As a veteran small business owner, as well as a person once employed by and laid off from a small business, I understand all too well how economic downturns can hit especially hard. It’s during these tough times that finding ways to connect with clients or customers becomes not just a strategy but a lifeline.
In this blog post, I hope to offer actionable suggestions that can help you think outside the box about what would help your business, and your clients. I’ll share practical, down-to-earth ideas and strategies that won’t break the bank but can make a world of difference in attracting and keeping customers, even when the economic forecast is a bit cloudy.
So, whether you’re a one-person show, a family-run business, or a cozy neighborhood spot, join me on this journey to discover how a little creativity and a lot of heart can keep your customer base thriving when the going gets tough.
Digital Marketing Strategies
Digital marketing can be key to the survival and growth of a small business, especially during economic downturns. In this section, we’ll explore various cost-effective digital marketing strategies that can help you reach more customers while keeping your budget in check.
Digital marketing can be a cost-effective strategy for small businesses, as it allows for targeted advertising and measurable results. —
Given its cost-effectiveness and broad reach, social media offers myriad opportunities for engaging your existing customers and attracting new ones. Below are some ideas around simpler strategies to help you take advantage of social media, without getting mired in things that don’t work for you or your business.
Choose what works for you
It’s true that a lot of social media is pay to play. But platforms like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok do offer small businesses the chance to connect with an audience for free. Sometimes that — and showing up consistently as your authentic self — is all it takes to get the ball rolling.
It’s not just about getting your business out there; these platforms can also provide valuable feedback and interactions with your target market. Make sure your social media accounts aren’t just one-way communication. Regularly post engaging content that resonates with your audience. Respond as quickly as possible to comments and questions from your followers.
Don’t overthink it
It is work – let’s acknowlege that. But it doesn’t have to be overly complicated. A quick snap with your smartphone and a share out to your favorite platform are enough. Carefully planned marketing campaigns have their place, but it’s better to low-key connect more often than it is to show up with a big flashy post once in a blue moon.
A simple image of your newest product, a behind the scenes sneak peek, or sharing customer testimonials can all be compelling content. You can also make use of features like Facebook or Instagram stories, for time-sensitive promotions and announcements. Keep it authentic and conversational; people appreciate businesses that provide a human touch. The more personable and relatable your brand appears, the more likely customers are to engage.
Swim in a smaller pond
When it comes to social media marketing, please don’t think you have to conquer the world. Often it’s beneficial to focus on a smaller, more manageable pond. One way to accomplish this is by leveraging your Google Business Profile (formerly Google My Business).
Updating and maintaining your Google Business Profile can help you reach a more targeted audience. When local consumers search for businesses like yours, an optimized Google Business Profile increases your chances of appearing in local search results. Here’s why it’s so crucial:
Google is a high-traffic platform. Strategically using your Google Business Profile can help you increase your reach and resonance, without a lot of extra effort.
Embrace Your Email List
If you haven’t made the most of your e-mail list, it’s a good place to start. While posting to social media is easier in some ways, remember that people on your list have signed up to hear from you. And, it’s easier to actually connect with them than via a social media post that may or may not be clicked on or even seen.
Below are some simpler ideas to bring new life to your e-mail list.
Reengage Inactive Subscribers
Start by reengaging with subscribers who haven’t interacted with your emails in a while. Craft a compelling reactivation campaign with a clear and enticing call to action. Consider offering an exclusive discount or valuable content to entice them back into your sales funnel.
Provide Value-Focused Updates
Send regular, value-driven email updates to your list. Share helpful tips, insights, or resources related to your business or niche that resonate with the current economic climate. If your business can be a source of support and expertise during tough times, don’t be afraid to make it clear. Occasional promotions or discounts can be included, but ensure that your emails provide genuine value, even if recipients don’t make immediate purchases. Building trust and maintaining a presence in their inbox can pay off when they are ready to buy or refer your services to others.
Highlight Customer Success
Showcase the success stories and testimonials of satisfied clients in your email campaigns. Highlight how your products or services have positively impacted their lives or businesses. This social proof builds trust and credibility, making your offerings more appealing to potential customers. Encourage satisfied clients to share their experiences and provide referrals, further expanding your client base without significant marketing expenses.
Easier SEO Wins
Optimizing your website for search engines, aka SEO, is a powerful tool that can help prospective customers discover and connect with your business. Even if you’re pressed for time, there are some easier things you can do to improve your SEO quickly and efficiently.
Consider this your simplified SEO checklist:
With a little effort, you can start reaping the benefits of SEO. Remember, SEO isn’t a one-time thing — it’s an ongoing process. You don’t have to do everything at once. Taking small, steady steps can still have a great impact in helping your business grow.
Customer Retention Strategies
Even in the midst of a struggling economy, your existing customers are the best place to find support. It probably goes without saying, but that support needs to work both ways (many of them are struggling, too).
