Maintenance mode; ticking over online

Maintenance mode

What should you do when growth isn’t possible?

There’s a popular bit of business-y hyperbole that goes something like ‘if you’re not growing, you’re shrinking’. I guess it’s meant to inspire action. Grow! Improve! Keep moving forward! In reality, growth isn’t always possible. Perhaps family life takes priority over a growing business. Maybe a busy period at work prevents you from progressing personal projects. Maybe there’s a global pandemic and/or economic meltdown. Just imagine. 

You can’t grow in every direction all the time. But, if you’re pragmatic, you can do just enough to keep ticking over. Turning on ‘maintenance mode’ prevents you from losing everything you’ve already achieved, until such a time that you can start to make progress again. 

In this article I’m going to take a look at what I think ‘maintenance mode’ might mean online, for a small to medium-sized organisation. When growth isn’t possible, what’s the minimum amount of digital activity you could commit to in order to stay steady? And what does that actually look like in terms of output? 

Maintenance mode, definition:

The minimum amount of action required to maintain a level growth rate. Let’s call this Minimum viable action or MVA.

What does online maintenance look like?

To explain what ‘maintenance mode’ might look like for organisations, I think it’s helpful to quickly look at what ‘growth’ means first, so that we can compare.

Digital ‘growth mode’

At its most basic level, business growth is ultimately quantified by increases in profit. Broken down into supporting digital metrics, this can be characterised by increases in:

  • Web traffic
  • Social engagement
  • Conversions (ie inbound enquiries, for B2B and service-lead organisations)
  • Online orders (for product-lead and SAAS businesses)

Typical activities that promote digital growth include:

  • Rebranding
    New positioning and flash new visuals that better communicate value to customers.
  • Website redesign
    As above. In addition, a redesign offers an opportunity to refine the user experience and in-turn promote an increase in conversions.
  • Marketing campaigns
    Unified effort across different digital channels, including social, email, paid advertising, outreach and search.

Digital ‘maintenance mode’

Conversely, maintenance mode is less about ‘new’ and more about fixing, improving and expanding what you already have. It’s evolutionary, not revolutionary. Out are big rebrands, costly website redesigns and complex cross-channel marketing campaigns. It’s time, instead, to get down to basics. Here are three areas to focus upon:

1. Communication

The most important thing to do whilst in ‘maintenance mode’ is to just keep reminding people that you still exist. That’s all.

You can do this in several ways:

  • Social media updates
    You might not have new products or case studies to promote but that doesn’t mean you can’t be active online. An easy way to stay on people’s timelines is to simply share content. It doesn’t even have to be your own content, it just needs to be relevant to your customers. Don’t burden yourself by trying to stay active on every channel. Just choose one or two depending upon where your customers hang out.
  • Blog posts
    Creating your own written content enables you to keep your website fresh, without the services of a web designer. Share your unique perspective and expertise.
  • Video (lo-fi)
    You don’t need lots of equipment to make engaging video. You just need a smartphone and something to say. Short clips posted to social media are a cheap and easy way of communicating with your customers. This lo-fi ‘gonzo’ approach has become so ubiquitous that it’s no longer deemed unprofessional, even for the biggest of brands. Used carefully, this style can actually build greater trust with your customers than a carefully polished corporate video ever could. 

2. Technical upkeep

Your website will need a small amount of looking-after to make sure it doesn’t fall over. Think of it like servicing your car. If you neglect it, sooner or later something major will occur that will likely be more costly to rectify than if you had just maintained it in the first place. For many websites, such as those running on WordPress, this will simply mean regularly updating security patches and plugins. Always test updates on a staging server (ie not your live website) to avoid crashing your site.

Fixing broken stuff

A period of downtime is a good opportunity to fix niggling website issues. This might include fixing broken links and sorting out pages that don’t quite look right. A big redesign project isn’t possible right now, so focus upon making the best of what you have. A few design tweaks might even improve conversion rates.

3. Data collection

Even if you’re not in a position to sell anything to your customers right now, you shouldn’t stop gathering the information of future prospects. Make sure your site has a ‘keep me updated’ style email sign-up. And check it’s still working! You might not get thousands of sign-ups, but those who do will likely be valuable contacts when you’re ready to start marketing properly again.

The case for a ‘maintenance mindset’

Maintenance isn’t sexy. Where ‘growth’ is zapping around making lots of noise, ‘maintenance’ is sat in the background, diligently making sure things keep running. CEOs don’t stand up in front of their employees to announce “if we keep working hard as a team this quarter, we’ll… stay exactly as we are!”. But I think it should be celebrated. 
‘Maintenance mode’ is a promise to your future self. It’s about being honest about what you can commit to right now and not being disheartened that ‘growth’ isn’t available. It’s about setting realistic expectations, in less-than-ideal conditions. If you do just enough, you’ll make progress much easier in the future. Your future self will thank you.