How to market your business in a recession January 2009

In the first of a four part series, Peter Savage offers tips that will help you get customers buying from you, even in this economic downturn.

This year we are going to look more on the bright side of life as last year was full of doom and gloom. So this is the start of a four part series about developing your business in a downturned market.
I thought I would start with the most important aspect – how to market your business, as this is more essential when customers are not coming through the door than when they are.
Now this is not an invitation to spend the last pounds and pence that you may have in the business on frivolous advertising. But good, directed, marketing can keep your name and face at the forefront of people’s minds so that if they want to buy there is a good chance it will be from you.
Take the example of Charles Dunn at Carphone Warehouse. When he was down to his last £10,000, right at the start of the business, he used his money on targeted radio advertising to draw people to his shops. He knew he had great products; he needed people to see for themselves.
So here are my New Year tips:
Pick up the phone
There is a lot to be said for picking up the phone and calling your customers – if you don’t ask you will never get. It might be that they are not ordering because they can’t fulfill part of an order; they might need some advice on a more cost-effective product; or it might simply be that they need some credit to buy. (This last point will be covered in a later article on assessing credit risk.)
The point is: talk to your customers asking how you can help. This contact, even if you only say hello, subliminally puts you ahead of the rest. Better still, chew the cud, share experiences and talk about them – and their competitors - as your customer might say “well, we don’t want anything but I know a man who does and you can mention my name”. Hey, what an intro.
I am not advocating going to endless parties trying to find that one potentially useful contact. But I am saying that you should keep your face out and about. In a downturn, too many people hide, almost in an embarrassed state, as they don’t want others to know they have no business. Then when out, remember don’t talk about how bad things are with you but ask people about how they are doing. This opens them up and, as above, they will start telling you hopefully of an area of business that is going well and then with luck some relevant contacts.
Every industry has its own functions. I went to a broadcast hire do before Christmas which, although it was solely for hire people, was a great networking opportunity mainly because there were loads of people there who I hadn’t seen for ages. It is this sort of contact that can get the ball rolling – and business rolling in.
Partner with people
Every networking guru – and there are many – advocates forming strategic partnerships. Which businesses do you have a symbiotic relationship with – and could you work together on marketing, sharing expenses? Trade shows are a good example. If you have regularly shown at, say IBC, but are squeezed to get the budget this year, then think laterally. Call someone who works in an associated area – not a competitor – and say “how about sharing an IBC stand this year?”. This will give you the presence you need, but for half the cost; it may bring in a new customer or two; and you’ll build a business relationship with someone with a useful client list.
Exploit the Internet
The internet is an increasingly effective way of keeping in touch with your customers. Compared with printing, sending html newsletters is a very cost-effective way of communicating with your customers. Your website, and digital communications, should do much more than blowing your own trumpet. Try including useful information – not about you but that customers will value – or start a forum. You want people to say “did you read this on such and such a website?” or to come back to join in the debate, putting your name at the front of their minds. But be careful as the web is a live medium where out of date comments and mistakes can reflect badly. Keep it current and up to date.
Get help that keeps you positive
Getting into a financial mess can feel as if you are in a deepening hole you can’t get out of. Do whatever helps to keep you positive – and in business. Talk to people – for moral support, for advice, for encouragement – and keep up with the basics. It seems strange but a lot of companies that I have seen fail, stopped doing the basics even to the extent that, for months before going down, they didn’t invoice for work done. They became preoccupied with the bad bits, thinking “we need so much, it’s hardly worth invoicing for this”. It always is. Don’t become an ostrich, get help that keeps you going personally and professionally, starting with the tip at the top of this list … pick up the phone.
If you would like to know more about how to keep going in a downturn or comment on this article, contact or contribute to the blog at where you can also read previous articles on financial issues that affect your business.

Tags: iss027 | finance | azule | recession | N/A
Contributing Author N/A

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