The world is smack dab in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic as I write this, during which many businesses saw a dramatic decrease in sales and/or were forced to shut their brick and mortar doors temporarily. Talk about a drastic and almost immediate “slow time” for many small businesses… one resulting in a lot of the ever-elusive “free time” that business owners typically only dream of, coupled with dread and uncertainty of how a business may come out in the end. [Cue the idea for this blog.]
It’s not uncommon for a business to experience a slow period. Even year after year. Regardless of if it’s due to expected or un-foreseen circumstances, it’s a challenge that a business shouldn’t react negatively to (i.e. getting down on yourself or slacking off due to “extra free time”). Instead, slow-times could be used as a chance to reset, think outside the box, and give your business that little bit of extra attention that you never have time for when you’re busy.
I can hear you now, “Whatever, Whitney. Let me wallow in my woes.” Pssshhht. Buck up buttercup, and let’s get to gettin’ your business to come back stronger than ever. While I won’t claim to be an expert on your business, the following list is cultivated from the “tuition” I’ve paid over the 7 years Tulip Tree has been in business. I feel a lot can be universal – and I still stand by them today. (I know it’s a lot to read, but dammit, I’m passionate.)
8 Things to Do NOW to Come Out Swinging from a Slow Time
1. Stay Optimistic.
I’m not a sappy person, so let’s get this emotional stuff out of the way. Your glass needs to be half full as your business can’t excel on empty (and neither can you). Believe and you can achieve (or whatever “they” say). If you don’t think you can pull through, you won’t be able to. Ok, enough of the clichés.
2. Keep Your Employees in the Loop.
Your team is your business’s biggest asset and, like you, they want the business to thrive, too. If revenue’s low and you need to make sales, don’t let your pride get in the way – clue your team in and ask for their help. If you’re forecasting a reduction in hours, share it sooner than later so your employees aren’t blindsided. By being upfront, you’re allowing them to either work harder for sales, help come up with new ideas to increase revenue and service hours, or put their ducks in a row for their potential layoff. As sucky as it will be to share, you’ll get greater respect for your candor and have a better chance of them stepping up during a slow time and/or returning to work for you when business picks back up.
3.Communicate With Your Banker.
Most businesses’ slow times are synonymous with cash flow issues, and your business banker should be your biggest ally. You should feel as inclined to ask them for advice on how you can increase your cash flow as you were asking your parents for an allowance as a teenager. If you don’t have your business banker on your proverbial speed dial, ready to have these tough money conversations when the going gets tough, then you need a new banker. Real talk: I have regular lunches with my business banker, exchange countless texts, emails, and phone calls when I have questions and have explored various creative funding options many-a-times for additional cash should it ever be needed…. And this is throughout the year, not just when a crisis arises. Your banker should know about your highest highs, so they can more effectively help you in your lowest lows.
4. Ask for Sales.
What a concept, eh? Hear me out. Remember a few months ago when that person said, “I’m going to call you about such-and-such,” or the other person said, “We should talk about that product-you-mentioned sometime.” Or, gasp, that stack of leads from the trade show(s) you exhibited at earlier in the year. Now’s the time to stop waiting for someday and instead reach out to them. Sure, they may have been giving you the polite brushoff back then, but you certainly won’t know unless you ask. Even if they’re not in a position to buy, they at least should be impressed that you remembered them! (Additional Tip: Ask your current clients or professional colleagues for referrals.)
5. Explore New Ways to Market Your Business.
So you have a Facebook account you haven’t had time to update, a website that hasn’t been touched since it launched, and you’ve been running TV and radio commercials for years just to have something “out there.” While it’d be great to give your current efforts a sprucing up and some TLC, it might be time to pivot and try something new. Maybe move those advertising dollars from TV and radio to digital ads. Add a blog to the website for better organic SEO. Start an Instagram account to expand your audience. You could even try email marketing to help generate new leads to your website. You may be surprised how different marketing mediums perform compared to what you have been doing. (And before you get overwhelmed, there are marketing professionals out there who can help point you in the right direction and help you implement….*hint hint.)
6. Utilize Free Online Tools.
From website performance auditing tools to social media graphic templates and email marketing software to business advice, there is an endless supply of free tools to help improve your business and the promotion of it. All you need to do is – yep, you guessed it – Google it. (Asking others for recommendations on specific needs is a great idea, too!)
7. Support Other Businesses.
By this, I don’t mean you necessarily have to spend money with other businesses. Instead, try and collaborate with other businesses to get your business out in front of their audiences. People love packaged deals! You can also promote (i.e. provide a review, share a post, or give a shoutout) and/or follow them on social media. More than likely the other business(es) will engage with your efforts, thus exposing you to their own following in return (thank you, Facebook algorithm). Lastly, if another business is hosting an event, attend! Not only will you be supporting them with your presence, but you’ll also get yourself in front of a lot of new people, a.k.a. potential customers. All in all, this is a “you scratch, I scratch” scenario, so in the slow times, make sure and hold up your end of the bargain in order to reap the benefits in return.
8. Work On Your SOPs.
I put this last on purpose, as it’s my least favorite, but also, probably the most important for businesses of all shapes and sizes. SOPs, or Standard Operating Procedures, can help streamline on-the-job training, regulate administrative efforts, and ultimately eliminate inefficiencies and inconsistencies that frustrate the heck out of you when things are busy. SOPs are easy to push to the backburner when you’re busy, so tackle them now as you have the time. I promise it’ll make you more productive when business picks back up.
Ok ok, you’re ready to slay now, eh? Got the world figured out and a plan in place? Probably not. That wasn’t the point of this “advice column.” As not all businesses’ (and their slow times) are the same, there’s no one magical fix. The point I’m trying to make is this: don’t just sit back during your slow time and wait for your business to pick back up again. Take the time to try something new, get creative, and really give your business the attention you always intend on giving but never get around to (because, you know, you’ve been busy). While nothing can guarantee an immediate influx in sales, I can assure you that anything from the list above will only make your business stronger in the long run, which in turn should result in less or shorter slow times in the years ahead.
Written by Whitney West, Marketing & Design Director