What to Do When Business is Slow
"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.
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.
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© 2014 Heidi Thorne