(NewsUSA) - The news headlines on the U.S. economy are grim: soaring oil prices, rising inflation, sinking house prices and stagnant consumer spending. An economic downturn can be particularly hard on small businesses, which, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, employ more than 38 million people and produce half of America's GDP.
Yet, economic downturns can actually be an opportunity for smaller companies to get ahead and come out stronger on the other side. According to the market research firm PIMS (Profit Impact of Market Strategy), businesses that invest in marketing during a recession typically see a return on investment of more than 4 percent in the short term, as well as gaining market share three times faster in the two years following a recession.
Fortunately, effective marketing doesn't have to break the bank if done creatively.
"If small businesses are smart with their marketing dollars, they can make a little go a long way," said Chris McDonald, owner and creative director of Auramar, a Phoenix, Arizona-based design firm that helps a range of clients with graphic design and advertising projects. "There are a lot of low-cost, high-impact marketing activities that small businesses can do to bring in current customers and even attract some new ones from the competition, which may have stopped marketing."
For many small businesses, a first step is to refresh marketing materials such as direct mail, brochures, pamphlets and fliers. Desktop graphic design software has improved dramatically in recent years, making it possible for novices to create professional-looking documents.
Affordable stock photo Web sites like SnapVillage.com — which offers nearly half a million high-quality photos and illustrations for as little as $1 — make it simple and easy to find images that give marketing materials and Web sites a contemporary, professional look.
Small businesses may also want to consider contributing to industry blogs and social media sites, attending networking events and joining online networking sites such as LinkedIn, Ning, or Collective X, and adding their details to free online directories.
"The most rewarding part of marketing for small businesses is when they start to see their investment pay off in terms of higher sales," said McDonald. "Rather than going into hiding during tough economic times, companies should get out there and show customers why they are better."