What to do when times are hard
At the time of writing, 2009 is shaping up to be a tough year for the economy. There is certainly something to be said for the mindset that refuses to listen to the doom and gloom that we hear on the news every day, however hard that is to ignore.
However let’s inject a dose of reality as well. Times are hard for everyone and it doesn’t make it easy for you as a small business owner when clients tighten their belts and stop spending money. If you are a service based business this may be even harder – services may be something your clients feel they can do without when times are tough.
Given that, all the positive thoughts in the world may not help ease your concern, particularly if you are worried as to where the revenue is coming from to support your business and, more importantly your mindset.
This situation is bound to impact your marketing effort. How should you go about marketing at times like these?
Traditionally service providers ask for more
Those selling marketing related services (advertising for instance) may try to persuade you that now is the time you should increase your marketing spend. The theory it that others are cutting back so any money you spend now will have a greater effect on grabbing clients than ever.
That may make sense in principal, but there are three main drawbacks to it.
- Talk is cheap and, to an extent, self-serving in this case. It is all very well to say “spend more” but if the reality is that you are struggling to pay your staff, however much you “get it” you still don’t have the money and you have to cut back somewhere
- Not all messages are equally effective – If the marketing message you are sending is inappropriate or mis-targeted, however much your competition is cutting back your message will still go unheard
- – propects who are reluctant to spend money will be more inclined to scrutinize your marketing message and may also respond less quickly. Are you prepared to keep the message (and money) going over an extended period?
In short, it may be worth increasing your marketing if you can afford the time, effort and money, but it is probably not a cure all for the current situation and could do more harm than good.
Time to check your marketing message even more closely
The first job of marketing is to attract the attention of your best prospects. In a recession your prospects are probably suffering too, as are your clients. Now would be a good time to reconnect with your clients to discuss what would be a good service/help for them right now.
Talking to your current and past clients in this way is NOT to try and sell them more services. They will see through that and it may well erode the trust that you have established over the relationship. Approach it from a mindset of concern for them, and as a means of sharing information and ideas.
Assuming that you talk to people you love working with, who match your business passion, the issues they are facing will be similar to those in front of your prospects.
The question is: “How are you positioned to help them?”
That is the message to stress in your marketing message right now. You can couch it in recessional terms and think how attractive it will be for your prospects to hear from someone who:
a) truly empathizes with their situation and
b) has a solution for their particular issues (recession related or not)
Remember that people primarily concerned with challenges that they are facing – themselves. They have issues and challenges and will still listen (perhaps even more) if you understand that and can help with it.
The fundamentals of the message are paramount
Maybe you are thinking: “That’s all very well but I am hurting NOW. I am concerned where the next revenue is coming from”
That is a real issue; one that can’t be minimized. However now more than ever is time to consider what your client’s pain is (whilst not forgetting yours of course).
The reason for this is coming from a position of NEED (as in “I need a client”) is not attractive and comes across as self-serving. Your prospect may understand that you have a need but are more concerned with their needs than yours. Your approach must play to their requirements in front of yours. Let’s face it; do you want to buy from someone who doesn’t seem to place your needs first?
The mindset of attending to your clients and prospects needs, showing concern for them and a desire to help them through this is vital to success in this climate. By giving to them, you will also receive.
So what do you do now?
Make sure that you are able to clearly articulate and write down the following:
- What you are in business to achieve for you
- Your ideal client profile
- Clearly stated and specific challenges your target clients face
- What challenges are exaggerated by the tough economic climate
- How can you and/or your company help (in terms of solving those problems)
This is fundamental work, and needs to be in front of you all the time.
- Talk to your current clients about their situation and challenges and how you can help (make sure it gels with your answers above)
- If you don’t know find out where they are going to find business, or networking, or where they are trying to find answers to their challenges
- Where they are going is probably where you should go too – note that this may not be a physical location. It may be an online community, blogs etc.
- Tailor your message to your preferred audience in the locations (real and virtual) and via the media (newspapers, online, chamber newsletters etc.) they are using
Once you know that work it hard and intentionally but stay on message. Don’t be tempted by the cheap deal for the direct mail shot (unless that absolutely matches the criteria above).
Most of the time this will require you to put your message out in person at networking events etc. and by tightening the focus on what you are already doing. Doing that will get you in front of your preferred audience faster, and with a better message and shouldn’t cost YOU more than you can afford. You will also be taking strong action to help yourself AND your clients.
They will remember that when this is over much more than the additional advertisement you ran.