A couple of weeks ago I attended a small cocktail party for my local merchants’ association. People invariably asked one another how they were doing in the deflating economy, and everyone there responded in one of three ways. Some, like the owner of a hair salon, said, “I’m doing fine. My business is recession-proof. People still need to get their hair cut and dyed so I’m not worried.” Others, like the owner of a high-end clothing boutique said, “I don’t know what we’re going to do. People just aren’t buying like they used to.” Still others, like owner of a new gallery said, “I’m doing great. I was trying out new promotion ideas, and one of them worked out so well I’m doing better than before the recession hit!”
These three business owners are examples of what my dad would call “floaters,” “sinkers” and “swimmers.”* When a bad economy hits (and it always does, sooner or later), some businesses are largely unaffected. People in the medical industry, for example, will still see about the same number of sick and injured people no matter what. They don’t have to make any changes to their business model to stay above water. They are natural floaters.
Every other business has a tendency to sink during a recession. If they do nothing, eventually they will hit bottom. With a little effort and direction, however, you can stay above the surface. And if you manage to keep yourself above water long enough to ride out the wave, you’ll find that your trip back in is even easier than when you started, because some of your competitors will have been “wiped out.”
I haven’t heard any predictions that the recession will last beyond 2009, so if you can make it another year, you should be good to go. But how to get there? That’s up to you. Many businesses seem to be relying on the promotional discount this season. I say, get creative! Look around you for things you can use to your advantage. That gallery owner I mentioned above is taking advantage of the private school down the street. She’s offering free weekly classes to parents during the hour before school gets out. It’s a brilliant idea. She gets wealthy people in her gallery on a regular basis, where she teaches them how to appreciate what she sells — art. She’s literally taking people off the street and turning them into customers. She’s never sold so much art in her life!
My approach recently has just been to put myself out there — everywhere. I’m contributing to things right and left. I’ve got pieces in art shows and silent auctions. I’m selling at loads of holiday events — even ones that didn’t ask for vendors. I contributed a recipe to an event program, a tutorial for a craft book, 500 buttons for a magazine party, and 350 items for goodie bags. I’m doing an in-store in Brooklyn when I’m home for the holidays and a workshop at a local art college in the spring. I’m even collecting donations on behalf of the San Francisco Food Bank. In return they add my events to their calendar.
All of my contributions have been narrowly targeted, but they’re low-cost and have often lead to bigger and better things. For example, the buttons I donated to the magazine party say “I love you more than bacon” on them, and it’s a magazine all about meat. But those buttons were ultimately responsible for my appearance in the Weekly Yelp. They even got a mention on KQED radio. Sweet Meats are even supposed to be in the New York Times later this week. I’m not sure what was ultimately responsible for that piece of PR, but the point is, you have to get your name out there so that people can find you.
So ladies, put on your brainstorming caps and start saying yes to everything that doesn’t cost you money. The water level is rising and it’s time to start kicking!
*I don’t think my dad made up the whole “sinkers, floaters, swimmers” thing, but I can’t find the original source. If you know it, please post it in the comments. Thanks!