February 05, 2009, 12:09 PM — It's one of the cruel ironies of business. When the economy is bad, you must pull out all the stops to reel in new customers and extract more sales from current ones. Unfortunately, just at the time your rational brain is telling you to rev up your marketing efforts, your fear-driven gut is telling you to conserve money. Which message should a conflicted businessperson listen to? Both, says MaryEllen Tribby: Choose a variety of simple, inexpensive marketing vehicles and fire away.
"You don’t have to spend a lot of money to ensure that your marketing message is heard loud and clear," says Tribby, publisher and CEO of Agora Financial’s Early to Rise and coauthor (along with Michael Masterson) of Changing the Channel: 12 Easy Ways to Make Millions for Your Business. "There are plenty of inexpensive and very highly effective ways to attract new customers and stay in front of old ones."
Tribby, whose book explains how to use a variety of both new and traditional media (i.e., multi-channel marketing) to reach a wider customer base, build customer loyalty, and increase sales -- says there is a right way and a wrong way to sell during a recession. Here, she offers a few critical dos and don'ts:
DO send out an e-mail newsletter. Even if you have a small bricks-and-mortar business, you should be collecting the e-mail address of every customer who walks through your door. That way you can send them a regular newsletter with special offers, special events, coupons, and more.
"Your newsletter will keep your best customers coming back again and again," says Tribby. "You can send your newsletter with cheap software like Get Response, which for only $17 per month Early to Rise uses to send e-mail to more than 440,000 subscribers. Or you can set up a new account with free e-mail services like Yahoo or Gmail to send messages to your list of customers."
DO try your hand at online public relations. If you have a new product coming out, you should announce the news online. Write an informative press release with plenty of “contact” info that leads back to your own website or business. But because not too many people will be interested in reading only about your business, be sure to link your “news” with a hot topic of the day. It could be something that’s been in the news or that is controversial in your industry. Then submit it to online press release sites like PRWeb.com or Free-press-release.com.
For example, Tribby reports that she had the good fortune to interview Newt Gingrich in March 2007. Immediately after the interview, ETR posted a press release to several online press distribution services. It also uploaded comments about the interview to news-aggregating services, blogs, and political forums (with a back-link to the release posted in its Investors Daily Edge archive).
"Within the weeks following the initial interview, website visits and traffic ranking more than doubled and conversion also showed a spike,” says Tribby. “Three months later, the release was still being picked up by the media and through syndication…and the Investors Daily Edge website was enjoying residual traffic and back-links from this effort."
DO hold teleconferences (a.k.a. teleseminars). Anybody can pick up a telephone and start talking. And that's the key to using teleconferences to promote your business. It works like this: You find an expert in your industry to interview over the phone, you arrange a number for your customers to call in to hear the interview either for free or a modest fee, you offer another product to your customers during the call, and you record the call (which you can sell later).
"Essentially, you could have hundreds, or even thousands, of your customers listening in to your marketing message for minimal cost," says Tribby. "My own company does teleconferences that cost less than $1 per attendee to produce. We actually had one that brought in $330,000."
DO participate in joint ventures. Leverage your relationships with other, likeminded businesses in your niche or in related industries through joint ventures. Each JV is different, but it basically involves working together to promote each other's products, with each side taking a split of the profit. It's a great way to accelerate the growth of a business without spending much money.
"When joint venturing, look for strong partners, businesses that have skills or resources you lack," advises Tribby. "Make sure each side's contribution is equal and decided in advance. Make agreements simple, but put them in writing. The idea is to create joint ventures that are easy to maintain, financially lucrative, and long-lasting.
"Agora Inc., the 'parent' company of Early to Rise, grew its business from $1 million to $60 million primarily through joint ventures," she adds. "It partnered with outside investment writers to publish financial newsletters and grow each publication’s subscriber list."
DO use pay-per-click (PPC) ads. Services like Google AdWords offer a great low-cost way to advertise online. The best part is that your ads are targeted to Web surfers who are looking for products or services just like yours. You can even target your ads to specific geographic areas—perfect for bricks-and-mortar businesses.
In PPC advertising you pay only when someone clicks on your ad on the results page of Google. And your ads, which are three lines with a headline and your URL, show up only when someone is searching for keywords you have designated for your ad. You bid on these keywords, which should be terms that you think your target market is searching for. Because you bid and control how much you spend, you can limit your investment to as much or as little as you’d like.
"The key to success with PPC is testing," notes Tribby. "You have to change your headlines, copy, and offer until you find the combination that brings in sales."
DON'T overplan. The worst thing you can do in business is overplan, endlessly tweaking until everything is "just right." Just do something and get your product or marketing effort out there. There is plenty of time to improve after you’ve seen what the market wants.
"The team here at Early to Rise debated for several days over the title of this book, Changing the Channel," says Tribby. "We just couldn’t make a final choice…but the publisher needed it ASAP. So we took our top three candidates and threw them up online on a separate PPC ad for each title. Then by tracking how many clicks each ad got, we found our title. We let the market ‘decide,’ in other words."
DON'T overspend. You don’t need to overextend your budget. You don’t need to hire an expensive consultant to craft your marketing plan. You don’t need to spend thousands to build your website. Cheap freelancers are easy to find. And most of this work you can—and should—be doing yourself.
DON'T fall in love with your ideas. Be ready to start over with new marketing copy or even a new product if the market tells you to—i.e., if nobody buys.
"At my own company, one of our top selling programs of the past year, a product that made us a lot of money, hasn’t been selling that much in the new year," says Tribby. "It is tempting to just give it more chances, to let this program prove it can sell again. But the truth is that it no longer works, and we have to find something else to take its place."
The bottom line? Marketing your business is not rocket science, says Tribby. It's a simple matter of following proven formulas and executing methodically.
"In recessions people tend to panic and make bad business decisions," she adds. "They either choose expensive and/or ill-suited marketing vehicles, which is bad, or they stop marketing altogether, which is worse. Don't be one of them. Just stay calm and focused and keep sending your message out, relentlessly. When the recession ends, you’ll be glad you kept a cool head about you."