After months of frantic selling and serving, your business has slacked off. Other than take a much-needed vacation or count your hard-earned money like a demented Scrooge McDuck, what can you do to benefit your business during the slow days? Because if they haven’t come yet, they will. Slow days come to all businesses, no matter how much potential the enterprise has. As an entrepreneur, you don’t want to lose your momentum during those times when the orders are not rolling in.
First, it’s important to stay optimistic. No matter how worried or stressed you feel right then, keep your focus on long-term growth. Remember, you want your business to last, to go all the way to the finish line.
A few slow days or weeks can benefit your small business more than you might think. During these times, you can take care of important tasks that get shelved during the seasons. Here are 11 things you can focus on during slow periods to help you stay on point.
1. Train in the Off-Season
Pat Riley, former head coach of three NBA teams, said, “Excellence is the gradual result of always striving to do better.” You can strive to do better during the slow times by taking a step back and looking at your company and your industry from a new perspective. Dive into a new business book. Listen to a podcast about your industry. Take a course on edX or Coursera. Read. Listen. Learn.
Industries perpetually evolve, so what you discovered about your customers, the rules of advertising, or even regulatory requirements may have changed since last year. Dig into the latest research or bone up on some new ideas about business. After all, the more you train, the better prepared you will be to handle future obstacles.
2. Look at Your Data
You will manage what you measure, so go get your yardstick. You could start by using a simple tool such as Google Analytics, which lets you take a hard look at both your weak and strong periods. Lay it beside your prior months’ data. Find the trends. What’s motivating these ups and downs? Was there a holiday that affected the frequency of orders? Are certain key demographics getting left out? Did your advertising strategy drop the ball?
Looking at real-world data is crucial to discovering how to improve. Since sales directly links to marketing, take a look back through your marketing strategy. What did your social media look like? How engaging were your videos or articles? Sometimes what feels engaging doesn’t get actual likes or comments. And sometimes, likes and comments don’t turn into followers. And then, sometimes, followers don’t become buyers. Find and close the gaps in that sequence, and you should see sales pick back up.
3. Avoid Panic-Spending on the Marketing Budget
So the pace is relenting and orders are not as frequent? It can feel as if your friends are all talking about it, your competitors are gaining on you, and even your cat is looking at you with judgment in his eyes. Take heart–your company is (probably) not failing. Even if you decide that decreased business could be attributed to a lack in advertising, avoid the impulse to pour tons of money into marketing. Most marketing dollars are wasted anyway.
A solid inbound strategy includes email, Facebook, SEO, Google Ads, retargeting, video, and display advertising. Those are low-cost initiatives, and you probably don’t need anything else.
What if you need to beef up your efforts in one or more of those areas, though? Well, you probably do, and slow periods can be a great time to retool your marketing initiatives. If you retain a marketing agency, spend some time with them. If you do the marketing work yourself, read up on what’s working in your industry. Develop some new ideas. Work out a fresh campaign. Hypothesize. Test. Iterate. Repeat.
As a business owner, understanding the motivation behind your sales by looking at real-world data will help you to commit the appropriate amount of funds to marketing–not a desperate attempt to bring sales volume back up.
4. Research, Learn, & Connect
A lull in business offers the perfect time to get ahead of the industry curve. You can position yourself and your company as leaders in your industry or community. If you haven’t joined a professional association yet, you probably need to consider it. Membership gives you access to the latest ideas and knowledge in your industry through books, professional journals, podcasts, conferences, and trade magazines.
Joining a professional association lets you do more than learn from others, though. Why not get involved in some of the research directly? You’ll be able to get your hands on the latest information before anyone else! You could also put together a workshop and offer it for your industry association. Or write an article for the trade magazine yourself.
Attending a conference or a trade show can give you a chance to learn from others as well as to share your own knowledge and experience. These events are great places to meet colleagues who can share ideas and offer insights. You may even find someone with a complementary business to yours with whom you can share referrals. Businesses that last never fail to neutralize the competition. A great way to do that is to bring them along with you.
5. Show Your Customers Some Love
Your customers are the only reason that you are in business. How can you show them some extra appreciation in your down-time?
Depending on the kind of business you’re in, customer appreciation can look different. For a local enterprise with low-volume and high-dollar customers, you might deliver bags of fruit, nuts, and other nutritious goodies to your clients’ doorsteps. If you run a higher-volume operation, you could send a “thank you” postcard in the mail.
