There’s no question that the state of the world economy is alarming. Here in the U.S., businesses are failing, unemployment is at record levels, and business and consumer spending in multiple categories has plummeted. And there’s no clear path to recovery while the COVID-19 pandemic continues. It’s pretty scary stuff for self-employed professionals who rely on other people’s budgets and spending habits to pay their own bills.
In the depths of the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt declared in his inaugural speech, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” He described that fear as the “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” FDR’s message was that the real danger was not the economic conditions themselves, but the prospect that we would become immobilized by our fear of them.
Even in ordinary times, fear can be one of the most powerful saboteurs of marketing. When we fear rejection, we avoid making follow-up calls or asking for the sale. When we fear embarrassment, we avoid networking or public speaking. And when we fear failure, we avoid taking action that might also lead to our success. Believing that “nobody’s buying right now” can turn those words into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Instead of letting fear of an economic shock immobilize you, try using it to energize you. Here are six steps you can take to counteract fear and keep your marketing on track.
1. Step up your marketing instead of stepping back. Now is the time to do more marketing rather than less. If you haven’t been reaching out to likely referral sources lately, contact them all, and design a schedule to keep in touch. If you’ve been posting to social media twice a week, make it a point to post daily. If you have a stack of leads you never followed up on, dust them off and re-engage. Identify what marketing approaches have worked well for you in the past, then start using them more often.
2. Don’t let bad news wreck your day. One of my clients was getting completely derailed from staying on top of his marketing when he read the morning headlines before starting his day. I’m not suggesting you put your head in the sand; we should all try to be informed citizens. But if the news is getting you down, plan to work on marketing first thing in the morning — and do it before reading the news or scrolling social media.
3. Aim for a fuller pipeline. When more people than usual are saying no, you need to have more people than usual to ask for the sale. Ask your clients, colleagues, and friends to introduce you to prospective clients they may know. Try to get acquainted with some influential people with large personal networks. Search out leads in the trade press, your social networks, and professional associations you belong to. Cast your net more widely than you have in the past to identify new potential clients.
4. Keep a positive attitude and a long-term perspective. Surround yourself with optimistic, proactive people and stay away from those who broadcast doom and gloom. Look for inspiration in stories, music, or films that make you feel positive and hopeful. Remember that economic downturns have happened many times in the past, and they don’t last forever. You can’t control the economy, but you can control your reaction to it.
5. Evaluate your spending. Scaling back on marketing is the wrong direction, but make sure you spend marketing dollars efficiently. A therapist client of mine was paying for listings in multiple consumer directories. With a full practice, she could afford this. But when business slowed, she tracked where most of her clients had come from, and cancelled listings that weren’t paying off. You may be able to cut spending on ads, memberships, and promotions that aren’t producing results.
6. Put in place a recession-resistant plan for the future. If despite your best efforts, you find yourself with extra time on your hands due to a decline in business, use it to implement a new marketing plan that will serve you in good times and bad. Institute a regular networking and follow-up schedule, develop referral partnerships, build up your web presence, or focus on writing and speaking. Any one of these strategies, employed over time, can keep your pipeline constantly full.
FDR’s advice to a fearful nation was that we should not “shrink from honestly facing conditions” but also remember that “it can never be helped merely by talking about it. We must act and act quickly.” The best way to counteract fear of what might go wrong is to keep taking action that will make things go right.
An earlier version of this post was published in 2008 during the Great Recession. It’s been updated for 2020.