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Welcome to the DT&G Business Department

In this article, Jennifer Proia (Principal of FIRE CREATIVE, a graphic design studio based in Cambridge, MA, suggests no-nonsense, low-cost actions that you and your staff can take to help keep new business coming in.
When professionals share their wisdom, DT&G listens. Ladies and Gentlement, we'd like to introduce you to
Jennifer Proia...

through the tough times

Five ways to increase business
without breaking the bank

by Jennifer Proia, Principal / Graphic Designer

THE ECONOMY has its ups and downs. Unfortunately, we're right smack dab in the midst of one of the downs. I'm hoping it's not getting too much worse, but even if it doesn't, we at least have to ride this out. The dilemma is, how do we continue to market our products or services without the financial resources of the "good" times? Many companies have had layoffs, others have slashed their marketing budgets, most have had to do both. So what's left? The fact is, you have to keep your marketing going. If you're willing to roll up your sleeves and invest some time and energy, you can continue to get the word out there without spending thousands of dollars. Remember, if you're not marketing your products or services, you can bet that your competitors are - why lose business when you need it most?

I've assembled my "top five" list of effective, low-cost marketing actions that will help impact your bottom line. Most of these suggestions are actually enjoyable activities, requiring you to connect with people and try new things. This is not meant to be an all-inclusive list, but it should spark some new ideas and remind you to get yourself out there!

1) Increasing viral marketing - a.k.a. "word-of-mouth" marketing. This happens naturally when you do such a great job for your clients that they tell their friends, family, suppliers, and customers about you. In my opinion, if you're a smaller business, this is by far the most influential way to get work. The benefits are twofold: not only has your client reinforced your capabilities in their own mind, but their enthusiasm is more believable than any print ad or direct mail piece you could come up with yourself. Some companies "nudge" this process a bit by asking clients for referrals, which is perfectly acceptable. If you've done good work and have a good rapport with your client, they will probably be happy to give you a few names. You may even implement a formal referral policy, where you give the referrer something extra as a "thank you". Or you might provide them with a "referral card" that they can fill out or pass along.

2) Become a visible expert in your field - Offer to speak for free at the local Chamber, or at business groups, or wherever a good pool of prospective clients is going to be. The point is to pass along valuable information that people genuinely want or need to hear, relevant information specific to your industry. You want to be seen as an expert in your field. If this means researching facts and creating a presentation from scratch, so be it. It will be worth it. Even if you don't get clients from that presentation, you will still have an informative article that you can submit to newspapers, magazines, trade publications, newsletters, etc. What a great way to increase visibility with very little cost! As you get your work published, add the credentials to your media kit. You can also e-mail articles to interested clients, post it on your web site, and include it in your company newsletter if you have one. These efforts will pay off as people begin to rely on you as a "source" and an expert. And you deserve that recognition - if you're really good, people should know that about you. The most important thing to keep in mind, however, is that your speech topic (and subsequent articles) must contain truly valuable information that your target audience will benefit from hearing. It should NOT be a marketing pitch in disguise - people will resent that.

3) Consider branching into new markets and/or industries - If you feel like your current target market or niche could be expanded, now is the time to do it. Think about what markets or industries might be stronger. Look on company/industry web sites for clues, read the Wall Street Journal, go to CNNfn and get a feel for what markets are expanding and which have been most affected by the economic slowdown. This tip will be more practical for some businesses than others, but it certainly can't hurt to think about expanding your client base.

4) Consider offering additional products or services - As the markets change, sometimes too do the needs of clients. In my business, for example, people are doing less print marketing right now (due to the higher costs of printing and postage) and focusing more on keeping their web sites updated and relevant. I understand this, and am now offering a service where I submit the client's web site to the major search engines. This helps their web site to be found more easily when someone does a search on Yahoo, for example. If clients do want a printed piece, I am more apt to suggest something simpler such as a large postcard or a self-mailer, instead of a letter or packaged brochure. Self-mailers require less postage, are economical to print, and are in no way "threatening" to the recipient. In today's reality, these things should be considered.

And finally...

5) Keep in contact with your clients - Check in with them every 6-8 weeks or so, or more frequently if appropriate. See how they're doing, find out how things are going. The purpose is not to look for new work, but to show that you care about them, and their business. Keeping in touch is an essential way to build and keep rapport, and is especially important when times are tough. We're all human!

___ I hope this "top five" list has been helpful for you. Please feel free to contact me directly by email with comments, ideas, questions, stories, etc. I'd love to hear them! Best of luck.

Jennifer Proia
___ Fire Creative

About the Author:
Jennifer Proia is a graphic designer, and Principal of FIRE CREATIVE, a graphic design studio based in Cambridge, MA -- on the web at: (c) 2001 Jennifer Proia; all rights reserved.

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