Written by Stuart Crawford, SBSC Community in Alberta

Once an afterthought to many businesses, marketing is rapidly becoming important as sales pipelines dry up, the phones have stopped ringing, word of mouth referrals are no longer propagating and the unemployment rate starts to rise. How does the average small business professional continue to build a business, keep their heads above water and weather this recession storm that is coming onto shore with a tsunami like storm surge?

Just like a hurricane brewing in the Atlantic, the world has had a tremendous amount of warning that this day was going to come and we had a great idea where it was going to come ashore. When the storm was out in the ocean gathering strength, that was the time when many small businesses needed to start to ramp up their marketing efforts, many did not, and they will find themselves on that business deserted island wondering what happened.

However you can correct your course if you take immediate action now. It doesn’t take a lot of money to make an impact in your local community; however it does take an investment in time. First it all starts with a plan and many small businesses look at marketing as something that they stumble upon. We have all been there; the phone will ring from the phonebook advertiser or salesperson that visits them with some glossy magazine ad. We all bought advertising like this from time to time. Now is the time to stop this behaviour.

Marketing your business effectively must be thought of like a military operation, it needs to be deliberate, planned, executed and measured. Shooting from the hip in today’s economy will no longer work like it may have when the economy was strong. Now is the time to effective marketing that is proven to work, it is the time to be creative and do some of the things that your competitors are not doing or haven’t realized that they can do. Also, some will continue to sleep their way through this.

You will win if you take action and do something now. Here are five areas that you can focus on without breaking the bank.

1. Press Releases – Journalists are always hungry for great stories that can give them the competitive advantage to sell more papers, magazine subscriptions, have more people tune into their news program and so on. There once was a time when the only people that read press releases was the media, however these days are long gone with the Internet. All of your prospective clients have access to your news. You must be a news making machine. Announce new partnerships, service enhancements, key personnel changes and so on.

2. Internet – Does your business leverage the Internet as a vehicle to market your business? With Web 2.0 and soon Web 3.0 strategies now in full bloom, are you leveraging the power of social networks? How about creating a podcast for those in your local community? Does your business have a blog? Is your website a billboard or a presentation of your skills and services? The Internet is not going anywhere, combine this with more and more firms leveraging applications in the cloud and services on the web, why are you not on the web as well?

3. Search Engine Optimization – After you have a great web presence established, are you able to be found? Many companies have a website and many a hidden blog out there. The trick to leveraging the Internet as a marketing resource is that people actually have to find you and learn about your extensive line up card. What makes you different? What products and services do you sell or service? How are people going to find you? Leveraging the Internet and then writing copy that allows people to find you are extremely important. Now more than ever search engine optimization is a key driver in your marketing plan.

4. Networking – The last area to focus on and perhaps one of the most important is that you have to get out of your office and find out where your target audience is. Where do your ideal clients go and who do they hang out with? Successful small businesses are marketing machines; they are always out on the street, getting to know people and most importantly making sure people know them. Small business owners must get down into the trenches, this is where the battles are won, hand to hand business combat occurs in the trenches. Leverage your Chamber of Commerce, networking organizations or just start your own business club. The key is to get out and meet people.

5. Be Unique – Crack the shell to something new, try different things and see how they work out for your business. Don’t do the same old thing and expect different results. Brainstorm with a professional, seek the advice of peers or something to remove yourself from the day to day operation. There are many ideas in other industries that would work well for you. We must be unique and try different marketing or sales tactics. They use the Internet, press and your network to share that with those around you.

Now more than ever, and especially in today’s economic conditions, the company that markets the best, meets the right people, creates the right strategic alliances, has very strong relationships, partners with winners and leverages the tools that prospective clients use to find products and services will be able to weather this economic hurricane that is now crashing into the shore with a storm surge that will drown many of those who are not prepared.

Are you able to survive?

Stuart R. Crawford
President, You Factor Inc.

Stuart Crawford is a freelance consultant with You Factor Inc. Helping Small Business IT Firms go to market with products and services to meet the needs of small businesses throughout the world.

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