Originally published in the Boulder Daily Camera and the Longmont Daily Times-Call.

In 2009 I wrote what would turn out to be one of my most read, most re-published, columns ever. It hit home with many people, and was shared with businesses and individuals throughout the country. A news organization even had a copy of the column hanging in their advertising department for years. Why? Because it talked about something many people weren’t thinking about in the midst of the greatest recession our country had seen in years. Marketing.

When businesses struggle they often cut their marketing budgets first. This is understandable. There are other competing priorities such as payroll, rent and health insurance. But if you don’t pay attention to your advertising, communication and marketing efforts, you risk being left behind when we collectively begin our return to normal.

There’s consensus concerning the need to keep businesses viable during the COVID19 shutdown. We understand the need to keep businesses going, even in the middle of such an unbelievable challenge. But many businesses will survive this challenge only to find that they have lost their market share, or are unable to competitively promote their business or organization because they didn’t do the necessary planning at this point.

As leaders of businesses and organizations, you should be thinking about how you will communicate with your target audiences currently, and in the future. Your communication is likely to change, and then change again. Now is the time to do your homework. Now is the time to develop a plan. After all, as Thomas Edison noted, “Good fortune is what happens when opportunity meets with planning.”

Effective planning requires an understanding of your operating context. This includes your target audiences, geographical location, competition, opportunities and more. Your messaging must be carefully tailored to engage target audiences in a thoughtful and intentional manner. It’s tricky now, because things have changed so very quickly.

So where to start?

Be creative. While many of us are separated, there are ways to connect. For example, I’ve long been a fan of focus groups to fully understand where people are coming from, and what is important to them. I’ve done over a hundred over the years. I initially thought that I wouldn’t be able to continue this activity, given the new social distancing guidelines. However, with a little bit of thought and flexibility, my business is doing focus groups via Zoom and other platforms. I’m also working with clients to develop their plans for moving forward.

Dust off your communication/marketing plan. It’s likely out of date at this point. If you don’t have a plan, begin developing one to carry you forward. Some things haven’t changed, but some have. Consider how your business or organization will be changing. How will that impact your plan? Remember that many other businesses are in the same place and will need to promote themselves more moving forward as well. What will that look like for you? Will you be ready?

What is your goal? Who do you wish to communicate with? What do you know about them? What do you want them to know about you? How will you reach them? What are your competitors doing? Why will your target audiences be interested in your message? How do you know?

In 2009, those with plans in place were more successful than those who didn’t have plans in place. Those who hadn’t raided their marketing budgets were better positioned to move ahead.

I keep this quote from Jim Rohn in mind, “If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you – not much.”

Stay safe, treasure your loved ones and make a plan.

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