Tips for marketing through tough times

Your business is operating in a time where things are uncertain, but that doesn’t mean that customers aren't out there to be had. The key is doing the little things to bring in business, and that includes creative marketing.

You might think that 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. It also doesn't have to be expensive if you have a little know how and creativity.
Here are a few things you can do to keep yourself out there and in the minds of customers for a very small investment.

Focus on existing customers
It's an old marketing mantra: Acquiring new business costs exponentially more than retaining the customers you already have. In difficult economic times, this rule is one that you should stick to. Keeping the customers you have is absolutely paramount. Nothing generates business like word of mouth, and referrals are still one of the biggest drivers of new customers to a business.

You shouldn't shy away from asking for referrals - even give customers tools to make referring others to you easy. In tough times that means 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 also 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 top of mind, raise loyalty for your business, and increase the chances they will refer you to a friend.

Be creative, stay visible and keep testing
Some types of marketing, such as traditional direct mail, are relatively cheap and can be effective when done correctly. Direct mail still works, 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 will encourage them to buy again.

If you haven't yet, you can also 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.

Get a Web presence
More and more customers are moving online to find the products and services they are looking for. Small businesses that can't be found online and through local searches are missing out on potential business. Getting your own Web presence is very easy. Many companies offer Web site packages that are even under $5.00 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 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.

It’s also important to market your Web site: Add the 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.

But 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.

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