The best kind of gifts, though, are tailored to your customer. Personalized bobbleheads are a genius idea that some companies use to thank their best clients in a memorable way, but you could go for something simpler like a card for a free coffee at a nearby shop.
If you can’t spend a lot of money on your customers, consider a loyalty program that rewards your buyers when they shop with you. This can be a natural way to connect on social media, where you can show pictures of your customers (with their permission, of course) and share exciting, customer-focused updates about your business or industry.
6. Get Physical
Do not underestimate how important exercise is to your level of productivity through a better general sense of well-being. Number one, a physical activity that you enjoy keeps you occupied and not thinking negatively about your business. Two, it improves mental focus, while reducing anxiety and stress, so that you are better equipped to handle the difficult times that you encounter when running a business.
Mind and body are one, and though going to the gym every day will not transform you into a Zen Master, it will certainly help to put you in a better state of mind, not to mention a better physical state.
By the same token, downtime at work can be the perfect opportunity to engage in other self-care and relationship-building activities. Grab a chance to get in a massage or some time with a facialist. Sign up for a power yoga or pilates class. Pick up your writing pen or paintbrush. Join a board game club. Or just chill at home with Netflix.
Even better, take this time to spirit away your special someone to a romantic bed and breakfast, or pack up the whole family for a fun vacation or a day around town. Whatever you do, take good care of yourself. Your business will thank you for it.
7. Start a Podcast
Podcasting is growing at an astonishing rate. According to the New York Times, 40% of people listen to a podcast each month, up 10% from 2018. The great thing about podcasting is that anyone can do it, and it’s an easy way to become your own media company. You can invite prospective clients on to the show, which is a great way to get to know them, and then establish yourself as a leading figure in your industry. Podcasting literally lets the public associate your voice with an idea. If you don’t feel comfortable starting a podcast on your own, look for a podcast production company or a solid freelancer who can help you get started.
8. Do Your Bookkeeping & Taxes
Unless bookkeeping and tax work is your business, these tasks probably aren’t your favorite things to do. When you are focused on marketing, selling, producing products, and leading a team, you have to let something go, right? And whatever you let go is probably something you don’t enjoy. But quarterly tax returns and annual filings aren’t optional. Besides, it’s just good business practice to know how much money you made, where you earned it, how much you spent, and where you spent it.
Even if you are uber disciplined about keeping up with your accounts, slow periods can be a great time to review the books and notice any trends or errors before they come to the attention of an auditor or the IRS.
9. Teach or Write About Your Industry
Nothing helps you learn like teaching. If you have a chance to teach a class in your field, this can be a great time to take that opportunity. It doesn’t have to be a formal class at a college or university. You could teach a community course in the evenings or even lead a discussion group of your industry peers at a bar or coffee shop in your area. Some people find building an online course to be a valuable marketing tool. Skillshare and Teachable both offer great opportunities for any knowledgeable person to create a class and share it with others.
And as for writing … imagine the business you’d get if your name was in INC, Forbes, or Fast Company! Writing a column for an industry magazine, a prominent business publication, or a local publication can help set you apart from your competition.
Not only will you learn a lot by researching each piece you write, but you will also help establish yourself and your business’ brand as a credible voice in your area. If you aren’t comfortable writing yourself, you can put together an outline of your ideas and hire a freelance writer to help you whip it into shape.
10. Upgrade the Office
Does the office need an update? New furniture? Updated software? A fresh coat of paint? This could be the perfect time to take care of those things. Most office updates don’t take much time or money. Start with simple things such as adding more light, investing in some potted plants, or replacing your old chair with a new, ergonomic one. Mainly, you want to take the Marie Kondo approach and surround yourself with things that “bring you joy.“
11. Launch a New Product or Service
While you probably don’t want to give up on what you’re already doing successfully, you may want to start thinking about the next upgrade, product, or enhancement that you can offer your customers. Slow periods offer time for concentrated thought and innovation. Go ahead and spend some time doing research and development into new ideas. Or talk with your mentors and advisors about where your business is going next. It’s time to think bigger about who you are and what you’re bringing to the world.
No matter how you choose to invest your spare time when your business gets slow, be sure to keep upbeat and take positive action that helps your small business flourish. You do not have to just grin and bear it (or freak out while trying to bear it); lulls in business are normal and offer opportunities to care for both your company and yourself.
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