The signs of an economic downturn are showing. Layoffs, inflation, and VC money drying up all point to an almost inevitable decline.
While a looming recession can feel scary, it doesn’t mean you should just cower in fear. You just have to do more with less.
And there are plenty of things you can do to boost morale, get more leads, and work smarter – believe me. I co-founded WebMechanix right after the 2008 recession and learned so much from that experience that I want to share.
Here are 10 ways to get scrappy with your marketing when the going gets tough.
10 ways to set yourself up for success in a recession
Recessions can be alarming, but taking a more offensive approach can position you well. So let’s jump right in.
1. Partnerships and affiliate marketing
One of the quickest and easiest ways to generate additional sales and revenue is through partnerships and affiliate marketing arrangements.
Now, you might be thinking, “I’m a marketer, I don’t have the power to go strike up partnerships.” Even if that’s the case, you can absolutely recommend developing partnerships with the people who have the power to do it.
Because the fact is, no one single product or service will solve all of your customer’s problems. So they’re already buying other things adjacent to your product or service.
Say that you’re a web developer and you make magnificent websites. Well, people who buy websites need hosting, Google Ads, Facebook Ads, and content. So why not do the research for them? Many providers would happily pay you a commission, either on a referral or sale basis.
Of course, the key to partnerships is treating your customers extremely well. You want to put your name behind the best ancillary products and services. And that means you need to vet them. You need to find the best company that does X. If you can find them, your client is really going to appreciate the fact that you’ve done the legwork.
For these one-to-one type relationships, you could also think about affiliate marketing, where you include a link on your website pointing to other solution providers. Whenever someone from your website clicks on that link and makes a purchase, you get a small commission.
One of my favorite examples of this was an email service provider similar to MailChimp. When someone canceled their plan, they included links to other email providers, assuming that the person would be switching to a different company. Not only did that leave a good impression on the customer, but it also got them some extra money.
How do you source affiliates or partnerships?
You might think you’re in a very specific industry and affiliate or partner programs don’t exist. But that’s not necessarily true.
Let’s say you’re in human resources. Start by doing a Google search for “human resources affiliate programs.” This will get your wheels turning. For example, from this search, you can see that if you sell HR software, you should be pretty certain that your clients also need recruiting help.
So what if you look into partnering with Indeed or ADP? Maybe you could see if Fiverr or Upwork have affiliate programs. Even if you’re on a demo call with a prospect and find out your software isn’t right for them, consider sending them an affiliate link. Every once in a while, you’ll get a surprise commission check.
To summarize, finding the right partners revolves around:
- What else your customer is buying
- Understanding who is the best provider of that thing
- Thinking about how to start a relationship with them
2. Lean into your customers
It’s much, much easier to sell new things to existing customers than it is to sell things to brand new customers. That means you need to focus on retargeting.
An easy way to reframe this is to consider your customers as a specific cohort of prospects. These prospects want educational, enriching, amusing content. You want them to see you as their trusted advisor.
An excellent way to do this is by making a customer advisory board or “CAB.”
Chili Piper, a fast-growing B2B SaaS company is doing this well. They’ve asked the best customers in each segment to join their advisory board, explaining that CAB members will get invited to dinners and earn other rewards in return for industry insights.
Customers love the fact that they get free stuff, and they get to update their LinkedIn, calling themselves advisors to Chili Piper.
On the backend, Chili Piper is arranging events with CAB members and late-stage prospects they want to convert. They’re mingling at really nice restaurants, drinks are flowing, and eventually, you’ll find that the CAB members sell your product for you.
3. Leverage influencers
Find someone in your space or someone who has access to a new audience you want and get on their radar.
One of my colleagues, another scrappy marketer, noticed that a particular influencer was very active on LinkedIn. Over time, he learned this influencer loved his dog and frequently posted about playing the piano.
So my colleague found an artist who created a caricature of this influential person, prominently featuring a dog and a piano. He sent it to the influencer, and, as you might guess, he loved it.
He immediately posted it on LinkedIn, talking about how personalized and special the gift was, mentioned the company my colleague worked for, and encouraged his followers to check them out.
These players get a ton of organic impressions – something like 5 million. So even scoring one third-party endorsement could yield significant inbound traffic to your site.
4. Get clever with email
Email is an extremely efficient medium – it doesn’t cost much. And most companies aren’t doing email as much as they could be.
For instance, we’re in conversations with a very large and prominent association. They do one monthly newsletter to their entire list. Sometimes they run small campaigns to promote individual events. But they’ve never tried sending segmented emails. And I think this could be a great way for them to utilize email.
Their association already has sub-communities that are meeting regularly. With a little extra data work, they could easily send highly specific emails to specific cohorts. While you may not think the juice is worth the squeeze, sending emails to 200 – 300 people is a way to instantly increase your open and click-through rates.
That said, your email content needs to be valuable. You can’t just be salesy. A helpful exercise here might be doing what we call “angles and cohorts.” Cohorts are the audience or segment, and angles are the hook or pitch. Spending time thinking about this is especially important for advertisers in a recession-type environment.
5. Find things to stop doing
This is a simple one: Take a moment to assess what you’re doing day in and day out and remove what’s not working.
