As tracked by The National Federation of Independent Businesses, 25% of small business owners are citing poor sales as their #1 concern. This is the highest this figure has been in 22 years. These concerns are not being fueled by fear, but by actual results.
However, small businesses are perhaps the best positioned to be able to take advantage of the slower times in business to develop and implement a strategy to grow business and eliminate slow periods in the future.
“The projects that you put off when you were busy can become a goldmine of opportunity during slow times.”
– Wes Carrington, Senior Brand Manager, Deluxe Business Products
Instead of enduring peaks and valleys in your sales cycle, why not take advantage of this time to develop a strategy to level out your business? A good example is one of our HVAC customers that was far too busy to handle all of the furnace cleanings in the fall, so they developed a strategy to offer a free air conditioning inspection when their customers had their furnaces cleaned in the spring.
Not only did this even out their business, but it is actually easier to clean a furnace in the spring than it is after it has sat all summer.
This is also an excellent time to establish or reestablish your brand, do you have a logo that is recognized around town? If not, now is the time to get one!
Take the case of a landscaper from Calgary during the last oil boom in the 1980’s. Branding was not an important issue with this small company, they didn’t even have a sign on their truck. When asked, the owner responded “I don’t have time, besides, I don’t need one, I have more business than I can handle”
Then boom turned to bust. Suddenly, this landscaper was desperate for business, but no one knew him and no one knew how to get in touch with him, they didn’t recognize his business or anything he had done. Hindsight is always 20/20!
Slow business presents the perfect opportunity to prospect for new business and revitalize your existing base by developing an ongoing marketing plan.
A well thought out plan will help you through the slower times and gear up for busier days ahead. Prospecting is hard work, but new customers are worth it! In order to convert a prospect into a new customer, you need to satisfy all or most of the common human needs: Certainty, variety, significance, love and/or connection, growth (everything is either growing or dying) and contribution.
On average, it takes eight contacts with a prospect to turn them into a customer.
Many small businesses, during peak times, don’t have time to think about what the customer should take away during a single contact point, let alone how to coordinate all eight of them to maximize their impact.
In order to develop a marketing plan, you need to know your own unique selling proposition
- What’s the one thing that makes your business unique and distinct?
- Why should people buy from you and not from your competitors?
- Do you promise great value, benefits or service?
Every small business needs to make their business special in the eyes of their customers or prospects.
A good piece of advice is to take advantage of your current customers, get to know them, keep them coming to your business. Perhaps surveying your customers to find out their lifestyle, their demographics and why they purchase from you will help you to model a marketing campaign targeting prospect with similar characteristics.
Part of a great marketing plan is the right marketing material. What marketing strategies work best in slower times?
In order for any marketing campaign to be successful it requires the right offer, a call to action (creating a sense of urgency is helpful as well), the right audience and the right timing.
The following grid shows an example of some of the points that need to be considered in order to develop the right strategy for your business.
|Offer||Discount||Free Gift w/ Purchase||Free shipping or delivery|
|Call To Action||Call Now||Order before…||Drop by our store…|
|The Audience||Single women, 30 – 40 years old.||Retired males||Pre-teen girls|
|Timing||Seasonal Peaks such as weed & feed in the spring.||Around Stat Holidays such as March Break skiing.||At a “pain point” such as “tired of watering the lawn”|
|Creating Urgency||While supplies last||4 Days Only||First 100 customers|
If you are a roofing contractor and you send a bulk mail piece targeting subdivisions that are 15 to 20 years old, your response rate will be much higher than if you target areas where the houses are less than 8 years old.
Take a look at the grid above and you can see the pieces of the puzzle that need to be put together in order to create the right marketing piece for the roofing contractor example:
- The Offer: Should the contractor offer a discount, free upgrade to premium shingles or make the offer based on quality service?
- The Audience: Who is the best person to tailor the marketing efforts towards, the male or female homeowner? What success levels would be expected if the piece was targeted towards the pre-teens living at home with their parents?
- Timing: What time of the year is best to target homeowners about replacing their roofs? Mid-winter, early spring or in the fall?
- Creating Urgency: If creating an offer, should it be limited in time or number of participants? Would it help to state that schedules are filling up and that immediate job starts are limited?
Another very important thing to keep in mind when you are determining how many pieces to send out is how many responses you can handle. If you can handle 20 additional jobs in a roofing season, there is no sense sending out 25,000 post cards. It is important to follow up with each lead you get, so be certain you can handle your anticipated prospects.
Every marketing method has it’s own typical response rates, and you can use this to judge the anticipated response. Post cards, for instance, can range anywhere from .5% for a bulk mail campaign to near 10% for a fully variable personalized piece, but these are simply guidelines.
Any combination of direct marketing vehicles such as postcards, invoice stuffers and doorknob hangers, low-cost brand enhancing techniques like loyalty cards, newsletters, bookmarks and business cards can be an effective way of producing results.
Use these marketing materials to inform your customers of seasonal discounts, early bird savings, new or upcoming products and events, or simply to keep your name in front of them.
Design can be difficult. What should the new piece look like, what should the copy say, what is a good offer? These are all relevant questions. A good designer can lead you in the right direction, but to be honest, they still need some help.
If you provide a service, such as landscaping, be certain to take high resolution before and after photos of all your best jobs, these are one of the best tools to help you sell to new customers.
If you sell a product, your suppliers are probably very willing to help with your marketing material. Ask them for product art and features and benefit copy, they will be happy to provide it, because it will help them grow their sales, as a matter of fact, in many cases, the supplier will actually help you financially with the investment in your marketing campaign in return for highlighting their products.
Finally, check you mail, what are your competitors using? If you see a piece that you like, hang on to it, your design, copy and offer can be similar without stealing from someone else.
These initiatives are sometimes difficult to focus on during busier times, when a small business is concentrating on fulfilling customer demand. Slower times, either during economic downturns or during off-peak times of the year, present the perfect opportunity to create and implement strategies that can be rolled out now in order to increase awareness of your products, or in time to attract interest to your business when the timing is right.
In the end, a slow period in your business should be used to make the busy times more effective and profitable, and to help reduce the impact of slow periods in the future.