We’re proud to introduce our first GUEST blogger, Tracey Baty from three60 marketing and pr, an East Yorkshire based small and rural business creative marketing specialist.

I was recently invited by Katrina Thompson  to talk to a women’s networking group www.meet-yorkshire.co.uk about marketing tips for small businesses during a recession.

My first tip was more of a plea – Don’t stop marketing!  I used information from the IPA (Institute of Practitioners in Advertising) to illustrate that, although 45% of companies reduced their marketing budgets in the first quarter of 2009, 11% of companies planned to increase spend and it would be these businesses who would win out in the end. 

Jim Connolly bears this out in a recent blog post when he discovered that businesses who not only survived, but thrived during the last recession had one thing in common – they continued to invest in the key areas of their businesses; like marketing. 

As the CIM’s (Chartered Institue of Marketing) Mark Stuart says, “Customers do not stop buying in a downturn: they just buy differently.”

Having hopefully convinced the ladies of the need to step up their marketing activity, I went on to share some tips that have worked for me and my clients.  I encouraged the audience to consider low cost ways to raise awareness of their businesses and recounted my own experiences about three60 branded cycle paniers (www.bikebins.com – not sure if the idea is to promote, or not!) whilst holidaying in France – my web stats showed a marked increase in French visitors for those two weeks in August!  Not only that, but did you know you can claim 20p a mile for cycling to client meetings?

We also talked about the opportunities that recent journalist redundancies on regional newspapers afforded small business owners with a story to tell.  You can either write a short piece about the story yourself (take a look at the papers you’re targeting to get a feel for how the journalists write) and submit it to the paper (ideally with a picture of about 1MB), or call the paper or radio station and tell them about your story.  Try to choose a story that will interest their readers/listeners and take the opportunity to promote your business on the back of it.  For example, a Hull couple made headlines after the 2007 floods forced them out of their home and made them re-evaluate their lives.  Aged 50plus, they subsequently resigned from their careers and have launched their own business.

We’re very lucky to be business owners in rural East Yorkshire as we’re a very tight knit community.  Research amongst my clients suggests that they are gaining business as the recession deepens as we’re all encouraged to pull together, shop local and safeguard livelihoods and communities.  I encouraged the ladies to maximise this opportunity and to consider collaborations with other complementary businesses.  For example, the celebrated East Yorkshire Wildlife artist, Robert Fuller, is launching his latest exhibition on Father’s Day and is treating Dads to a glass of ale from nearby Wold Top Brewery.  Cheers!

Given that it was a networking meeting, there was no doubt about the extensive low cost opportunities that all types of networking affords small business owners, but the ladies were asked to consider the benefits of social media as part of their marketing armoury.  Many use Facebook and similar social networking sites to interact with friends and family but had not considered using such tools to raise awareness of their businesses and drive traffic to their websites.  A friend of mine was recently encouraged to join the online business network ecademy and within hours his business had grabbed the attention of a BNI Director in Sydney.  The result? They’re meeting up in Sydney when the client visits for a holiday next month!   

So whatever you do – don’t stop marketing! Make the most of the many low-cost but effective marketing opportunities available to you and your business.

Tracey Baty is the founder of three60 marketing and pr and specialises in helping small and rural businesses to grow through creative marketing communications.