Marketing in a down economy

Three rules to live by

April 9, 2010
Griffin Davis

While the deep recession is over, homeowners and commercial property owners are still holding their wallets tight.  This is not good news for the US economy - especially for those sectors dependent on discretionary spending.

If the economy has you worried about how to keep clients calling in 2010 without a major increase in marketing costs, follow these three rules.

Rule One – Stay in Touch with Old Clients
If you only have time for one marketing suggestion, go no further than this: Communicate with your current customers. In a down economy, past customers are a service business’s best friend.  Why? These are paying clients who have screened out other choices and chosen you to provide a service in the past. They already trust you. They don’t need to investigate you all over again.  The furnace you cleaned two years ago could be major air duct repair tomorrow. 

Tongue-tied about what to say to your old clients? Try any of the following 3 messages delivered in whatever form suits you best:

“I wanted to let you know how much we appreciate your business. Please keep us in mind in the future.”
“I wanted to check in and see how the cleaned air ducts are working for you.”
“Thanks for choosing me to repair you’re furnace last year. Our records show it is time for routine maintenance to keep it running efficiently through the winter and avoid another costly repair.  Would like to talk with you about how we can help.”

Small service businesses lose up to half of their potential repeat business because they fail to actively stay in touch with their customers.  That’s a lot of business to lose when the economy is shrinking. Rule Number One: Make and then execute a plan to call, write or email every customer you have had over the last 2 years.

Rule Two –Actively Ask for Referrals
This marketing tactic – asking current satisfied customers to tell their friends, family and associates about you or to recommend to you potential clients in their network– is suggested time and time again by marketing experts.  But the fact is, many business owners have a hard time asking for a testimonial or referral when the job is done.

A key to making referrals work is to make it a habit. Make it part of your business process to ask every client for referrals when you complete their service.  Manage yourself and your business by dedicating some marketing time to contact at least some of your best customers and make the ask. Schedule a specific day and a time every month and consider it an unbreakable appointment.

And remember – if you do get business from a referral; thank the client who gave it to you.  Clients who feel appreciated are more likely to think highly of you.

Rule 3 – Meet New Clients Online
After you have followed Rules 1 and 2, consider marketing online during this economic downturn by participating in Search Engine marketing.  Right now, new customers are looking on the Web for local businesses like yours.  Industry analyst firm the Kelsey Group (www.kelseygroup.com) estimates that local search will be a $3.0 billion dollar industry in 2010.  That’s up from $100 million in 2001.  The reason is simple. More local advertising dollars are going online because more customers are going there. Roves of potential customers are online these days typing in search words for snow removal services.

A Search Engine marketing campaign that drives prospects to your website or phone is one of the best bargains available for new customer growth in the current economy.  It’s a much more efficient and trackable form of advertising than yellow pages, direct mail or radio.  There are many firms that can help you advertise on Google & Yahoo, including mine. 

The Three Rules all require resources - time or money or both. But they are high return, low investment marketing moves.  If you have stayed with this article long enough to be reading this, I know you have the patience to do what is best for your business and starting following the Three Rules.


Griffin Davis is VP of Marketing for Market Hardware, Inc. (wwwcontractor-websuccess.com) and contributed this article. Griffin has worked in Internet Marketing and Small Business marketing since 1993. Market Hardware helps Snow Removal professionals compete on the Web.  Ask Griffin any Website or Internet Marketing question by emailing Griffin@markethardware.com or calling 888-381-6925.