Everyone knows a recession is bad for business -- Businesses cut back on spending, consumers have less money to spend, and unemployment rises as businesses shed staff to save costs. But recessions can also be a moment of opportunity for savvy entrepreneurs -- especially if you operate a small business.

A recession means that people are more cost-conscious than usual; they’ll happily make sacrifices to save money if they know they’ll get something in return. In other words: People look for ways to save money, which means they’re more likely to seek out affordable deals on products and services.

You might think a recession is the worst time possible to open a new restaurant, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. While larger chains struggle in the face of reduced spending, smaller independents that focus on affordability and value have thrived in recent years. The trick is knowing how to leverage these benefits so your small business remains profitable no matter what happens with the wider economy. So, here are our 5 tips to recession-proof your restaurant marketing strategy:

1. Stay relevant by knowing your audience

The first step to keeping your business afloat during a recession is to know your customers. During a downturn, you’ll need to make sure that your message is relevant to your customers’ needs. If you try to cover too much ground, you’ll spread yourself too thin and alienate customers who don’t get excited by your larger offerings. However, if you focus on the areas where your customers are most in need of assistance, you can come across as very relevant -- even during a recession. In a tough economy, the first thing consumers tend to cut is their discretionary spending. They’ll sacrifice some luxuries -- like buying new clothes or taking a trip, but they’re unlikely to cut their essential monthly expenses, such as utilities and groceries. Whether you work as a mobile mechanic or a barista, these are the areas where you can easily make savings without reducing the quality of your service. By staying focused on the areas where you can make the biggest difference, you can get your small business through a recession unscathed.

2. Optimize your existing marketing channels

As well as staying relevant, you’ll want to make sure that your existing marketing channels are still relevant in a new, cost-conscious environment. This could mean optimizing your social media strategies, switching your email marketing provider, or rethinking your advertising methods. The first step, however, is to simply be aware of what you’re already doing. Many businesses don’t realize how much of their marketing budget is spent on channels that aren’t generating much, if any, revenue. Therefore, it’s incredibly important to track every single marketing channel you’re using.

3. Watch Your Competition Carefully

If marketing channels aren’t generating profit, there’s a good chance your competitors are doing the same thing. Therefore, it’s important to keep an eye on your competitors’ marketing strategies. Start by monitoring the channels that are most relevant to your business. If your competitors are investing large amounts of money on social media, it could be worth reassessing the effectiveness of your strategy. Similarly, if they’re advertising heavily on Google or Bing, it could be worth rethinking your paid search keywords.

4. Leverage word of mouth with PR

Another good strategy is to leverage word of mouth with PR. During a recession, the desire for bargains will make customers open their wallets more frequently than usual. Therefore, the perfect way to get your marketing message across during a recession is to harness all of the positive publicity your customers are likely to generate. By using paid social media channels and paying for online advertising, you can amplify the messages your customers are likely to share about your business. Using PR channels also guarantees that these positive mentions reach a wider audience than unfavorable ones would, which could prove invaluable during a recession.

5. Don’t be afraid to try new things

The final best marketing strategy for a recession is to stay open-minded. This isn’t the time to be afraid to try new things. During a recession, there’s a tendency to keep things simple. However, the best marketing strategies often combine many different techniques into one winning mix. Instead of trying to be all things to all people, you can instead focus on a smaller niche and focus on making the best product possible. By staying open-minded, you can ensure that your business survives a recession with as much as it can. To truly survive a recession, you’ll need to think outside the box and innovate. During a recession, this means taking risks and trying new things, because this could be the key to your survival.

Bottom line

The best way to survive a recession is to recognize the signs and create a plan for survival. This means staying relevant, optimizing your existing channels, and watching your competition carefully. During tough times, these five strategies will ensure that your small business survives in the face of reduced income.