Marketing in times of uncertainty

Beginning of last year, I recommended to start the year with a marketing plan. But the year turned out so different to anything we could have imagined, and many marketing plans and ideas were shelved. Some for good reason. With reduced income, the marketing budget also shrinks. But the bigger problem was that nobody knew what would work in our constantly changing world. So, many of us did the best we could with what we had; others had a “wait and see” approach.

The tumultuous year of 2020 presented us with unprecedented crises and challenges. It was a year of constant change, of learning new ways to do business amidst ongoing uncertainty. We were stretched to the limit in our ability to cope and to overcome.

But we’ve learnt to adjust, to improvise, to innovate, to work remotely, and to meet online. Many of us have learnt more in the past 10 months than we have in the past 10 years. And many of us were probably surprised by our resilience in the year that was.

My take-away from 2020: The only thing we can be sure of is that uncertainty is going to be our new way of life. How we operate our businesses and how we market our services will have to remain flexible. But:

“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”
Albert Einstein

Marketing in 2021

A new year – a fresh start?

Although we’re still in a season of uncertainty, it’s time to get your marketing back on track if you want to retain and grow your client base. As David Ogilvy, one of the advertising greats of our time, said:

Doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you’re doing, but nobody else does.”

Marketing is one of the most important aspects of business survival. You’ve got to have a marketing strategy to promote your brand. If your budget is limited, prioritise digital because that’s where you’ll get the most bang for your buck.

Expand your digital presence

The most cost-effective way to get you message out is via social media and email.

Keep in touch with your existing client base through regular updates. They need reassurance of your ongoing availability to deliver your services. Prospective clients also need to see your consistent presence to develop confidence in your ability to provide continuity of service.

  • Your website. Your website is your No 1 priority. It’s your calling card. If you haven’t got one, get one. If you have one, refresh the design if the look is outdated. Replace existing content with updated information and upload new items regularly.
  • Social media. People are more active on social media than ever. You can’t afford not to be seen. Have a schedule for regular posts of newsworthy information, and posts around holidays and other events.
  • Newsletters. Write articles that you can send out in an email newsletter, post on your website and on social media, and submit to relevant publications. One article gets multiple exposures – that’s time well-spent.
  • Brochures, pitch templates, emailers. Update design and content. Email is your main method of direct communication with clients.
  • Webinars. Seminars used to be a good place to provide valuable information and network with clients. The same can be done online, just differently.

Ensure what you put out is presented in a professional manner with a consistent brand identity and voice. Your messaging cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach. Be discerning in what you send out. Quality over quantity. Customise, personalise, and follow up.

Marketing is not only done by marketing people. We advise on the way forward, put a marketing plan in place, and do the groundwork by preparing your marketing tools. Telephonic follow-up by the people who provide the service you’re offering is crucial. People do business with people, not companies.

The right mindset

We’re not alone in how we experience living and working in our changed reality. How we deal with people, whether clients, suppliers, or staff, is more important than ever.

  • Focus on what you can do, not on restrictions and limitations.
  • Be flexible and open to suggestions. Do things differently.
  • Be solution-oriented. See how you can fix a situation, not who’s to blame for what went wrong.
  • Cooperate with others. Focus on what you have in common not on what divides you.
  • Be supportive, encourage rather than criticise. Kindness and understanding will go a long way. People rise to expectations given half a chance.
  • Be patient with others. We’re all still finding our bearings in our new way of life.

A last thought

Yes, you still need a marketing plan. When things change, adjust your plan. If your marketing activities last year didn’t give you the desired results, be bold and try something new.

 “When obstacles arise, you change your direction to reach your goal, you do not change your decision to get there.”
Zig Ziglar

 © Andrea Paulsen

Start the year with a marketing plan

A new year – a fresh start! Everybody is rested after their yearend break and full of enthusiasm and positive expectancy. Use that momentum to do what you’ve always meant to do, but usually don’t get around to.

