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Your small business is operating in a time when things are uncertain. Business coming through the door might be spotty, customers seem to be spending less, and paying the bills is a much bigger struggle than it once was. But that doesn’t mean that customers aren’t out there to be had. People are still spending money, and they still need what you’re selling, just like they did a year ago.
The key is doing the little things to bring in business; and that includes creative marketing. You might think marketing in a recession is impossible because of the costs, but staying on top of mind with customers and letting them know that you’re still there for them is paramount in a down economy.
Here are a few things you can do to keep yourself out there and in the minds of customers for a very small investment. Steps like these can be the difference between keeping your doors open and having to close up shop in tough times.
1. Focus on existing customers
It’s an old marketing mantra: Acquiring new business costs exponentially more than retaining the customers that you already have. In difficult economic times, this rule is one that you should stick to.
Nothing generates business like word of mouth, and referrals are still one of the biggest drivers of new customers to a business. Don’t shy away from asking for referral; instead give customers tools to make referring others to you easy.
In tough times this mans handing out business cards — or if you have extra budget, brochures that can be used as easy handouts. But instead of handing someone just one business card, give them a few. The odds of them falling into a new customer’s hand will increase.
You can even do things to encourage repeat business with existing customers. It’s easy and cheap to print up business cards with frequent buyer boxes on the back. For every third order a customer places with you, give them a special offer. As you check off the boxes, with a special stamp or mark, the customer will know they are close to a freebie or deep discount.
Make the incentive meaningful so the card with your contact information will be kept and hopefully acted upon when seen again. Giving a customer an incentive will keep you on top of mind, raise loyalty for your business, and also the chance that they will refer you to a friend.
2. Get a Web presence
Traditional advertising spending, which has included newspaper, magazine, and other print publications continues to decline as the readership and circulation of these mediums continues to go down. More and more customers are moving online to find the products and services they need. Small businesses that can’t be found online and through local searches are missing out on potential business.
Getting your own web presence is also very easy. Many companies offer Website packages that are even under $5 per month. You can design your own site and include your products or services, your contact information, pricing, and where you are available. Oftentimes you can even sell your products online using even basic packages, taking payments online and driving additional sales.
Online search engines like Yahoo!, Google and MSN have also devised ways to increase your search results, and can help you use tools to get noticed in local searches and keyword searches. If you have extra budget, you might even want to consider making some inroads into the world of paid search marketing, which can reap big benefits when done effectively.
When you have your own Website, you have another avenue for customers to find out about you and contact you directly. You can add your web address to your traditional networking and marketing materials as another point of contact. As more and more consumers go online, they will come to expect your business to have an online web presence. If you don’t, they could very easily move on to a competitor who does.
3. Be creative, stay visible and keep testing!
Now more than ever you need to use your business savvy and marketing creativity to drive business and keep your customers, even if it means doing so on a shoestring budget.
Some types of marketing are relatively cheap and when done correctly, and effectively. For example, traditional direct mail can still work, especially for retaining your valuable customers. And it’s not as expensive as you think. Postcards can be ordered for a low cost. Oftentimes you can get 100 for under $25.
You could mail them out, or to save money on postage you can design one with a coupon or special offer, and either give them away at your shop to entice people to come back and buy at a later date, or put them into shipments as a box insert. When people open their package they can get a postcard with another special offer or a coupon for money off their next order, which they will encourage them to buy again.
If you haven’t yet, you can try to get visibility with signage including car door magnets, or lawn signs. Keeping visible keeps you top of mind with customers who may need your product or service.
The one thing that you can’t stop doing is marketing. The strides you make now will sustain you through these tough times but can also be used anytime to drive business. Tried and true methods that don’t take much of an investment should be done in both good times and bad.
Trynka Shineman is chief marketing officer of VistaPrint North America, the small business marketing company. For more information on VistaPrint go to www.vistaprint.com.