Build a recession-proof business. Today, we're sharing how we grew SendFox in times of uncertainty—and how you can grow your business, too.
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In 2020, COVID-19 changed everything.
Businesses once thought to be safe struggled. Entrepreneurs panicked. And sadly, millions of people lost their jobs.
Now in 2022, we’re facing economic uncertainty again, with major factors like war, continued supply chain issues, and the ripple effects of the pandemic.
I originally wrote this post during the height of the pandemic in 2020. While many aspects of COVID-19 were—all together now—unprecedented, the fact is that economic downturns and even recessions come and go.
The advice I provided then will apply today, along with new learnings I’ve gained since in 2022. While some things may feel scary, there’s also hope: some of the most successful businesses have been built during uncertain times.
Let’s talk about how you can build a recession-proof business to weather any storm.
This is exactly what we did at SendFox, a high-value, low-cost email marketing platform, in 2020.
It’s helped us have one of our best periods of sales EVER back then. And the growth is still ongoing. In a recent month, SendFox generated $37,000+ in top-line revenue. Despite current circumstances in the world, you can see similar growth in your business, too.
Now let’s dive in.
6 tips to build a recession-proof business
Tip #1: Create a marketing plan—and keep it organized
Businesses are scrambling right now.
A lot is going on, and it can be easy to lose track of everything that’s being done.
However, even in the chaos, it’s essential to list all your marketing efforts in one centralized place.
But it doesn’t have to be complicated. As you can see here, we’ve centralized all our marketing ideas in one main Google Sheet.
Keeping everything organized helps in two ways—especially if you have a team. Here’s why:
- Everyone knows what they need to do. When team members panic, they pull in different directions. And when people pull in different directions, nothing gets done. You want to avoid this happening to you and your business. Listing out what everyone is doing helps the team move in the same direction.
- We can see what’s missing. When it comes to your marketing ideas, stop asking the question “Did we do this yet?” Once you have everything in a document, you’ll see exactly what was done… and then come up with more ideas of things to do. You don’t have to track down a bunch of different people and ask if something was completed – you’ll know at a glance.
You can check out AppSumo’s Chief Sumo Noah Kagan’s Marketing Plan when he was the CMO for Mint for free.
To further organize, inside our main Google Sheet, we link to different marketing copy and other documents. Above all, this helps keep everything clean and still gives us the documentation we need.
For example, here’s the linked Google Doc for one of our marketing projects, Email segmented Sumo customers.
We sent this email to thousands of customers who were using more expensive email tools, encouraging them to switch to our affordable solution SendFox to save money.
🔑 Key Lesson: Create a centralized Google Sheet for all your marketing strategies right now. You can link to any additional copy, resources, etc. in the Google Sheet—but keep one Google Sheet centralized for anyone. In moments of confusion, this makes everything easy to find.
Tip #2: Look for opportunities outside the noise
Every marketer in the world right now is doing a virtual webinar.
Don’t compete where it’s crowded… go where you have MORE opportunity and LESS competition.
Right now, all of us REALLY want two things:
- A way to save money. It’s scary and unpredictable out there. Most of us are tightening our wallets because we don’t know what’s going to happen.
- More cash. Lots of people are getting laid off. People need money because their main streams of income are gone.
To find and help these two groups, our team at SendFox has done a lot of 1-on-1 outreach to two main groups: potential influencers and customers.
1-on-1 outreach is something the marketing community tends to hate. It’s hard to scale, it’s not sexy, and it doesn’t get a lot of attention…
But it works.
We’re targeting potential influencers and customers 1-on-1 for two reasons:
- Influencers can promote SendFox to their audience. With the AppSumo affiliate program, influencers who promote SendFox on AppSumo keep 100% of revenue for new customers they refer to buy. That’s a really helpful source of income for people who have lost their jobs or need money right now.
- Potential customers can move to SendFox to save money. There are a lot of entrepreneurs, content creators, and small businesses paying high monthly costs for their email marketing bills. SendFox’s one-time cost (for small senders) or 50% off monthly cost (for large senders) can help people save a TON of money during this chaotic period.
Reaching out to these potential influencers and customers 1-on-1 doesn’t mean we’re blasting hundreds of cold leads per day non-stop (we all get enough spammy cold outreach every day).
We’re looking at highly-targeted relevant people who we think could really benefit from SendFox right now. Consistency is key—even if we email just 5–10 highly targeted potential customers or affiliates per day, the numbers add up.
Here are the exact scripts we used for each type of outreach:
Influencer outreach. We picked our FAVORITE and BEST current SendFox customers, and then messaged them to be a part of the AppSumo affiliate program promoting SendFox. We heavily emphasized one of the key things people want right now—to make more money. Because our message matched what people wanted right now, the response rate was super high (40%).
