21 Ways to Drum up Business in a Slow Economy

  1. Drive around looking for signs in need of repair, and visit the owner with business card in hand and EstiMate on your laptop.
  2. Right now, everybody is having sales. Take out a classified ad advertising banners to the local business community, as a “cross marketing” opportunity. When people call inquiring, explain that you are offering 5% off in exchange for having your name on the banner.
  3. Get creative with direct mail. Take the type of work that makes you the very best profit, and direct mail small target groups offering your services. A great example would be holiday window splashes (there’s a new holiday every couple of months).
  4. Put new graphics on your shop vehicle! Chances are, it’s been awhile since you’ve redone your graphics.  A fresh look will bring renewed attention and give you the opportunity to show off your shop.
  5. Study the competition. Take a driving tour around your city and study what the other shops are doing (don’t drive that shop vehicle)!  Bring your digital camera, and a notebook, and you will probably come away with 3-5 excellent ideas for improving business.
  6. Select a neighborhood that’s right for your kind of work. Perhaps a historic district, if you make gold signs, or an industrial area if you specialize in aluminum wall signs. Go door to door, meet the owner, and find out if they have any sign needs. As a matter of fact, this is how I established my new sign company when I first got into the business.
  7. Network with your own vendors and contractors. If you have a plumber you use, call him and ask for referrals.
  8. Wherever you go, leave your business card. Eat at a restaurant? Leave it on the table. Go to the grocery store? Drop one in the cart. You get the idea.
  9. Study your local free newspaper and find out where small business meet and greets happen. Chances are there’s a networking event somewhere tonight.
  10. Think about how to expand your services — perhaps when somebody buys magnetic signs, they would like some full color business cards go with them.
  11. Network with your friendly competitors. Cross market that way. Between you and them, you should be able to provide full service to customers. Perhaps you make the signs, and they print the t-shirts, or vice versa.
  12. Join your local Chamber of Commerce. Talk about networking opportunities! Extending yourself into your community this way can really get you noticed.
  13. Do you have your customers’ e-mail addresses? If so, start writing business tips and e-mailing them to your customers. By and large, connecting with your customers this way will bring you more long-term benefit than only e-mailing them specials and advertisements.
  14. Use “good, better, best” techniques to upsell your customers. When someone wants a quote, offer them three levels of service: a basic job, a fancier job, or an extremely fancy job. Make sure that the “fancier” and “extremely fancy” prices are fairly close to each other. This will help you take advantage of decoy marketing.
  15. Contact local sports teams, and discuss how you might be their primary sign maker for the advertising banners and promotional material surrounding sporting events.
  16. Join a club — rub elbows with people who need your services, in a low pressure and nonthreatening environment, and see who they call when they need something done. This, of course, assumes that you gave them your business card at the club meetings. ;-)
  17. Offer nicer work for the basic price. Often, you’ll be able to improve a job with just a little extra effort. The most important thing to do is to follow the principle of never giving something away without telling them that you did, but take it to the extreme and offer it up front.
  18. Make “warm calls” to your customers — ask how the work you’ve done for them in the past is working out, and if there’s any way you can help them right now. An hour spent this way will likely result in a job or two immediately.
  19. Get some publicity! Make a sign for charity, or gather a group of kids and teach them how to make sign work. Make sure the press knows about it.
  20. Publish a booklet about the advantages of fresh sign work.  Direct-mail businesses with faded signs offering to come touch up their existing signs or replace them with a new image. There’s a local restaurant here in Asheville that I thought was closed for at least the last two years, but it turns out that they are open and continuing to serve. The reason I thought they were closed is that their signs have faded to near invisibility.
  21. Reposition your products! Recently I was in a “wedding store” and was shocked to see a brochure rack from a local sign shop. I wondered to myself, “what the signs have to do with weddings?” Then I realized, that the local shop that positioned itself for directional signs, banners, etc. to the local wedding community would likely garner all of that business through referrals.


  • J.D. Iles says:


    I really enjoyed this post. Very good, and filled with terrific ideas.

    I know alot of sign guys can be intimidated by trying to “cold call” or “cold visit”. Try to do the thing you are most scared of first.

    By and large, the fear of rejection is worse than the rejection itself, AND sometimes they need a sign!

    J.D. Iles

    • Mark says:

      Thanks J.D.! I appreciate your comments. I’ve been out of town and am just now getting rolling again with the blog. “Try to do the thing you are most scared of first” — you are so right — once you’ve done that the rest is smooth sailing.

  • Great article, direct sales of carved wooden signs to proffesionals like doctors and lawyers might be the trick.