Survive the Storm Power through the economic slowdown with these 5 e-business turbochargers.

By Derek Gehl

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

These days, the financial pages and TV news shows are full of them--doom and gloom stories about the current economic slowdown sparked by the mortgage mess.

But that doesn't mean you should hide your head in the sand and wait for the good times to roll again before you embark on a new business venture. The truth is, now is the best time to grow your business!

Businesses that are launched in hard times are better equipped to survive than the ones that grow bloated and fat during times of surplus spending. But in order to thrive during an economic slowdown, you need to know how to do things the smart way, and not waste money you don't have on strategies that won't work.

I'll share five cheap and easy ways to grow your business. By using these strategies, you'll be able to acquire new leads, strengthen your relationship with existing customers and add new streams of income. And all that means more money in your bank account.

Generate income with a(nother) niche site
If you're looking for an extra source of income, this one's for you. A niche-centered internet business is the best way to profit from a downturn because the cost of entry is lower than any other business and the upside is enormous. On top of that, an internet business is very forgiving. You never have to bet the farm on an internet idea. If something isn't working, you'll find out right away and you can either fix it or move on to something better. And once you've successfully set up one money-making website, it's easy to duplicate the process. It'll take you less time and effort to set up each new site after that because you'll already know what you're doing.

On top of that, if you automate your internet business, running five sites doesn't take much more time than running one--so you can have multiple websites pulling in money and still only work a few hours a week on your business.

Just be sure to take the time and do the market research to prove that each niche you go after is actually a profitable one.

Join affiliate programs that align with your current business model
This is the fastest and easiest way to add income to your online business. Your existing customers are much more likely to buy something from you than a stranger who has no experience with your products. So how do you get these people to buy from you again if you only have one product? Simple--you offer them an affiliate product

Conduct some research into your market and discover what other products your audience is clamoring for. Then find an affiliate program that offers such products, add them to the back end of your site and promote them.

Start a blog to strengthen your relationship with your customers
In turbulent times, the cream rises to the top. The ones who are truly successful will take extra time to build a strong relationship with their customers and prove that theirs is a rock-solid business that always has its customers' best interests in mind. Starting a blog is a great way to do this. A blog helps you personalize your business and allows your customers to get a glimpse of the people behind the website. This goes a long way toward reassuring wary online shoppers that you're someone they want to do business with. Plus, search engines love the fresh and frequently updated content of a blog, which means you'll get a great boost in the search engine rankings and drive more qualified visitors to your site.

Widen your circle of potential partners by joining a social business network
If you're searching for new income opportunities, a great place to look is a popular social business networking site like LinkedIn.

LinkedIn has more than 19 million registered members, all of whom are professionals or business people who are interested in meeting other people with business interests similar to their own. When it comes to looking for joint venture opportunities, strategic alliances, new business partners or people who are looking to buy your product or services, networking sites are a virtual gold mine.

Write helpful articles to boost your reputation and credibility
A great way to spread word about your business and boost your reputation as an industry expert is to write free articles on topics related to your industry and then submit them to the top article directories. The benefits of doing this are twofold. First, your audience will become more familiar with your name and will be far more likely to buy your products. And second, the links you'll get from sites that post your articles will give you a nice boost in search engine rankings.

In times like these, you have to separate yourself from the pack and make yourself stand out from your competitors, and you have to keep your eyes open for every opportunity to increase income. That's especially important during an economic slowdown because even if one of your income streams dries up, your business will continue to thrive.

With an Internet business, you never have to get locked into a losing proposition. As long as you build your business on a solid niche and are always looking for ways to diversify your income streams, you'll be able to keep your head above water, even when others around you are drowning.

Derek Gehl is the CEO of the Internet Marketing Center, an internet marketing firm that has helped thousands of people learn to start and run their own online businesses. IMC hosts a new Search Marketing Lab Forum, where members have their strategy questions answered by search marketing specialists.

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