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Recession? What on earth are you talking about!

That’s the riposte you’ll be able to give when you understand what to do to ride out bad economic times and emerge triumphant. Commerce has not ground to a halt, after all. People and companies are just much more choosey about where and how to spend.

If you’ve experienced any kind of slowdown recently, use your extra time to put in place these five smart recession-fighting product development strategies. Then smile as competitors are still scowling or moaning.

1. Multiply your freebies. If you have just one giveaway item you’ve been using to generate leads, develop additional ones and encourage those in your network to tell their friends, colleagues and family members about your new freebies. Not only do such samples help get people over the hump of hiring you for the first time, they enable you to reach out to potential customers who don’t yet know you exist. My recession marketing report, from which the present articles is derived, is a prime example. Not only did I give it away to my Marketing Minute newsletter list, I invited them (and you!) to send it along to others. Make sure your giveaway item delivers outstanding value and is not a promotion in light disguise. Freebies can include no-cost events and surprise bonus items as well as reports.

2. Develop “lite” versions. For example, take your software, reduce the functionality and sell the bare-bones version at a lower price. Extract a chapter from a book and present it as a special report or booklet. In some markets, you can profitably do the same for just your bibliography or up-to-date helpful resources. The travel publisher Lonely Planet pulled all the information relevant to just a city from its longer, more comprehensive country guidebooks and published pocket-sized (and somewhat cheaper) city guides perfect for a weekend visit to Madrid, Florence, Amsterdam and so on.

3. Adapt for a new audience. Got something you sell to Canadian small businesses? Make the necessary changes so you can sell it in the U.S. or South Africa, or create a version for nonprofits, or for children. One of my clients has an offering consisting of audio CDs, a book and workbook that she’s planning to retarget to a zillion specialized professions simply by redoing her sales material and publicizing the slightly renamed product to professional associations and trade magazines.

4. Revive past successes. Chances are, you have something you created or did a while ago that worked but then you dropped it or never repeated the event or special offer. Unearth it, update it if necessary and relaunch it. Dig up your half-successes, too – sometimes with the passage of time, you see exactly how to tweak them to make them work brilliantly now. My recession marketing report partly came from a handout for a seminar I gave in September 2001 but totally forgot about until I was well into the brainstorming for the report. Likewise, my downloadable report “Inspired! How to Be More Original, Inspired and Productive in Your Work” is a reworking of a creativity newsletter I had published for two and a half years.

5. Consider complaints and objections. Steve Harrison, co-owner of Bradley Communications, watched his business tank after the 9/11 attacks. On the verge of shutting down the company, he decided to go through with a repeat speaking engagement that had previously never yielded much business. This time, he realized that audience members didn’t feel ready yet for what he was pitching, so he added several additional components to the product that would get them ready. The tens of thousands of dollars in orders he received that day brought his business back from the brink of collapse. You too might be able to tweak something that hasn’t been working by figuring out what’s been keeping people from buying.

If you find yourself easily infected with pessimism from all the bad economic news, disconnect yourself from your usual news watching and listening. Make a special effort to surround yourself with people who are doing well in today’s economic climate. (I’m one of them, and I know plenty of others.) Be diligent about executing the strategies that reward recession marketers, and then enjoy their fruits.

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