Growing Your Business in a Bad Economy

by Cyndi Paxton Johnson

There's no way to sugar-coat the news - the economy is in a slump, and everyone is feeling the sting. Many retail businesses are closing their doors, non-profits are scrambling for funds, companies are down-sizing and savvy entrepreneurs are gearing up to make the most of the economic turmoil.

That's right - the time for small businesses, home businesses and entrepreneurs to grow their business is NOW! We have the flexibility to reduce overhead (we really didn't need all that extra space and stuff, anyway) and focus on solving problems for our customers. Your customers are feeling the bite of the economy, too - focus on helping them improve their bottom line. By helping them ride out this economic roller-coaster you'll be gaining a lifelong friend and customer.

Um....are you saying I should work for free? My family still needs to eat, too!

No, you can't give away your services and products - but you can give away information, advice and support. And yes, that means that you won't be getting paid for your time - but you will be building relationships. Which translates into long-term customers.

Great rhetoric. Now give me something I can use.

Umm...ok. Let's brainstorm for different businesses:

Veterinarian

You still have the overhead (although I have seen a mobile vet or two on the mid-shore) - but you can still adapt to the times. Begin with your website: Post a Q&A page with the most common illness and injury questions - and give folks suggestions for what they can do, at home. Always include a "When to call the Vet" line.

You could also cross market with local humane societies, offering new "parents" a discount on the first 3 office visits. Get them established with your office and let them get to know YOU!

Offer a monthly e-newsletter to your patients - giving them free advice and support. You could include a coupon for your "special of the month".

Team with a dog trainer to offer your customers discounted services - the trainer gets introduced to your entire caseload (great marketing for him/her) and your patients perceive that your newsletter - and your office - offer them great ways to save money!

That's great...but I'm not a Vet. I have a product (or service) to sell - and people aren't buying!

Product or Service Business

Ok...again we start with the website. It's your most cost-effective marketing. First, make sure you have great pictures of your products, along with testimonials from people who love your product ...and YOU. Great customer service, went out of his way to solve my problems, etc.

Then you add your blog, posting weekly (or more) with good information that your customers can use. If you're selling landscaping - offer tidbits and advice. Put up directions for a "make your own compost heap" along with reasons WHY they should compost! If you design patio's, put up pictures, along with advice on making sure your patio drains properly.

If you're selling skin care - talk about the products and how they work with different skin issues your clients may be experiencing. Offer to do "Spa parties" or put together baskets for companies to use as rewards. Give them a discount if they put your marketing material in their company newsletter.

If you clean houses, put helpful organization hints on your website. Give a workshop about how to speed clean your home. Work with small companies that make cleaning products and become a distributor. You get your supplies at a reduced cost and your urge your customers to use the same products in their home.

So...you're saying we have the opportunity to do some creative thinking and marketing?

Exactly! Work on building a relationship with your customers - and go out of your way to help them during these tough times. The only way to survive tough times is to help each other. Go out of your way to make sure your customers know you're willing to do what it takes!

Now THAT'S savvy marketing!

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