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Recession Be Damned: Guide to a New Economy

“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” – Edmund Burke

Three years ago, my little marketing firm was growing like a weed, taking on new employees and new clients at a blinding pace. We were selective on the jobs that we took on and work just didn’t seem like work. It was a good time. Then one afternoon, I had a conversation with a colleague, who advised that we may not be in business by the end of the year. Thinking that perhaps it was an abnormally hot summer, and that the weather was probably getting to people, I shrugged it off. In retrospect, I guess I shouldn’t have. The following two years were hellish at best, and we systematically lost every employee we had, while clinging desperately to our dwarfing clientele. We had our legs knocked from under us, as most businesses did, but we were able to survive. Last summer, we started to turn a corner and are happily – albeit skeptically – in a growth period.

It’s been said that, by remaining aware of past failures, you can predict and avoid future ones. We learned a lot over those couple years and want to share some vital lessons as we’re told that we could experience it all over again.

1. Don’t panic. The one thing that exacerbates a recession more than all others is fear; whether is consumer fear of spending, or business fear of growth, hiring or marketing. If an economy is not growing, it’s dying, so the best thing we can do is continue to focus on not just growth, but smart growth. Continue to advertise and promote, continue to look for talent, and continue to set goals that propel your business forward, not just keep it in one place. And please, turn the TV off. That stuff will drive you bonkers if you let it.

2. Pick your partners carefully. No business is ever successful in a vacuum. Every day, business owners are confronted by potential vendors and partners that pitch a mutually beneficial relationship.  Most of the time, it’s not the case. It’s important to do a quick review to only give time to partners that provide an obvious benefit. Are they the best in your price range? Do they have a solid reputation? Is what they provide something that has a short-term effect on bringing you in business (are you getting your investment back within the next six months)? Make sure that you align your business with others that will propel you forward.

3. Woo your customers. As demand drops, desperation rises. Your competitors will become ravenous for your customers, and will do some pretty outrageous stuff to pull them away. If you assume for a second that they’ll never leave, they could be halfway out the door. The first way to keep your customers is to be proactive. By anticipating and addressing future needs (sales cycles, promotional periods, etc.), you are leveraging what you know about your client that your competition doesn’t. You should make that customer feel like they’re the only star in your sky, remember your contacts’ birthdays, and show a genuine interest in who they are as an organization and as people. If you don’t have a genuine interest, it will show, so hurry and find customers you want to work with.

4. Stay loyal. Once you have partners and customers that make your work worth working, don’t do what so many businesses do and screw it up by entertaining other offers. Having successful strategic partnerships and customer relationships both require the same courtesy, exclusivity and support that you would expect from them. Be aware of any conflict of interest and avoid it before it poses a problem. The grass on both sides of the fence can die at once.

 5. Stoke your fire for your craft. If you don’t love what you do, then stop. This new economy demands passion and is too competitive for people to just float by. Be tirelessly innovative, finding new ways to do what you love. Rediscover what put you in business in the first place, which may mean revisiting your own idea of success. Only those that are dedicated will survive and, if you’re apathetic about your business, your doors will be shut for you.

Is there anything that you’ve learned over the past three years? I’d love to hear them!

Patrick King

Patrick is the Founder of Imagine and advisor to places on brand strategy and creative. His insights have been published in Inc. Magazine, SmartCEO, Washington Business Journal, The Washington Post, and Chief Marketer, among other publications, and shared at conferences throughout the US. He also has an amazing sock collection.


  • Great article and spot on!! It appears more of the financial experts actually think we are already in a recession, not heading to one. Either way, I hope it ends soon so we can all build our businesses in a growth environment…we need all the help we can get!

  • Very good points made. I’ve been diversifying by LISTENING to what my potential attendees and clients really want. I then tailored my business offerings to their needs and requirements, and have been doing pretty OK. I’ve also tailored services and training to sensitive budget requirements, and that’s helped me get new business.

    But what’s really been helpful is the outlook and attitude of the folks I’ve worked with who understand and realize that to pull back into their turtle shell is not at all helpful. So, they carefully spend what they can, prioritize their tasks and move forward from there.

    Thanks for posting!

  • Christi says:

    Great blog post! I wholeheartedly agree and thanks for the tips. Staying true to your roots and value system is a good thing when conducting business and that’s what your article is about! Keep on doin’ what you are doin’!

  • Deb Budd says:

    Terrific and timely ideas. Focusing on client needs is great way to maintain value. Help them to identify marketing tactics that are generating results, and correctly allot spending where it will deliver bottom-line impact. If you can help with this kind of strategic thinking (backed up, of course, with brilliant creative ideas), you won’t be just a service vendor, but a valued consultant.

  • Dan Cowling says:

    Dorothy said; “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” The tornado has hit. The winds of change are still building. Change requires creative thinking…and the guts to do something. You’re points are well made. There is no standing still. You’re either moving forward or backward. Right now, moving forward doesn’t necessarily correlate to making more money than last year. We thought the internet would be the change agent in the agency business. Not compared to the economic changes we’re seeing. Changes that I believe are changing the very nature of what we do, forever. Consistently our clients don’t simply want ads anymore. They don’t really want “advertising” anymore. They want big ideas. Ideas about pricing and delivery systems. Promotion and leverage. Etc. We need creativity to permeate all functions of our agencies. With the changes come great opportunities…if we’re willing to change. It’s a perfect time to re-engineer. Re-brand and move forward.

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