Economic indicators are predicting a recession. Consumer and business spending are down; unemployment is up. The holiday season is almost upon us, traditionally a slow time for independent professionals. It’s natural to wonder whether perhaps this is a bad time to be marketing your business.
Since I’ve been self-employed for almost two decades now, I’ve seen several economic cycles – and many holiday seasons – come and go. What I notice about these “down” periods is that people who frequently struggle to get clients typically think these are bad times to market. On the other hand, people who have been consistently successful at landing clients seem to believe that there is never a bad time to market. Personally, I’d vote to follow the lead of those who are succeeding.
Professionals who have built successful long-term businesses have learned that continuing to market pays off in both the best of times and the worst of times. But you may not be able to produce new results by marketing in the same old way. Here are six suggestions for how to keep your marketing up when the overall business climate is down.
1. Turn up the volume. When people are distracted by bad news, economic concerns, or holiday plans, you may need to communicate more often or more visibly. Where an email might have done the job before, now you may need to pick up the phone or send a postcard. Instead of just one follow-up call, you may need to make two or three. If your business is slowing down, make use of the extra time you have available to ramp up all your marketing efforts.
2. Become a necessity. When clients are cutting back on discretionary spending, they need to perceive your services as essential. Look for ways to “dollarize” the value of your services. How can you help your clients save money, cut expenses, or work more efficiently? Will your services help them gain more customers, increase their income, or experience less stress in tough times? Tell your prospects exactly why they need you, and why they shouldn’t wait to get started.
3. Make use of your existing network. It’s always easier to get your foot in the door when someone is holding it open. In a slow market, referrals and introductions can be the key to getting new business. Seek out opportunities to propose repeat business with former clients, too. Uncertain times encourage more reliance on trusted sources and known quantities, so warm approaches and existing contacts will pay off better than cold calls or mass mailings.
4. Explore partnerships. Working with a partner can create more opportunities for both of you. By sharing contacts, you each increase the size of your network. Together, you can multiply your marketing efforts and share expenses. A partner with a complementary business can allow you to offer a more complete solution than your competitors can. A photographer could team up with a graphic designer, for example. And you can help keep each other’s spirits up, too.
5. Meet people where they are. In a down economy and at holiday time, prospects are even more price sensitive than usual. Instead of slashing your rates to get their business, propose a get-acquainted offer. A professional organizer or image consultant could offer a reduced price half-day package for new clients. A management consultant or executive coach could propose a staff seminar instead of consulting/coaching work. Once clients see you in action, they’ll be more willing to spend.
6. Find the silver linings. When companies cut back on staff, opportunities are created. With fewer people on the payroll to handle essential tasks, downsized organizations present possibilities for project work, interim assignments, and outsourced functions. Economic changes beget other needs. People who are out of work need resume writers and career coaches. Folks concerned about their finances need investment advisors and financial planners.
Landing clients during a down period requires not just more marketing, but more strategic marketing. So instead of getting depressed by the news, get inspired by it. When you hear about coming layoffs, consider how your services could benefit those companies. When you read about negative consumer attitudes, use those words to better target your marketing copy. When prospects say, “not this year,” craft a proposal that ensures your place in their 2009 budget.
For the successful independent professional, there’s no such thing as a bad time to market.
Copyright © 2004, C.J. Hayden
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