Here's what you can be doing when business is slow.

Experiencing a business slowdown? See what you could be doing when your business is experiencing a lull.

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When your business bustles and the cash flows freely, it's easy to put off thinking about times when you might face a slowdown. One way to make sure your business stays strong year-round is to plan for the lean months. 

Whether your business slows in summer, or at another time of the year, you can call on shifts in strategy, operations, and sales to help you survive, and even thrive, during your down period. The following is an overview of things you can do when business is slow. 

Revisit your strategy. 

This is a good time to fully examine your cash outlay and identify any areas where you can save money. Start off by analyzing your fixed costs and determining what can be reduced, renegotiated, or eliminated for the season, or forever. Then, review any other expenditures. 

  • Savings and cash flow: For any business with seasonal fluctuations, it's critical to build up a cash reserve or set up a line of credit to bridge the income gap during the slow season, so the lights stay on, the bills get paid, and the payroll continues to be met. One novel way some entrepreneurs do this is by borrowing against a life insurance policy, which may offer tax and other advantages over other kinds of savings vehicles. 
  • Debt collection: A great way to use the extra free time during the slow season is to rein in any outstanding debts you have been too busy to collect. Consider making polite-but-firm personal phone calls, or hiring a collection agency for major amounts owed. It's important for your billing to be impeccable year –round. For many businesses, that means adopting bookkeeping or invoicing software. The slow times provide a great opportunity to become comfortable with new software programs, so that your business will be in full swing when the busier times come. 
  • Account inventory: Use this time to review how your business and industry is evolving. Check your banking practices to determine if you need to add, remove, or change accounts; review your insurance needs to make sure you have appropriate coverage; check to see if you're compliant with existing, new, or upcoming regulations; and ensure your scheduled equipment and site maintenance is on point.
A woman's finger tracing an image of a graph.

Clean up your operations. 
When you have down time, you'll have extra energy to evaluate how you can better conduct your business services, make and maintain relationships with customers, and expand your reach. Get a status check in the following areas: 

  • Online presence: Update your website to make sure it reflects any changes you've made in your business and provides an informative and customer-friendly experience. You should also optimize your site for search engines, so your customers can easily find your business online.  
  • Vendor review: Check to see if you're getting the best deals from your vendors, and if it's time to add or drop anyone from your list of suppliers. You can also try negotiating price breaks or better payment terms. If you normally have a window of 15 days to pay your bills, for example, you may want to ask for up to 60 days with no late fee.

    This is also a good time to review subscriptions, insurance policies, scheduled maintenance and cleaning services, and other expenses you might normally have on autopilot. There may even be services you can discontinue on a temporary basis during slow times. 
  • Staffing: If someone quits, don't rush to fill the vacant spot until it becomes necessary. If you must reduce hours, start with part-time or contract employees. You should be upfront with employees about the seasonal cycles and let them know there may be some weeks or months with fewer hours. This is a good time to encourage staff members to go on vacation, learn new skills or take a sabbatical. And hopefully you can find a window to take time off for yourself. 

Enhance your sales. 
Slow seasons often come with slow sales cycles. Whether your doors stay open or not, make sure you find ways to stay in contact with customers throughout the entire year. This will help you stay top-of-mind and get customers excited during your peak season. Use the tips below to make the most of this time: 

  • Offer discounts: Now's the time to make your business the place for irresistible deals. Even if you're taking a loss, it's time to let ancient inventory go and make room for new. Or, if you're a services-based business, you can try selling several sessions or a combination of complimentary services in one package to keep customers coming back and buying in bulk. 
  • Diversify your product mix: If you keep your doors open in the slow season, try diversifying your product mix to include something seasonally relevant. This can help keep the sales coming all year long. 
  • Adjust marketing: Email and social media are great ways to keep your customers updated on your business and promotions. (Note: Make sure people opt in as you build your mailing list, since unwelcome emails could drive away potential customers.) Facebook ads offer another low-cost way to get in front of the customers you want. This is also the time to perk up your Instagram and Twitter accounts, as well as other social media platforms, so you can stay top-of-mind and strengthen your brand.

Overhauling your slow-season operations may seem like a tall order, especially if you need to educate yourself about new platforms and processes. But here's the good news: The time you invest in trimming your costs and boosting your sales will serve you well year-round. 

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