My Marketing Strategy for Getting New Clients when Times are Tough

by Michelle Hunter

The conversation that gets quick results.

marketing strategy for tough times

How do you handle the inevitable moment when the projects end and the money runs out? I’m talking about the moment when you look at your calendar and realize there isn’t a waiting list or a next project queued up. Most of us have experienced a time when lead generation seemed to sag and projects dried up… when we weren’t sure which marketing strategy would get a few new clients in the door.  

In those moments, a type of panic sets in. We look at our financial dashboard and realize the money is going to run out pretty quickly if we don’t take action. At times like these, it’s tempting to discount work or create a “quick new offer” that just might generate enough revenue to tide you over until the next big project. In my experience, this level of reactivity is pretty counter-productive. While you might bring in a few bucks, the opportunity cost in terms of time and focus will drain future momentum and potentially create a cycle of craziness you’ll struggle to break. 

What do I recommend? Rather than creating something new or discounting something existing, I suggest you lean into your core messaging and get intentional about how you talk about your business. 

Create a simple marketing strategy based on conversation.

Marketing is – at its core – a conversation between a business and its potential clients. The purpose of the conversation is to create awareness of a problem, define the problem in a way that brings clarity and understanding, and present products or services as the ideal solution to the problem as it is defined. When you break it down, this simple conversation has four main elements:

  • Connect with a problem – Identify the problem in a way the potential client can understand and feel on an emotional level. 
  • Define the problem – Articulate the problem clearly, explain it a bit if such explanation is helpful, and make sure the potential client knows the problem can be solved and is not something that should be tolerated or ignored. 
  • Define the solution – Articulate the preferred solution in a way that aligns it with your work. There may be multiple solutions to a given problem, but the goal here is to present the solution(s) that lead into products or services you provide. 
  • Invitation – Discuss your work and the aspects of your business that provide the solution desired and create a clear invitation for the potential client to move one step closer to working with your business. 

This basic flow is core logic for effective marketing strategy. Most of the clients I work with have never thought of marketing in this way. While they may have some core messaging or a brand voice, most do not have a clear outline of a marketing conversation at this level. 

When you find yourself at a loss for your next big project, take a bit of time to map out a basic marketing conversation for your business. 

Now, make sure you avoid complicating things. Keep your conversation super simple… and focus on your main offer. Here’s an example to illustrate my point. It’s intentionally silly, just to make sure you understand the flow without being distracted by the details. 

Imagine I operate a food truck in your neighborhood. I sell hot dogs, sandwiches, and tacos – offering variety to the area – but street tacos are my best seller and my most profitable food item. My marketing conversation might go like this: 

  • Hey there! You look really hungry. (Connect with a problem.)
  • Feeling hungry isn’t any fun! (Define the problem.)
  • What you need is a big, juicy street taco. (Define the solution.)
  • I have one right here, ready to go. Want it? (Invitation.)

Notice I defined the solution with my best selling, most profitable offer. I didn’t confuse the conversation by talking about a variety of potential solutions. I also connected with you using a problem you could recognize. We defined the problem in emotional terms. 

Notice too that I didn’t immediately start talking about the quality of my product, the cost, or the benefits of consuming it. I just used the conversation to connect with potential clients, build awareness of a common problem, and create interest in my solution. 

Finding this inspiring? Great! Take a minute and map out a simple conversation like this for your main offer. Go ahead and imagine I’m your potential client if that makes things a bit easier. 

Brainstorm a list of people to talk to using your new marketing strategy. Hint – -> focus on potential clients.

Once you have your basic marketing conversation mapped out, brainstorm a list of people to talk to about your work. You’ll be tempted (in this moment) to resist because your conversation might not be perfect or you’re not sure it accurately represents your brand. Recognize this resistance for what it is – -> discomfort and fear because the action I recommend is new and unfamiliar. It’s okay to feel resistance like this. Actually, this is an indication that you’re about to take action. That’s a good thing! 

