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What to Do When Business is Slow

Updated on December 29, 2017
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Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker specializing in sales and marketing topics for coaches, consultants, and solopreneurs.


"Slow as molasses in January."

Unfortunately, for many small businesses, that is more than just a cliché. It's a true description of what business is like during the winter doldrums. However, for other businesses, winter can be the busiest time of the year and they can barely keep up.

Sooner or later, a small business or entrepreneurship is going to experience a slow business period. But that isn't always a bad thing and can provide opportunities for reflection and renewal.

Why Is It Slow?

Before getting worried about a downturn in sales, first determine why it's slow. It could be due to a variety of factors including seasonal sales cycles, longer time than expected for leads to convert to sales or technology trends.

The reasons can range from the easily cured to those that could close a business. Not knowing the cause can result in pursuing the wrong solution, wasting both money and time. So the first thing to do when a sales slump is identified is to determine why it is happening.

For the sake of the following discussion, seasonal sales slumps will be the focus. More serious causes would require additional analysis and investment in a solution.

Sometimes getting some R&R during slow periods is the best strategy!
Sometimes getting some R&R during slow periods is the best strategy! | Source

Seasonal Sales Cycles

If during analysis, a recurring pattern of peak and valley sales is observed, the business is likely experiencing seasonal sales cycles. All businesses have this to an extent. However, for some it is a pronounced and predictable pattern every year. Though no small business owners wish to have periods of low or no sales, dealing with a seasonal issue can be a bit less stressful since the slump will be over in a relatively short time.

During the seasonal downtime, businesses can:

  • Clean & Cloud. Cleaning out old paper file cabinets and reference materials that are no longer needed can be quite a project! A determination of what should be retained for tax or legal purposes needs to be done first. Consult accounting and legal professionals to determine what's required. Then explore options for safe and secure data destruction. There are companies that offer this service for a fee, either onsite or at their facilities, and can provide a certificate of destruction. Also, look into ways to go paperless by scanning and storing documents in cloud file storage.
  • Clean Up & Out. In addition to documents, cleaning up and cleaning out offices, production, service and storage areas can more easily be done during slow periods. Businesses that are running in high gear during busy seasons usually only have time to do minimal physical cleaning. Even if a cleaning service is hired, slow periods can offer an opportunity for cleaning crews to do more extensive cleaning tasks.
  • Get Educated. Ever been to a training conference where half of the attendees are on their cell phones half of the time? They're likely in the midst of a busy season back at the office. So they're dividing their attention between the two activities and being ineffective at both. They would have been better advised to go to training when business is slow (and they can turn off their phones!).
  • Get Social. Though some businesses get slow when their clients are really busy, others mirror their clients' peak and valley pattern. So if both the business and clients are slow, why not do some friendly networking and visiting? There's less pressure on both parties and it can help solidify standing relationships for when business does pick up.
  • Develop New Business Programs. It's difficult to think about the future when knee deep in alligators! Quiet business periods offer that break to look more reflectively on results and plan more effectively for all aspects of the operation.
  • R&R. Small business owners can be notorious for never taking a vacation. Then when it gets slow they spend their time worrying. Recipe for stress! Take a break, even if it's only for a short time! Avoid the temptation to try to handle everything remotely by developing procedures for handling business during this time and communicating these procedures, as appropriate, to relevant personnel, clients and colleagues.

Disclaimer: The author/publisher has used best efforts in preparation of this article. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and all parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice, strategies and recommendations presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional adviser where and when appropriate. The author/publisher shall not be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages. So by reading and using this information, you accept this risk.

© 2014 Heidi Thorne


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  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 3 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hello Eiddwen! Appreciate your kind comments. Have a lovely weekend!

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 3 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hi FlourishAnyway! Agreed, we should have a standing To Do list that waits for when things cool off. But hope your weekend is slow and relaxing! Thanks for reading and chiming in!

  • Eiddwen profile image

    Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

    Useful to many; a great hub.


  • FlourishAnyway profile image

    FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

    We should all have a "rainy day" list of things we need to do when business is slow. Good specific suggestions here for getting and staying organized, educated, and staying connected.

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 3 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hello alancaster149! Also being from the newspaper biz (though ours was a monthly trade/industry publication), I can definitely relate to the peaks and troughs. Got a chuckle from the "hatches, matches and dispatches." Never heard it called that, but it's perfect. :) Luckily for general circulation dailies, there is a definite rhythm to sales (as you've described here) which can be very reassuring to the publishers who have to worry about profits.

    Hope your New Year is going well. Cheers!

  • alancaster149 profile image

    Alan R Lancaster 3 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

    Peaks and troughs.

    When I worked at The Daily Telegraph newspaper (Fleet Street and the Isle of Dogs, EC4 to E14) my busiest time was Monday-Thursday, especially after a Bank Holiday when the weekend went on to Monday. We had a large recruitment insert (between 8-20 pages) on Thursdays, free magazine on Sunday, books pages, gardening section, weekend opportunities (mail order), sport pull-out, properties and holidays on Saturday. And of course a large sport section (Brits in general are sport-mad, and we have a larger variety in summer, with tennis, cricket, athletics and a broad )

    Friday was easy, with just public notices, hatches, matches and dispatches (Births, Marriages and Deaths) in the classifieds and a few displayed adverts (branded products on full, half, quarter pages, 'earpieces', front and back soluses). It was also 'poets' day - p**s off early, tomorrow's Saturday - especially if you cleared your in-tray.

    Towards Christmas and year-end advertising dropped off, save for luxury food or 'toy' items and 'prezzies'. The holiday season hotted up in the New Year and obviously gardening took a dive in winter, to re-surface with a vengeance by springtime.

    Fridays I went to the staff canteen after the bulk paperwork was done before midday and had a cooked breakfast (the works, fruit juice. bacon, sausage, fried eggs, tomato, toast and coffee - yes coffee, lots of English folk drink the stuff by the tankerful over a year, especially the wife).

    *[Working at the Telegraph paid well. One of the journalists was Boris Johnson and another Max Hastings].

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 3 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hi Sheri Faye! Glad to see another business who was able to use slow time productively. Thank you so much for adding your experience to the conversation & for sharing! Have a great weekend!

  • Sheri Faye profile image

    Sheri Dusseault 3 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

    Heidi, this is great advice. Having been in business for many years, I know what slow periods are like. We would often use the time to do a phone campaign and call customers to make sure they were happy with their purchase. This would often lead to more sales and just as important establish a closer relationship with customers and were able to solve problems we may not have know about. I will pin this on my Etsy Biz board.

  • heidithorne profile image

    Heidi Thorne 3 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hello billybuc! I can appreciate that when business is "slow" (meaning not a lot of sales coming in), I'm just as busy as any other time, but doing other things. However, for businesses that operate on a hand-to-mouth basis, these natural and inevitable slowdowns can be devastating both financially and emotionally. Glad to see I'm not the only one who's busy when it's slow. :) Cheers!

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

    Great suggestions, Heidi! I don't remember ever sitting around wondering what to do when business slowed up. There was always something to do....when it is your only source of income you can't afford to be complacent.