Prospective customer outreach. We want our favorite people to use SendFox. So whenever we get an email from a newsletter we’re subscribed to in our inbox, we tell them about SendFox. Don’t make marketing more complicated than it needs to be. Sometimes, it’s just about leveraging your network and keeping it simple.
When we reach out to an influencer or potential customer, we make note of them inside a second Google Sheet (linked in our main Google Sheet to keep everything organized).
🔑 Key Lesson: Think about what your customers want right now. During tough times, it’s usually to save money or make more money. Then think about the marketing channels you can reach them, and what you can offer them.
Tip #3: Make sure the ENTIRE team is involved
Even though it’s a crazy time, it’s important to slow down enough to keep the team focused.
If you’re leading your team, and you’re frazzled, stressed, and all-over-the-place… the entire team will match that energy.
With SendFox, I’ve kept my team in the loop daily, and shown them all the people I’m outreaching (including the results).
Leaders lead by action. When we tell our team something is important, we as leaders should shift our priorities there, too.
And when a team member does something great towards our goal, it’s vital to provide positive reinforcement. Every action makes a difference!
Stepping back and not losing sight of the forest for the trees, I remind our team daily that two things are critical:
- Finding potential customers who we can help save money by switching to SendFox
- Finding potential influencers we can help make money by sharing SendFox with their audience
Setting clear high-level instructions—“let’s help new customers save money, and influencers make money”—gives large boundaries for the team to be creative.
One of our team members, Samantha, decided to take the idea of “more customers” and promote our product on Reddit. It was totally her idea, and it was AWESOME to see the initiative.
🔑 Key Lesson: Lead your team with action. Model what they should do by taking action on the right things yourself, and then encourage them to be creative to accomplish the goals you’ve set.
Tip #4: Explore other low-cost product ideas that help customers
What else do your other customers want? It’s a big question, but it helps to think of it as layers of an onion.
For example, if they do email marketing, they’re also highly likely to do marketing on social media.
From email marketing also came the idea of helping customers with SMS marketing, and we built ShortySMS.
All of these solutions offer a high value to our customers at a low cost and fulfill different needs. Peel back the layers of your initial offering and you’ll find potential gold.
Once you have other ideas on how you can help your customers, validate your business idea. I recommend reading the full post, but here’s the TL;DR:
- Make sure that you are solving a problem
- Spend minimal money while validating
- Do the manual work necessary—move quickly and get real feedback from folks in your network
- Continue to collect feedback from your audience to improve the product to suit their needs.
🔑 Key Lesson: Think of your business offerings like an onion. On the inner layer, you have your first business. But you can keep offering more layers to help your customers with more related needs.
Tip #5: Cut costs internally
It goes without saying that low costs help your team as well.
We use SendGrid to power the backend of SendFox and Twilio to power the backend of our sending for ShortySMS.
When we audited the payments for both accounts, we realized we could save 40%+ by making some adjustments.
For example, we increased tiers to reduce overages on SendGrid and cut down on abusive, high-volume accounts on ShortySMS. Check your bills and move to low-cost alternatives like those offered on AppSumo.
🔑 Key Lesson: There are two ways to “fix” finances: Make more money, or cut costs. Revisiting your costs is often the quickest way to stop the bleeding as you put a strategy in place to generate more revenue from your business.
Tip #6: Measure results and KPIs
Chief Sumo Noah always talks about doubling down on what works and doing less of what doesn’t.
A philosophy I like to use is trying one new marketing test a week, measuring results, doing more of what works, and stopping what doesn’t.
We often use the “start, stop, keep” methodology at the end of the month to review the stats of where we go next.
At the end of the month, we revisit our marketing experiments and their results to understand next steps.
This methodology helps our team be intentional with our projects and priorities.
Instead of scatterbrained efforts in a lot of different places, we can systematically and methodologically start doing new activities that have potential, stop doing activities that don’t work, and keep doing activities that are showing promise.
In a recent month, we ran a handful of experiments:
- Four experiments were kept because of solid results
- One experiment was stopped because the ROI wasn’t there
- One new experiment was ideated for the following month
🔑 Key Lesson: As Chief Sumo Noah says, surprises should be saved for birthday parties—not businesses. Use a framework to understand how your activities performed for the week or month, and then “start, stop, keep” for the following month.
It’s a tumultuous time in business, but these times also mean OPPORTUNITY.
You have the opportunity to organize experimental marketing channels.
You have the opportunity to lead your team better than ever.
And you have the opportunity to get creative.
Remember these six tips steps to build a recession-proof business:
- Create a marketing plan — and keep it organized
- Look for opportunities outside the noise
- Make sure the ENTIRE team is involved
- Explore other low-cost product ideas that help customers
- Cut costs internally
- Measure results and KPIs
If you want to cut your email marketing costs by literally 5-10x, check out SendFox, an exclusive deal on AppSumo starting at a one-time cost of $49.