Challenge yourself to make a list of people who… 

  • Worked with you in the past 12 months and might need additional services or…
  • Contacted you in the past but for some reason weren’t ready just yet or…
  • Know you in some way and also have the problem you solve or…
  • Know you really well (like family and close friends) but don’t have a clear awareness of your work or the value you provide. 

Prioritize your list following the order listed above. Rank the people in the first group higher than those in the second group and so forth. Congratulations! You’ve just created a prioritized prospect list.  This is your current pool of potential clients; conversations with these people have the highest potential for generating revenue for your business in the short term. 

Try out your new marketing strategy by talking to the people on your list – either in person or via email. 

Contact the people on your list – in order of priority – and share your conversation with them in a casual way. You may not feel your conversation is refined or polished enough for this step, but you’re wrong. This step is actually part of the refinement process. 

General Eisenhower (at least I think it was him) said, “Battle plans rarely survive their first encounter with the enemy.” His point was this – you don’t know what you don’t know, and your best plans are based on assumptions and information that is only verified by experience. This concept (no matter who first articulated it) is in play here. 

Your marketing conversation will shift and adjust as you engage with the real people who are your potential clients. Perfecting it in the comfort of your quiet office is just wasted effort. 

Wondering what I mean by “casual” conversations? Send a quick email. Grab the phone and call a contact. Talk to the people on your list in an informal, personal way. Avoid the polished, formal language that immediately puts both of you on guard. 

You might email a former client with a note that says something like… “Hi, Joe. Thought of you today… when we were working on your project last year, you mentioned <insert problem or situation>. That problem is actually pretty easy to solve by <insert solution>. I’ve got a few openings in my schedule right now for that kind of work. Should we get together and talk? “

See what I’ve done in this example? I’ve taken elements of a marketing conversation and put them into the context of my relationship with the potential client.  I might call someone who contacted me previously but wasn’t quite ready and remind them of our previous conversation before talking about the problem. I could reach out to those who might know someone who needs my services and just talk about my work with excitement and energy. 

The point here is to practice and refine the marketing conversation through contact with potential clients and referral partners. Share with excitement and passion in a way that is casual and engaging. Don’t slip into sales mode… no one wants to be sold. Instead, inspire interest by sharing from your heart. Be sure to connect emotionally in one way or another… that’s where the real magic happens. 

Be consistently persistent, because effort is required here. 

This marketing strategy is extremely effective for harvesting the “low hanging fruit” in your lead generation system. But, you must be consistent… and you must also be persistent and resilient. There’s no reason to panic when you get a few negative responses. This is normal. 

Here are a few things to remember… 

  • The first few conversations will feel awkward and a bit uncomfortable. You might find yourself adjusting the conversation a bit. Eventually, you’ll get a bit more comfortable, but this will never be easy.
  • Many people will not be interested or still won’t be ready to take action. You’ll get a few “no” answers. That’s normal. In fact, you should expect it.
  • You only need a few new projects or a few new clients. This is a quick strategy to fix your current situation. If everyone on your list was ready to work with you, you’d likely be overwhelmed. Just one “yes” is enough.   

Prepare to get a bit discouraged or distracted. This is the nagging resistance we’ve been talking about and it’s normal. Force yourself to consistently take small, persistent action to implement this plan. Decide to contact five people on your list each day… or three people on the list each week… or one person today and one person tomorrow. Decide on the action YOU will take, and then take it consistently until you get your first YES. 

The marketing conversation I shared is the foundation of an effective marketing strategy. When done right, this is transformative. 

In this moment, I’m advising you to craft a simple conversation for your core product or service in order to get quick results. Imagine what would happen if every marketing tactic in your business were aligned with a core conversation, customized for your business and your ideal clients. This is the work I do with people within my marketing intensive. Want to learn a bit more? Let’s talk.

Keep reading...