This is Ellen Silverman’s fourth recession. A 30-year veteran of marketing and economic mood swings, Silverman has not just seen it all, she has learned from it.
The big lesson: You can cut your advertising, but you can’t cut the marketing. If you disappear entirely from the radar when times are tough, you are that far behind your competitors who bothered to stay visible in choppy seas.
In any recession, Silverman says, the first thing small businesses want to do is gut their advertising budgets. And for some businesses, maybe advertising in the paper or on the radio isn’t really necessary. But even if that’s true, keeping your business in the minds of customers, current and future, is about a more personal approach.
Silverman will share such knowledge when she teaches “Accentuate the Positive in a Negative Market,” one of the first in a series of teleclasses through the Small Business Development Center at the College of New Jersey on Thursday, January 22, at 7 p.m. Cost: $19. Register at www.sbdcnj.com or call 609-771-2947.
The teleclass series is a new initiative for the SBDC, says director Lorraine Allen. The idea, she says, began last year when her office looked at ways to expand the reach and audience for small business courses. “For people today, there is so much to choose from and there is no time,” Allen says. Small business owners want to take courses and want to get new ideas, but it is becoming increasingly tough for many owners to get classrooms in set places at set times.
So the SBDC put together the idea to launch a series of telephone seminars that take about an hour and are highly affordable (all the coming teleclasses cost $19 each). Then the center surveyed businesses in its database and found an overwhelming interest in classes they did not have to drive to, and were available morning and night.
The SBDC has released its first list of the teleclasses, which include topics such as “Writing Creative Copy That Sells,” “E-mail Marketing,” “Landlording 101,” and “Mistakes to Avoid When Building your Website,” among several more. Each is targeted to the small business owner and is offered on multiple dates and at varying times — 7 a.m., 8 a.m., 7 p.m., and 8 p.m. Allen says the SBDC survey showed favor for this approach, and so far, the center has set a schedule of about a course a week, through June. The schedule can be viewed at the SBDC website.
Silverman’s class will likely be what the SBDC is targeting — a smaller group of varied business owners who will be able to learn better in a smaller “classroom” environment. And the class will proceed the way most in the series will — after registering students will get a toll-free phone number, a pass code, and the course materials delivered to their inboxes.
A Bayonne native, Silverman graduated magna cum laude from Jersey City State College with a degree in English education. She had taught high school in Jersey City, then picked up real estate during her husband’s transfers as a plant manager for a national industrial laundry company. She got into marketing after serving as an editor for the sociology and political science publishing company Transaction, housed at Rutgers University.
Moving to real estate, Silverman did well until one of her early recessions took half her clients out of business. She then formed the Pluckemin-based Ellen Silverman Associates (www.esamarketing.
biz), where she still does marketing 30 years later and teaches many business and marketing courses.
Staying visible. Do some networking. “Get out and go to a meeting,” Silverman says. A critical mistake business owners make in tough times is shrinking into the woodwork until things get better.
But now more than ever, she says, business owners need to connect, with other business owners as well as with their clients. Keeping in touch with new and longtime customers helps remind them you exist. And it gives you a chance to try some second-tier networking.
Getting clients to sell you. When you reach out to customers, Silverman says, “turn them into sales people.” Don’t ask them for referrals that you then have to call yourself, ask them (as a favor) to forward your name and company to a couple of their own associates through E-mail. You might just get a call from someone who needs you to fix their problem.
Don’t list your services, explain why they’re needed. When it comes to problems, every customer has them. But whether you are the one they call to help them through it depends on the message you send.
If you do advertise, use your space as a way to position yourself in your prospect’s eye. Say you’re a roofer. Should you put little business card adds on a ganged-ad page with 20 other roofers who all fix leaks? Absolutely not. Don’t tell people you fix leaks — “What roofer doesn’t fix leaks?” — make them realize that a minor leak today will get to be an expensive leak tomorrow if they don’t call you now. You must position yourself as the best solution to the problem, and position your cost as a wise investment.
Link up. Social networking is an obvious thing businesses should be doing. But not all of them are. Silverman says all business owners need to get onto LinkedIn, or other networking pages and interconnect with clients. “If you give,” she says, “you will get.”
Another obvious thing that some businesses still overlook: A website. Even if it is just a page or two, and even if it is inexpensive, Silverman says, get a website and make sure people know it exists. “What good is a website nobody goes to.”
Rethink the package deal. Retail owners especially tend to do some drastic things in down economies. Namely, they start slashing prices.
A better move, says Silverman, is to reconsider your merchandise. One client of hers has a line of custom products with a higher-end price. Rather than cut the sale price, Silverman says her client has brought in a new line of less expensive goods as an alternative. On the flip side, if you have a product that you have traditionally sold as a bundle, like software (see story, page 5), “you can unbundle it and sell a piece of it,” she says. Let customers lease or pay over time, or sell smaller parts. Either way, a sale is better than none at all.
Adult School Offers Online Programs
The Princeton Adult School has joined a growing list of education institutions that are tapping into cyberlearning.
The school, which operates through Princeton High School, is now offering several courses through the online education company ED2GO. By visiting www.ed2go.com/princeton, prospective students can view more than 150 courses in business, test preparation, technology, personal development, and even courses for parents.
Most ED2GO courses range from $99 to $149 and feature structured courses lasting from one session to 12 weeks. Classes can be taken any time, even if updated on a regular schedule. Call 609-683-1101 for more information or visit www.princetonadultschool.org.