Marketing yourself mindfully during a recession

Jun 10, 2020

As a business coach for creative entrepreneurs and freelancers, two of the biggest challenges creatives tell me they struggle with are marketing and sales.

So, when the coronavirus hit us like a bolt from the blue this March, and as unrest across the country continues to magnify the deep wounds of oppression and injustice, I knew independent creative professionals might benefit from some extra support through this uncharted territory.

During the webinars and Q&As I have hosted recently (including one for the lovely Freelancers Union community!), one of the most common expressions of this fear was:

“I don’t want to be seen to be opportunistic when so many people are suffering.”

And I completely relate. With the fear of coming across as insensitive or tone-deaf, one could be forgiven for freezing and not putting yourself or your business out there.

But, as creative entrepreneurs and freelancers who support our clients in all kinds of amazing ways, we need to talk about sales. Because without sales, you have no business. Yes, sales and marketing will (and should) look different right now, but this is not a time to go dark. This is an opportunity to be the most tenacious and creative version of yourself, to be a force for good, and be the guiding light your clients and customers need. So, just as the flower grows through the crack in the concrete, let’s take a look at four integrity-driven strategies for selling during a crisis.

1. Put yourself in your client’s shoes.

I’m willing to bet that you’ve received a ton of tone-deaf sales solicitations in the last couple of weeks. I know I have. And they can feel pretty triggering, right? So, let’s not do that!

But I’ve also received emails and offers, often with generous terms (free shipping, longer payment terms, or a discount) or meaningful charitable components that will serve and support me and my community as we rebuild and grow from this crisis. Instead of putting the kibosh on all sales until it feels less icky (which is likely your problem with sales, not your clients’, BTW!), think about what would really serve them right now. Do you need to adjust your offering, your terms, or pay structure? When you approach sales from what your clients need from you, I promise you won’t go too far wrong.

2. Reach out.

Have you ever failed to ask a friend how they’re doing after a parent dies/they have a miscarriage/get fired, etc., for fear of upsetting them further? I have, and I’ve learned it is always a mistake to not reach out. Even if your friend doesn’t want to talk about it, they’ll know you care and will appreciate you for it. Crises and clients are no different. Your clients are scared, feeling alone with some pretty heavy stuff, and they need to hear from you. Be proactive and instigate an honest conversation about where they’re at, what they need, and what support from you looks like. They’ll remember that you held the space for them when they needed it and thank you for it later.

3. Make a plan.

Once you’re in an honest dialogue with your clients, you can put your heads together and make a plan for what’s next. Things will likely have changed for them, so bring your beautiful and adaptable creative mind to their business and help them see a path they might not be able to see themselves. Be prepared to get creative with payment and delivery terms as needed (which is not the same as slashing your prices…more to come on that later).

4. Don’t take 'no' personally.

People don’t always show up as their best selves when they’re afraid, and they might be acting from a place of scarcity. If a client goes dark, pulls the plug, or generally takes you by surprise with not-so-cool behavior, know that it’s probably not about you. Give them the benefit of the doubt, offer to be there when they need you, and check in regularly. Yes, it’s easier said than done, but such a personal development win that even if you never hear from them again, you’ll be a better person for it.

I know this time is really, really hard. It’s OK to feel scared, freaked out, mad — whatever’s coming up for you. But what we can control right now is how we show up and share our value with the world, as well as how we support others with our dollars. This is not a time to shrink, but rather to express more fully, and yes, that includes letting people know you exist (marketing) and creating a path for a fair exchange of your value, time, and expertise for their money (sales).

Justine Clay

Justine Clay is a speaker and business coach for creative entrepreneurs and freelancers. Sign up for her free guide: How to Find High-Quality Clients and Get Paid What You’re Worth, above.