How to Market in a Recession

Focus on your existing clients and services. It is easy to want to expand into new markets during a recession. The problem is that during a recession work is much harder to come by, both in the markets you currently serve as well as in markets that you don’t serve. Expanding into a new market requires both time to enter the market and money: two things that are not readily available during a recession. As a result, a recession is not the time to expand into new markets, but rather it is the time to focus on your existing clients and services.

The goal during a recession is to focus on bringing work in the door immediately. Most marketers will tell you that the fastest, least expensive, and easiest way to bring in new work is to focus on your existing clientele (that is people you have already sold to previously, or others in the same industry that are familiar with your work).

So what can you do? Here are several things that you can do during a recession that will position you to succeed:

  1. Don’t Wait, set-up your current marketing: When faced with the possibility of a recession initiate action immediately. Often when the slowdown reaches your doorstep firms find themselves among a large group of competitors that are competing for work. The idea is to immediately step-up the everyday marketing efforts that you have found to be successful in your industry in an effort to build your backlog going into the recession.
  2. Call your existing clients: Especially at service firms, the “last line of defense” when you are in need of work is to pick up the phone and call your best clients to ask for work. Firms often hesitate making these calls because they are afraid what others will think. Simply put, get over it. I have found that calling your existing clients and asking for work is the most effective way to get work in the door in a down market.
  3. Focus on being the best: Now is the time to set-aside change orders and additional work authorizations (with-in reason) and give all of your clients 1,000 reasons why they should never even consider another firm. Ask my favorite question “What can I do to help this person” and add on the end “that is above and beyond what they hired me to do.”
  4. Diversify within your current markets: Pursue relationships and work in market sectors in which you are currently working that are stable. Generally in a downturn these markets include federal and higher education markets. As discussed above, now is not the time to pursue new sectors, but it is a great time to place emphasis on some of your markets that will handle the downturn better.
  5. Be Patient: Markets change. Just when you think you will run out of work the markets will start moving again. Firms that survive this economic cycle will again experience an upswing as industry and opportunity prevail in the free market.

For some foundational truths on your marketing budget in a market downturn, check out the article Marketing Engineering Services in a Market Downturn. Also, remember what Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today.”

4 thoughts on “How to Market in a Recession

  1. Bizzie Guye

    Very timely article, Tim. I am currently marketing primarily in the state of Florida and the word “recession” is an under statement. As a state with a very high dependency on the real-estate market, companies here are experiencing layoffs in record numbers.

    Fortunately for me, my firm is based in a northern state that operates in somewhat of a bubble, so it has a backlog of work that allows me to use funds towards my BD/Marketing efforts for new clients. But you’re right existing clients is where it’s at during a recession.

    You made another very good point in this article – about how to go about getting “repeat” work. In essence you stated that one… “Just Has to Ask for It”. If you are waiting for a RFP to come into your front doors in a market like I am in – you will be waiting a very long time.

    Here’s a tip. I try and make sure that before ending a conversation with any potential or existing client (via email or telephone) – I ask:

    “Oh by the way, is there any thing else coming down the pike that you would like for us to prepare a proposal for?”

  2. Anytime.

    If you have the time I would love for you to respond to my tagged article I recently posted. I will stick this article to the front page for a week or two so we get as many suggestions as possible. This also might be a great way to increase readership. Hope you find it worth your while.


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