Existing customers know your business, trust your products or services, and, importantly, have chosen to support you before. Retaining these customers is key to weathering economic storms. Here are some cost-effective strategies that can help your small business improve customer loyalty:
Retaining customers costs less than acquiring new ones. On top of that, satisfied, loyal customers are more likely to refer others to your business. Implementing a few key strategies could be the lifeline you need during tough economic times.
Cost-Effective Advertising and Promotion
Maximizing a promotional budget is a concern for most small businesses – even more so in challenging economic times. One way to stretch your marketing dollars is with low-cost (or even free) creative promotional ideas. This not only reduces your expenses but also encourages innovative thinking, which can give your company a competitive edge.
Consider these tactics:
These ideas are just a starting point. The best marketing strategies often come from thinking outside the box and continually testing and refining your approach.
Adapting Your Service Offering
One of the first things I did when we noticed fewer inquiries and more budget sensitivity was to brainstorm ways we could help people and meet them where they are. This is an area I’m particularly sensitive about, for a couple of reasons. At least.
Good website design is expensive. When people don’t have enough to pay a professional, they do things that best case don’t help their business. Worst case, they hurt it. That’s one reason. The second one is me.
I’m a limited resource, with a high value. If I charge less, then I am giving people deep and varied expertise for the same price as someone who’ll mess up their website and make them look bad. That’s not fair to me, and would quickly lead to burnout.
What I did instead was create a service (AFV One) that was as high quality as my custom websites, but smaller and more limited. And, I bundled it with website hosting and care. So it’s more affordable and one less thing for businesses to worry about.
Below I’ll share some ideas for ways you could adapt your own services or products. Even if they’re not the exact thing you need, I hope they’ll help you think outside the box and come up with great ideas for your business.
Identify Recession-Resistant Service Lines
Surviving in a difficult economy requires being intuitive and strategic. Are there services or products your business offers that remain in demand, even during economic downturns? Identifying these things might be as simple as an experienced guess, or perhaps comparing current sales with pre-downturn numbers. Once you identify these recession-resistant services, focus on promoting and improving them.
Adjust Pricing Strategies
Another strategy revolves around price adjustments. Generally, customers become more price-sensitive during economically challenging times. Consider altering your pricing strategies to offer prices that, while competitive, still ensure business profitability. Obviously balance is key here – you want to remain attractive to clients without hurting your bottom line.
Create Bundled Packages
Creativity can be one of your strongest tools in a tough economic climate. Create bundled packages of related services that provide more value for your clients. This not only helps your customers save money but can also potentially increase your sales volume. Think about the services you offer – which ones naturally complement each other and could be grouped together? This tactic could make your offerings more attractive to budget-conscious clients.
Implementing cost-saving measures, such as optimizing operational processes or negotiating better supplier contracts, can free up resources for marketing efforts.
Think Outside the Box on Payment Options
With the AFV One service I mentioned above, I had a little bit of a dilemma before I’d fully fleshed out the idea. Even a single-page website like an AFV One site can feel like a big hit all at once, given what I need to charge to cover my time and expertise. So after adding more value with hosting and care, I had to think through what people would actually be able to afford.
Monthly payments seemed like the best option, but I was concerned about waiting up to a year to receive payment for all of my work. Thanks to best practices learned in my agency days, I knew to take care with contracts. In nearly 15 years of business I’ve only had three people fail to pay me, plus a few more who were late to pay.
I wanted to make AFV One clients’ sites live quickly, so they could begin benefitting from their new websites. But if I turned everything over to them right away, for next to nothing, it’s possible that a few unscrupulous people would take advantage of me. I realized pretty quickly that the answer involved a win-win: hosting. With hosting included in the price, it’s one less thing for my small business clients to deal with. And in the (now only slightly likely 🎉) event someone didn’t pay, they wouldn’t be able to “steal” their site.
When considering payment options that might help your customers continue doing business with you, you have to be mindful of your own financial health. It’s good to want to help customers, but if you go out of business nobody wins :-/
Flexible financing is one option to look into. Services like Afterpay or Affirm can be added to a Stripe (credit card processing) setup or many other payment gateways. Buy now/pay later (aka BNPL) options like this enable customers to purchase goods or services immediately but pay for them in fixed, regular installments. Stripe offers an excellent article to help you figure out if BNPL is right for your business.
There are, of course, options beyond external financing. For example, layaway plans, installment payments, or pay-what-you-can models. While these schemes accommodate your customer’s current constraints and can help keep revenue flowing into your business, there is likely more for an independent small business to manage than is reasonable.
I hope you’ve found inspiration in the ideas I’ve shared in this post. While most everyone I talk to is concerned about the economy — self included — having survived past dowturns I can promise you that creativity makes at least as big a difference as a fat wallet.
In other words, you don’t need a big budget or a corporate playbook to make it; your unique, personal touch and care for your customers will set you apart. Stay open to outside-the-box solutions, and get in touch if any of your ideas could benefit from creative collaboration.
Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.