What’s your vision for 2020?

Outline what you’d like to achieve in your business this year. It’s likely that you already have a projection of expected overheads and expenses. This usually is the basis for what you need  to earn. But don’t stop there.

What about business growth, developing new products or services, expansion to other cities or countries? Starting an online business?

Put a marketing plan in place

Nothing happens by itself. You need a plan with deadlines, budget allocation, and commitment from staff.

Get professional help

You probably have an accountant to do your books, and an IT specialist to sort out your computers. So, don’t try to become a marketing expert. Focus on your core business and outsource if you don’t have funds to employ a full-time marketing person.

Get buy-in

Marketing is part of everyone’s job. Don’t underestimate the ideas your staff may have. Involve them, have brainstorming sessions and you’ll find among the most ridiculous or outlandish ideas that one gem that you can put into practice. Then reward those that have bright ideas with the responsibility to implement them.

Marketing on a shoestring budget

Allocate a budget. Draw up a list of possible marketing activities. You may find that you have more ideas than you have budget.

There’s no need to spend large amounts on high-cost advertising. You don’t need a full-page advertisement in the Sunday Times, nor a banner in the airport arrivals lounge to get your message out there. Rather focus on marketing activities that cost little but offer good returns.

Newsletters and social media

Write articles for your monthly, inhouse newsletter that you can repost on social media and various online publications. Send ad hoc emailers about news in your industry to your database. Because regular newsletters and social media posts increase brand awareness.


Offer short, informative seminars to clients at your offices. Have a coffee break at the halfway mark to give you the opportunity to network with them. Don’t think food has to be the main attraction for clients to attend a seminar. Sharing your knowledge and expertise at no cost is the drawcard.

Differentiate yourself from your competitors

Offer clients free, inhouse seminars or workshops about issues that are relevant to their employees. You’re not marketing your services, but you’re adding value and clients remember that. And these short presentations can be given by junior staff – an opportunity to develop their presentation skills.

Social responsibility

Get active in your community. If you don’t already have a social responsibility programme, partner with an NGO in your neighbourhood. Get your staff involved in volunteer work. And, if you can, make a financial contribution or offer your services for free. These activities will create goodwill and promote your brand. As a bonus, you can post what you’ve done on social media.

When times are tough – diversify

There are always companies that do exceptionally well during tough times. It’s all about your mindset. If you believe that your business will struggle during bad economic times, you are going to act accordingly. So, do the opposite. Brainstorm what you can offer your clients as added value, free of charge, that will help them improve their business.

Also, look for additional income streams and ways to utilise your staff when they’re not busy.

  • Run seminars where you give in-depth input on topical issues and charge for those.
  • If you’re in a central location and have spare offices and meeting rooms, rent them out to business people who come to your city and need an office base (a footnote on a newsletter that you have these facilities is all you need to get the ball rolling).
  • Market your services to smaller firms in other cities or countries, who may need a local partner.

If you provide a service to clients (such as legal, accounting, etc) and you have junior staff who aren’t used to full capacity, consider outsourcing them to clients. Your clients pay a discounted rate for a full-time, inhouse lawyer or accountant, who still has access to senior expertise when required. Your junior will be very keen to add this secondment to their CV. And once they’re back at your office, you have a closer relationship with your client and a better understanding of their day-to-day business requirements. Win-win-win.

First things first

  • Refresh your website and brochures and update individual profiles. Add new expertise, or just rewrite existing content, to make it sound fresh and new. (Don’t forget to update your website’s copyright year.)
  • Plan your seminars and workshops for the whole year in January.
  • Draw up a schedule for newsletters, social media posts, etc and assign content provision.
  • Enter all relevant events, important dates and deadlines on a year planner. Make sure everyone has access to this information and knows what they’re expected to contribute.

If you don’t plan ahead, it’s not going to happen.

© Andrea Paulsen