Some things are meant to happen slowly—like a good meal that should be savored over several hours or that holiday in Rio. But when you're a business owner, slow periods can be anxiety-inducing as you add up your bottom line and see little to make you happy.
Here's the takeaway, though: it happens to everyone, from Fortune 500 companies to the donut shop on the corner. Even though it's frustrating, it doesn't have to be life-altering. In fact, there are numerous ways you can use your extra time to benefit your business and place yourself securely in a stronger position than you were in before.
Let's look at some of the reasons you might be experiencing a downturn and lay out some productive ways you can use this time to benefit your business and yourself.
What Does It Mean When Business Is Slow?
Generally, when we talk about slow business, we're referring to a time when the company isn't making a profit. This can happen for a number of reasons, depending on your business, the season and weather, and other factors. If you sell surfboards, for example, January is not likely to be your best month.
Many businesses, especially retail operations, have a slow season right after the holiday rush. Few clients come through the door following the December holidays, and new customers may be hard to come by.
For other types of business, January is a great month. Gyms, for example, often see a rush of new clients working toward their New Year's resolutions.
What To Do When Your Business is Slow?
So let's imagine that you're a small insurance company. You have five full-time employees, and business has been good…until suddenly, it isn't. You know this is likely to be a short-term setback, or at least that's been your experience in the past.
So how do you turn this slow period into a benefit for your company? Here are a few strategies to consider that can help you keep a positive outlook:
1. Strengthen Customer Relationships
Your clients make or break your business. Do you understand what they need and how you can best serve them?
Before you set your employees working on lead generation, take a hard look at the clients you already have and your current retention rate. What can you do to keep them coming back to you?
Here are a few ideas:
- Email survey or in-person visit: Consider sending out an email survey to locate pain points and ask if there are any new products your customers want you to bring on board. If your employees have time on their hands, consider sending them out for in-person visits to gauge customer satisfaction.
- Loyalty program: This could include extra perks or a discount for customers if they buy more products or use your service more often.
- Referral program: Your happy customers are some of your best spokespeople. Offer them discounts or other rewards for sending new customers your way.
2. Explore Ways to Diversify
Very little is set in stone in the business world. Clients change, the economy ebbs and flows, and new products and competitors mean that you need to always be looking for ways to adapt and diversify.
How do you go about this process? Here are a few ways:
- Consider expanding your products or services: Is there more or something else you can offer? For example, if you run a coffee shop, you might start selling branded merchandise or homemade pastries. If you're in the insurance industry, you could consider expanding from personal policies into commercial insurance.
- Enter new markets: Another option is to start selling your products or services in a new market. This could mean targeting a different geographic region, demographic, or industry.
- Explore potential partnerships with other businesses: These can bring in profits during slow periods or improve cash flow in new ways. Maybe you can partner with that shop next door to offer a deal if someone frequents both stores. If you're in insurance, perhaps partnering with your realtor buddy could lead to increased sales of home insurance.
- Monetize your expertise: If you're an expert in your field, there may be opportunities to monetize your knowledge. This could involve offering paid workshops or courses, writing a book or e-book, or launching a paid subscription newsletter or podcast.
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3. Re-Think Your Processes
It's never a bad idea to take a close look at the processes that drive your business. Is something taking way longer than it should? That's time you could invest in reaching out to customers, posting on social media, or running an email marketing campaign to drum up new business.
Consider, for example, the time you spend on payroll. Is it a couple of minutes or a couple of hours? Payroll can easily be automated by signing on with a company like Hourly, where running payroll is as quick as pressing a button.
4. Upgrade Your Marketing Strategy
If you're handling your marketing in-house, now's the time to research new markets and determine the best way to approach them. Tactics you can use to upgrade your marketing efforts could include the following:
- Up your social media game: Post and interact on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or TikTok (whichever platforms your customers are on the most!) to generate buzz about your products or services, both new and old.
- Offer online giveaways: Boost your online presence by offering giveaways or other initiatives that will attract new eyes to your content.
- Consider email marketing: Emails to current and potential customers with a well-crafted call to action can lead to some quick sales. Think: what do people really need right now, and how can I offer that to them?
- Pay extra attention to your search engine optimization (SEO): Create pages and articles about things your customers are already looking for online. Use tools like Ahrefs or Google Trends to figure out what those topics are.
5. Review and Analyze Your Operations
When you're in a slowdown, you have the perfect opportunity to scrutinize your business operations to see if there are ways you can improve. This doesn't have to be difficult; look at the following things to get you started:
- Financial performance and analysis: Start by looking at your income statement, balance sheet, and cash flow statement. Spot any unexpected highs or lows? See if there is anywhere you can cut costs or up prices while you're in this slow period.
- Supply chain management: Are you getting the best deal from your suppliers? Consider opening negotiations with existing suppliers to see if there are any discounts they can offer you. If there's something you can offer in return, such as a bigger order or larger deposit upfront, it may earn you some savings. Otherwise, it is a good time to ask for new quotes from potential suppliers and see if you can lower your costs. (You can also use those quotes during negotiations with your current suppliers.)
- Sales data and inventory levels: Review reports and talk to your staff about what's selling well and what's tanking, and what hours and days are best for business. Then consider investing in the popular items and decreasing or pausing orders on the less popular products.
- Big projects: Are you running or planning any major projects? Do they still make sense in the current scenario? If not, it's totally fine to reroute.
- Technology: Finally, let's chat about your tech. Is it keeping up with what you need? The right tech can be your buddy, helping streamline and automate things, which ultimately leads to cost savings. Figure out what tech is working for you and what's not. Then, cancel subscriptions to the platforms you don't use any longer.
6. Invest in Professional Development
Business slowdowns are the perfect time for you and your employees to expand your skills. Numerous nonprofits, such as SCORE and the Small Business Association, offer classes, workshops, and more to help you better hone your skills and attract new business. Online courses make it even easier to step up your game without leaving your desk.
Networking groups can also help you make new connections, which in turn might lead you to new customers or new ideas. If you're not a member of your local Chamber of Commerce or Rotary Club, now's the time to explore membership for you and your employees.
Is It Normal to Have Slow Days in Business?
For most businesses, the answer is yes. Few types of business escape the cyclical nature of our economy. Wise entrepreneurs don't panic when it happens, though.
For one thing, slow times often follow very busy seasons (we're thinking retail stores after Christmas, for example), and the slow period is a necessary chance for employees and business owners alike to catch their breath and take a well-deserved break.
Other reasons for slow business might include the following:
- Seasonal variations, like January for retail stores or mid-summer for a store that sells Christmas decorations.
- A new competitor who had drawn away some of your clientele or a competitor who has just mounted an aggressive marketing campaign
- A general economic downturn
- Fewer new leads resulting in a lower rate of conversion
- An industry change, like new legislation that impacts your products
- Internal factors, like operational inefficiencies, poorly trained staff, or ineffective software
- Factors out of your control, like a pandemic, political instability, or supply chain disruptions
- Demographic changes, like a shift in population (although these changes tend to happen gradually over time)
Use Your Business Slowdown Wisely
Yes, you are bound to experience slowdowns at some point as a business owner. But the good news is that there's no need to panic.
By implementing some of our suggestions, you can re-invigorate your company, stimulate your finances, and empower your employees to move ahead and put you back in the black, where you and your company belong.
So the next time business slows down, whip out your spreadsheets and go over them with a fine-toothed comb, or sign your staff members up for that great-looking webinar on how to build your book of business organically.
Now that you've got some solid strategies for handling downtimes, all that's left to do is to select one or two that make the most sense for your business and start working to revitalize your business.