During a recession, like the one South Africa (and, in fairness, everyone else) is looking at right now, scared businesses tend to cut back on marketing. “After all,” they say, “most clients are becoming more cautious about spending, so let's conserve our resources, wait out the downturn and spend when the economy picks up.” Not true, I'm afraid.
The opposite action is the right one - especially if you're a freelancer, a one-person show or a small business. You should expand during a recession, because there will be a inevitable shakeout caused by the scared businesses shrinking.
During any recession, there are always more than enough clients out there to keep you busy if you continue to market, and market smartly. So capitalise on your strengths, make sure that everyone knows what you do and make the most of your relationships.
Q. WHERE DO I START?
A. GET CLEVER.
1. Start a blog (if you haven't already)
For one thing, blogs are free. For another, even if you're a quivering wreck of a technophobe, a blog is a) easy to set up, b) easy to make pretty, c) easy to brand and personalise and d) easy to maintain, provided that you dedicate some time to it every week or even every day. (My writing and training blogs are hosted by Blogger).
But what's even better about blogs is that Google loves them! Clients who search for the kind of services you offer will be much more likely to find you if you're a regular blogger with your contact information prominently displayed. In addition, blogging is a sure-fire way to attract prospects, convert them into suspects, and share testimonials, experiences and news with your public. By sharing your knowledge and demonstrating your abilities through your blog, you're getting your name out there - and that's big.
When potential clients arrive at your blog and read through some of its content, hopefully they'll have a bit more trust in you than they would in someone else. Blogging tends to be personal in nature, and in my experience, these kinds of connections are common.
Warning: It is perfectly acceptable to mention your services or your availability from time to time, but most of your posts should be great content that others want to read. No one wants to subscribe to a blog that only promotes services for sale. If you do want to promote yourself, limit how much you do this so it will be effective when you need it.
Find out more about blogging, and the benefits to freelancers, in this YouTube video.
2. Look at creative marketing tools
One of the best of these, and the one I use, is ‘34007'. Here's how this tool works:
Let's say John hears about me from a contact. He's interested. He wants to phone me, but he's driving around all day and can't seem to make the call. By the time he gets back to the office, he's lost interest in looking me up. After all, John's a busy man.
Mary sees one of my Bizcommunity articles. My services sound great - exactly what she needs. But it's 11pm and she knows that even if she phones me, I probably won't answer. By the next morning, she's forgotten. Mary's got other things on her mind.
John and Mary represent the 50% of people who fail to respond to my advertising or marketing efforts, despite the fact that they're interested. They're the 50% of hot leads I lose, simply because it's not as easy as it could be for them to respond to my messages.
But 34007 makes it possible for these consumers to respond to me (cheaply and easily) the instant I grab their attention; in the moment; when they're most responsive.
34007 also gives me real-time info, so I can determine which media are really working to generate the best returns for my marketing. In short, for just over R5 per day, I get a 24/7 open door to my business, for clients who already want to do business with me.
3. Team up with others (network, network, network)
A key part of marketing yourself is making professional contacts who can support you, advise you, collaborate with you - and yes, send you work. How to start networking?
- Go to conferences that are relevant to what you do and the services you provide.
- Join online networking platforms such as Twitter, MyGenius or LinkedIn.
- Participate in appropriate Facebook groups.
- Join professional industry organisations (start with SAFREA and freelancecentral) .
- Speak to people in your field and in related fields.
Bottom line: build relationships with people who complement your skills. Are you a web designer? Befriend a coder and you'll be able to help each other. Not only will you learn an immense amount, but you'll also be able to make money by exchanging services.
Q. WHAT DO I DO NEXT?
A. ALTER YOUR FOCUS.
Research suggests that, during a recession, your focus shouldn't be aspirational, optimistic or light-hearted. Rather offer reassurance, emphasise value and empower consumers with info. Now is the time for long ads, advertorials and directing your target market to your website - provided that it is rich in information. During a recession, distill your message into essential copy points that best convey your offering.
Then, protect your brand by building a powerful case for its uniqueness. Focus on distinctive attributes that can keep your clients loyal when budgets are tight.
A strong strategy will not only carry you through tough times; it will also strengthen your position when the shackles of recession are removed. Also, this is an excellent time to refresh your online marketing, because words like ‘quality', ‘value', ‘reliability' and ‘best price' will dominate online searches - not to mention, most people's conversations!
Q. AND ABOVE ALL?
A. STAY POSITIVE.
Don't panic; just work hard to turn the tide in your favour. If you behave like the scared businesses, or target them, you will contract - but if you market to the smart businesses during a recession, you will continue to prosper. It's up to you. Good luck.