So, summer is here, and many businesses will experience a seasonal dip. The kids are off and you are either rushed off your feet because it’s your busy season (in which case you’re unlikely to have time to read this), or your customers may have flown away on holiday.
Those which are as busy as a busy thing now, may find themselves at a loose end later in the year - in which case the ideas we’re going to discuss here could be just as useful and relevant, in a few months time.
What do you do with your time and resources if your business takes a temporary downturn? If you’re a sole trader, it might be tempting to think this is, in some way, your fault - but it is an unavoidable occurrence in a lot of market sectors.
Here are our magnificent seven suggestions to turn your downtime into boomtime.
1. Business as (un)usual
Firstly, just because it isn’t business as usual, doesn’t mean it needn’t be business at all. If your usual customers aren’t walking through your door or arriving at your website - go looking for some unusual ones.
Discounts: Off-season is a great time to offer discounts. Depending on your business, it may be a chance to offer free first consultations, or time-limited discount vouchers. You could open up a referral scheme - one of those “you and a friend get £20 off a purchase, if you refer them” sort of things. They’re a great reward for loyal customers, and a brilliant way to bring in new customers.
Competition time: You could use your social media platforms to run a competition - with a generous prize for the winner (the resulting publicity could well be a lot cheaper than the cost of a traditional advertising campaign). A competition for a small creative business should reflect the nature of that business, and encourage creativity and community cohesion within the customers.
Par-tay! Have a party. What is a fashion show, or a movie premier, if it’s not a sustained advert for a product? If it’s good enough for multinationals to hold a party to promote their products, why shouldn’t you? Invite your loyal customers, launch something new at the event, offer discounts and previews and, essentially, build a better next season for yourself. Also: party!
2. Thinking time
A reduction in your workload is a chance for you to sit back and take a look at where your business is. It’s roughly half-way through the year, are things going as planned? What changes have you made, what changes do need to make to move forward?
A simple way to do this is to look at all the different jobs you do - all the services you offer - and ask yourself, do you need to…
- Do more of this
- Do less of that
- Do something else
The other guy: While you’re taking a long, hard look at your business, do the same for your competitor businesses. Are they doing anything different to you? Is it working? Is there anything you can learn from that, anything you can adapt and improve upon for your own business?
Similarly, assess what complementary (rather than competitor) businesses are doing - if you have similar customer bases, what are they doing to service their customers? Anything you can learn there?
Customer feedback: Is there something that customers have requested, which you’ve not been able to provide? Now’s the time to do the research, price it up, and see if it’s worth offering in the future.
And how can you know if your customers are happy? You ask them!
You know how, when you’re in a restaurant, a staff member will wander past from time to time, and ask if everything is okay? That! Some people will complain about anything, of course, but the majority of people will tell you everything is great, unless it isn’t. If it isn’t - you need to know, so you can sort it and win that customer over forever.
Down time is a good time to put a system in place where customers can tell you what they think and, if you already have that, it’s the perfect time to respond to what they’ve told you.
One of the best ways to avoid a slump or quiet period is to adapt the thing that is seasonal, to appeal to a different group, in a different way.
New markets: Pick a new market to develop, or a new service to offer, and put everything in place to make the most of that.
Go international: Could you develop an international arm to your business? If your seasonal product doesn’t sell in the winter months here - they’re the summer months in the southern hemisphere!
Family planning: Think about adjustments you could make to your offering, to make it appealing to a different demographic of customers.
If, during the work week, your clientele is business people, what do you do at the weekend? How do you make your business appealing to people with families? Well, as the summer holidays wear on, families become increasingly experimental in the places they will go in order to occupy their kids. That could be a way for you to diversify into a whole new market.
Second string: It might be worth even setting up a separate side business that will be busy when your main business is not; a second string to your business bow, which has a different downtime.
It’s a great way of keeping yourself busy, your customers interested, and the cash registers ringing.
Make friends: If your business is dependent on holiday trade, there will be a lot of other local businesses in the same boat. Maybe you could strike up some business partnerships with these people, and find ways for your combined offerings to help keep both of your businesses afloat in the lean months.
4. Marketing strategy
While you’re taking a good, long look at your business - have you also looked at the way you market your business?
- Are you ready for a new campaign?
- Are your marketing materials getting tired?
- Has your business evolved - does your marketing still reflect your offering?
- Is it time for a full rebrand?
Even if you’re happy with the way your marketing is going - it’s a great idea to use your quiet time to do a lot more of it!
If you’re not entirely comfortable with the idea of doing your own content marketing, we offer some great advice here and guidance on how to make sure your website is as effective as it needs to be, here. We think you’ll find everything you need to get you started.
Blogging: Blog posts - if you have some time, spend it writing great copy for and about yourself. You can schedule these posts for later in the year, when you’re busy once more.
Creating great content is always worthwhile. It’s a good way to educate and inform your customers about what makes your business special, about what you do that is different, and about what you can offer them.
Newsletter: If you have a mailing list, you could use it to create a newsletter.
A regular (ideally monthly) newsletter is a great way of keeping people who are already interested in your business aware of what’s changing, what’s improving and what your plans are for the future. You can generate a bit of anticipation if you’re introducing a new line or a new service. It’s also a brilliant way to reward good customers by offering them something exclusive, or early, or at a discount.
A newsletter isn’t really a platform for the hard sell but, of course, any form of communication is a sales pitch. A newsletter is a great way to up-sell and cross-sell. If a customer has bought one product from you, it stands to reason that they would entertain another. You could even offer them an introductory ‘valued customer’ discount.
Email marketing: Email is another effective way of staying in touch with customers during the time of year that they’re not walking into your shop or visiting your website. Email marketing is more sales-based than a regular newsletter, so will need to include an offer of some kind and a clear call to action.
This might go out to the same people as your newsletter, or you might buy into a mailing list in order to get your name and products before some new eyeballs.
As with any of these things, you need to ensure that you’ve complied with GDPR legislation.
5-star reviews: How do good companies get positive reviews? If you encourage every customer to offer a review, the really happy ones will. And it really doesn’t take many great reviews to make you look like the star you are.
5. Planning & Training
When your head isn’t spinning with the day-to-day whirl of running a busy business, you have a moment to take a breath and set some goals and targets for the season ahead, or the year ahead.
Numbers of clients, types of clients, types of sales, types of services or products offered; that sort of thing.
Do you need to revise your pricing strategy?
If you’re going to be adjusting your offering, now’s the time to sort out what training you and your staff might need.
As boring as it may seem, downtime is a great time to do the books. Sort out your finances (you know you’ll put it off if you don’t do it when you’re not busy) and sort out what supplies you need to be purchasing to see you through the busier seasons.
Do you need new equipment? If you’re going to be training, or retraining yourself - you’ll need to research and purchase (or lease) any new equipment. That’s something else that you can only do when you’re not working flat-out.
7. Take a Break
Finally, as alien a notion as it may seem… why not take a holiday, too? If your customers are away, and the company isn’t earning - isn’t that the perfect time to give yourself a break. Then you can come back, batteries recharged, full of fresh ideas, and ready to rock.
So, embrace the quiet time. Use it to manage your stress levels.
If you spend your time looking after yourself and your staff - and making plans that will look after your business - then there’s no reason downtime can’t lead to boomtime.