I like to do this during all times – recessionary or not. What are some things others have asked you to do that aren’t really beneficial? What are some things that started with awesome momentum and initiative but fizzled out?
Use the Pareto principle. Fundamental activities should drive 80% of your strategy. Stop doing the 20% of other activities that aren’t producing incremental lift.
6. Take massive action
Number 5 was a preface to this one, which is taking massive action. Momentum is very, very important. So as you stop doing certain things, start other daily habits that will move the needle.
A good example of this is posting to LinkedIn. If you post to LinkedIn once a day for 30 days, every post will get at least some views, and some will get a good number of likes and high engagement. Soon you’ll be doing it for 60 days, then 90 days, and it’ll become a habit.
And the momentum there is very powerful. Because in a recessionary environment, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or nervous. A simple, productive daily ritual can give you the confidence and appetite to take on bigger and more exciting things.
7. Monetize your own assets
Take stock of everything your company owns online – your LinkedIn profile, your email list, and your website. Chances are, there is an opportunity to monetize them.
One of my favorite examples is what I like to call “inline call-outs” or micro conversions.
If you look at your analytics, you probably have some blog posts that get large amounts of traffic but don’t offer much in the way of conversions. Most of the time, it’ll be pretty text-heavy.
These are perfect candidates for an offer. You can work with a designer to place a visual offer or even do a text-based one that’s formatted slightly differently than the rest of the post. Point to more premium content assets requiring a name and email address.
Take an inventory of your content and categorize it by type of business (B2B vs. B2C) or industry. Use those to create offers tailored to those audiences.
You can also leverage pop-ups. They get a bad rap, but I’ve seen many examples of popups that prompt conversions. For instance, a client did an annual survey of their customers and produced an insight-rich report. They’d been doing it for years, and it was moderately successful, but it was buried somewhere on their site. It took seven or eight clicks to get to it.
One of the first things that we did for them was put that premium content front and center with a really thoughtfully designed popup. It sold the sizzle. It highlighted the prominent customers that responded to the survey like Google, Accenture, and Hyundai.
Along with those logos, we carefully crafted bullet points about what the person would learn from the asset. Since they had a fairly heavy flow of traffic to their site, they got thousands and thousands of downloads within a short period of time.
Thank you pages
I always talk about thank you pages because I think they’re underutilized.
A thank you page is what somebody sees right after they complete a form, whether it’s signing up for a newsletter or filling out a contact us request. And that’s the one moment in time that you can be really certain you have somebody’s attention.
Often these pages are super generic or slapped together, but I think it’s an ideal opportunity to deepen the relationship. You might as well move them along to another asset that could serve them equally well, encourage them to sign up for a demo, or ask them to fill out a customer survey.
Regardless of what you use a thank you page for, you should ensure it provides a warm and fuzzy feeling and expresses your brand’s personality.
8. Make it easy on the customer
You want to message to buyers in a way that makes it easier for them to do business with you in a recession environment. One way to do this is with a risk reversal.
As a provider of a product or service, you’re making customers take on a lot of risk. If it doesn’t work as sold, they could be out thousands of dollars.
So it’s important to share some of that risk and let customers know that if they’re not happy with the product or service, you will make it right.
You might give them a refund. You might give them a discount. You might give them a free month. You might not be able to give an iron-clad 90-day full money-back guarantee, but demonstrate that you understand the risk and are still willing to stand behind your product.
You should also come out and say that times are tough. Demonstrating empathy can go a long way. Risk reversal and empathy make a strong formula for developing trust.
9. Use VAs
You don’t have time to do everything, and hiring an executive assistant can be expensive. That’s where virtual assistants can come in clutch.
Many VAs work overseas and have a much lower hourly rate than the average assistant in the US. They are great for getting any repetitive or rote tasks off of your plate – from customer research to finding email addresses to building lists.
It can be a struggle to find the right person for you. But once you’ve settled on a great VA, giving them some work frees up your time to concentrate on the other scrappy things I’ve mentioned.
(Shout-out to TaskMinions, who we’ve used and gotten great results.)
10. Build a skilled talent pool
You may not be hiring right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t upskill your current employees or educate future candidates.
At WebMechanix, we have a very learning-focused culture. We pride ourselves on bringing in relatively junior-level folks who have been through our intense training program. In fact, probably 50% of our senior staff went through our academy.
Every year, we put out ads for our academy and review applications to find new grads or people looking to switch careers who are most aligned with our values and are best suited for the type of work we do.
During the academy, interns spend part of their time in a classroom-style environment and then the other half with a real client. For example, one day, they may learn about SEO in the morning and do keyword research for a client in the afternoon.
Developing an academy like this takes time, thought, and effort, but it’s taken our talent to the next level. Even in times when we couldn’t afford to onboard these folks immediately, we already had a very well-trained pool of people to draw from later on when we were ready to hire.
Stay calm and keep marketing
There’s no way to completely avoid the consequences of a recession. But getting scrappy can help you get through the tough times and come out a leaner, meaner machine on the other end.
And to keep yourself up to date on all the newest ways you can capitalize on marketing trends, sign up for our next Growth Clinic. We host these sessions every Wednesday at 12pm EST.