proactive and have increased my income by cutting unnecessary overheads such as company cars and mobile phones.

What tips would you give to other businesses about coping with the recession?

I would advise other firms to review their business model and expenditure. When you run a company it is so easy to get caught up with spending money on unnecessary outgoings rather than bottom line profit. Also, don’t be afraid to speak to other business owners about what strategies they are employing to stay afloat. I recently attended an industry event where I found many other people from SMEs to major organisations in the same postion as me. It made me feel as though I wasn’t alone and gave me confidence in the decisions I had taken.

What advice can you offer other businesses about winning new clients and business?

New clients are important but it is also paramount to look after the ones you already have. If businesses nurtured their existing clients they would see a quicker return for their efforts. One way I will be doing this is through targeted email marketing to keep my clients up to date with new deals and encourage or remind them to contact me first for financial advice.

In terms of seeking new business and marketing, I would advise companies to invest in activities that generate a solid ROI. In the last few years, I have seen so many businesses, including my own expend valuable marketing budgets in areas where they are unable to measure the true financial return.

In the past, I have always focused on offline advertising – event sponsorship, radio campaigns and magazine ads. Now I am looking towards search, affiliate and email marketing as I can forecast my ROI and closely monitor and control activity and spend. If my campaigns fail to work, I can tweak them but, as I will mainly be paying on performance, I feel more confident in allocating money to these areas.

Finally, do you have any suggestions for people wanting to invest money in the current economic climate?

Now is a great time to invest in property, if you have cash to spare you can strike a good deal. Many people think it’s impossible to get a mortgage these days, in fact, there are some great deals to be done – you just need a healthy deposit to put down.

For more information about how you can recession-proof your enterprise, check out the advice in this blog from back in January: recession-beating tips for your business or read the Telegraph‘s tips here. Or email sinead [at] azam.net. You can contact Craig at craig [at] urbanmortgagesolutions.co.uk.