With all the talk lately of fancy social media marketing and SEO, it’s good to keep in mind the importance of human to human direct marketing, and how it can play a crucial role in helping you through the hard times. This has been a major help to me in recent times and I’d like to share my story of how I was able to keep my business growing during hard economic times and the techniques I used to do it.
Times were bad, but business was good
I started my mobile computer repair business in 2009. The year 2009 was a big year here in Ireland as it was in many other parts of world, it was really the start of the global recession. Back then desktops and laptops were ubiquitous, and they were the main computing device for both my home and business clients.
For the first year or two as the recession here in Ireland started to take hold, I had a gut feeling that I needed to put some major effort into growing my business as quickly as possible, the faster the better. Back then I relied almost entirely on my website, as Google was the only show in town back then. For the first couple of years against all the odds, I experienced explosive growth and managed to both grow my client base and my yearly profit margins. I quickly ended up working 7 days a week and putting in 110 hour weeks throughout most of the year. Business was good.
As the recession continued, the economic tide turned and anyone that didn’t have enough of a client base went under. The local situation deteriorated quickly. Cracks began to appear in the social and economic fabric with more and more businesses closing down which eventually led to a sharp increase in emigration abroad.
Back then our community was losing two or three businesses every couple of weeks and each January I would get told of the shocking numbers of under 30’s who had simply packed their bags and left for The United Kingdom, Australia and Canada.
The opposite of networking is not-working
At around 2010 I had begun using Facebook marketing, as social media had really begun to take off. Yet I found that some of my greatest successes came down to using the personal touch: going the extra mile and reaching out to local businesses.
I used various techniques to get as well-known as I possibly could in the local business community. One of my most successful methods was to listen to the challenges fellow local businesses were facing. This helped us bond and form long lasting personal and professional relationships. I rarely left a car garage, restaurant or an office without a few extra new clients. In many cases my mechanic or a secretary would ask me to work on their own personal computer or their wife’s, brother’s, or sister’s after I had repaired the business PC.
To increase the effectiveness of this technique I decided hire as many different local trades and services as I possibly could to give everyone a turn. As a result, on many occasions they would give me some computer work to do. This technique alone has earned me many thousands of Euro/Dollars over the years and without a doubt helped me stay in business.
No networking group? Start your own!
A great definition of business networking is the following by Ivan Misner Founder and Chief Visionary Officer of BNI:
“Networking is the process of developing and activating your relationships to increase your business, enhance your knowledge, and expand your sphere of influence or serve the community.”
Since there were no good networking groups in my area at the time, I decided to found a not-for-profit local small business networking group. I didn’t ask or accept a payment for my group development work as I was quietly confident it would generate quite a lot of new home and business clients. I rounded up a crack “A-Team” of handpicked trades and service people and only allowed one of each profession to join. This included domestic trades such as an electrician, a flooring installer, a large format commercial printer, a vehicle windscreen installer, and general home and business services.
We started holding a two hour meeting once every couple of weeks in a local hotel. We had round-table discussions about how we could help co-promote the group and our own businesses. We ended up using the web, Facebook, fliers and even printed up our own 25 page booklet to promote the different businesses in the group. In total, since we began, we have printed and distributed over fifteen thousand of these booklets with a page for each group member to advertise their business. We funded this by jointly pooling our resources and each member donating a small amount of money to the group pot. We then left a booklet at each home and business we visited in the course of our business week.
We maximized our small budget by getting every member working to co-market each other. At one point we had 25 members, which meant that if I happened to be having a slow day, I had the comfort of knowing that there were 24 other guys out there operating in my local area working for me promoting my business for me.
Each business effectively had a free 24 man marketing team working locally to market their business. I don’t know many large companies that could afford this kind of advertisement.
We later introduced a referral system where we each tried to bring two referrals to each meeting. This quickly snowballed in to a situation where we had generated €17000 worth of new work for group members over a four week period.
Keep your enemies close
One of the more radical moves I chose to make was to partner up with a “rival” computer repair business that was downsizing his workforce to stay competitive. This has been a major help both me and my competitor. This may sound like a crazy idea. Even though he is technically a rival we have managed to grow both of our businesses.
It is important to understand that if you are faced with a sudden extraordinary down-turn or other business challenge, you’ll need to make an equally radical counter move to steer your business back in the right direction. If you can find the right person to partner with, it can both accelerate your profits and cut down your work load.
We have been cooperating with each other for a number of years now. We share our resources in terms of components and more importantly time and knowledge. Each of our individual skills and expertise benefit and complement each other and vitally enable us both to provide a better IT Support experience to both sets of clients.
I believe that both locally and globally the situation is slowly improving and things are heading in the right direction for my business. By using these old-school techniques combined with social media marketing have managed to continually grow my business and increase my profits every year in a rapidly shrinking and low population market. I hope that by using some of these ideas you can sustain and grow your business, even during the hard times.
What are some ways you have grown your business when times were tough? Let me know in the comments below!