Every business has its ups and downs. Some are controlled by the economy, others by a myriad of other reasons.
The dilemma we face when times are harder, is how we continue to market our products or services without the financial resources of the "good" times? Some companies reduce their staff, others slash their marketing budgets, many choose to do both. So what’s left?
The fact is, you have to keep your marketing going. If you’re willing to think creatively and invest some time and energy, you can continue to get the word out there without spending thousands of dollars. Remember, if you’re not marketing your products or services, you can bet that your competitors are – why lose business when you need it most?
We’ve put together a list of effective, low-cost marketing actions that will help impact your bottom line. This is not meant to be an all-inclusive list, but it should spark some new ideas and remind you to get yourself out there!
- 1) Increasing viral marketing
a.k.a. "word-of-mouth" marketing. This happens naturally when you do such a great job for your clients that they tell their friends, family, suppliers, and customers about you. If you’re a smaller business, this is one of the best ways to get work.
The benefits are twofold: not only has your client reinforced your capabilities in their own mind, but their enthusiasm is more believable than any ad campaign. Some companies "nudge" this process a bit by asking clients for referrals, which is perfectly acceptable. If you’ve done good work and have a good rapport with your client, they will probably be happy to give you a few names. You may even implement a formal referral policy, where you give the referrer something extra as a "thank you".
- 2) Become a visible expert in your field
Become a guest speaker at the local Chamber, a networking meeting, or wherever there’s a pool of prospective clients. The point is to pass along valuable information that is genuinely helpful or interesting. You want to be seen as an expert in your field. If this means researching facts and creating a presentation from scratch, so be it. It will be worth it. Even if you don’t get clients from that presentation, you will have compiled information that you can then submit to newspapers, magazines, trade publications, newsletters, etc.
What a great way to increase visibility with very little cost! As you get your work published, collect the clippings and add them to your media kit. You can also e-mail articles to interested clients, post them on your web site, and include them in your company newsletter, if you have one. These efforts will pay off as people begin to rely on you as a "source" and an expert.
The most important thing to keep in mind, however, is that your speech topic (and subsequent articles) must contain truly valuable information that your target audience will benefit from hearing. It should NOT be a marketing pitch in disguise – people will get wise to it and resent it.
- 3) Consider branching into new markets
If you feel like your current target market or niche could be expanded, now is the time to do it. Think about what markets or industries might be stronger. Look at industry web sites for clues, read the Business Journals and get a feel for what markets are expanding and which have been most affected by the economic slowdown. This tip will be more practical for some businesses than others, but it certainly can’t hurt to think about expanding your client base.
- 4) Consider offering additional products or services
As the markets change, sometimes the needs of your clients do too. In our business, for example, people are doing less print marketing right now (due to the higher costs of printing and postage) and focusing more on email marketing and web sites.
We understand this, and as a result have developed some new email marketing services, that allow our clients more control and make it even more cost effective. If clients do want a printed piece, I am more likely to suggest something simpler such as a large postcard or DL Mailer, instead of a multi-page brochure.
So, think about what you could do to assist your clients in this way.
- 5) Keep in contact with your clients
Touch base with them every 6-8 weeks or so, or more frequently if appropriate. See how they’re doing, find out how things are going. The purpose is not to look for new work, but to show that you care about them, and their business. Keeping in touch is an essential way to build and keep rapport, and is especially important when times are tough.
- 6) Apply the Customer Value Rule
If you are looking at ways to cut costs, when deciding which overhead costs to trim, ask the question: ‘Does it add customer value?’ If it does, think twice before you swing that knife.
- 7) Get Creative With Corporate Partners
When times are tough – there’ll be many other companies out there feeling the pinch alongside you, so form alliances with other companies that can add value to your company, your image and/or your clients experience, without increasing your spending.
Find companies that offer services/products that would complement yours and set up a mutual referral and/or customer discount package. E.g. If you own a book store, set up an agreement with the cafe down the road to give their customers a 10% discount on books, in return for similar discounts on coffee & cake purchases for your customers.
Work together – spread the love!
- 8) Encourage More Add-on Sales
If clients enjoy their experience with you they’ll naturally want to "buy more of it" — so be sure to give them that opportunity. There are probably a number of places in your operation where you could be encouraging more add-on sales.
Look for them. For example – if you run fitness classes: are you offering further classes, books, workout wear and supplements to class participants? These can be small beer in the big picture, but if you initiate enough of them they can make an important contribution to your financial health.