When you're experiencing a slow season as a small business owner, it can feel like you're barely keeping your head above water—and during a busy season it can be difficult to plan strategically for the future lulls.
But planning ahead for slow times is a huge part of managing cash flow. And trust me, pretty
much every business has a slow season.
But don't fret, there are ways to overcome seasonality, using it as an opportunity to focus on some of those back-burner parts of your business or to get really creative about how to keep the cash flowing in.
I was looking through some older notes of marketing classes I've taken while at Southern New Hampshire University, and one note I took down was this, which I never thought I'd be accessing again:
"What does a lumberjack do when not cutting down trees?"
The answer? Sharpening the axe.
Below are some of the most common discussion points, and things to consider when your local business marketing strategy is top of mind, or in need of some help. We're not looking to sell you on a brand new strategy, or even change what you're doing, but consider what you're doing now and why you're reading this. You want an edge. You want that uncovered secret, or piece of advice you feel you've been searching for. It's here. And we can help you sharpen your axe to cut down the mighty tree of building more rep.
1. Market Smartly, Not Aggressively
Harrison Doan, Director of Analytics at Saatva Mattress says that slow business seasons can be difficult because the same strategies that worked a couple months ago may be ineffective now.
The key to keeping your company's momentum going is not more aggressive or frequent marketing, but more intelligent marketing. So take a look at how to shift what you offer to reflect the current market's needs.
Matthew Sebert of Matthew Sebert Graphic Design gives an example of a particularly crafty client he works with as a designer, "A client of mine who runs a local inn and restaurant wanted to increase their dining patrons after we re-branded their tavern. A launch of a re-brand piques interest, but they wanted to give a little extra in the form of coupons for a free drinks, free starter, or other small incentives to help.
You could just hand these coupons out and call it a day, but we implemented a way of giving out these coupons that gave these discounts far more perceived value. We printed a run of coupons that contained different sets with different deals and the spot that contained the deal was covered by a scratch off sticker. The reason for the scratch off was to give the potential customers a sense of winning."
Sebert says is was a great success. Getting creative with how your customers spend money with you is a
2. Plan Ahead, Plan Ahead, Plan Ahead
Sebert also points out that in the nearly 10 years he's been running his small business, he knows there are always going to be ebbs and flows for both himself and the clients he serves—but that planning ahead for those ebbs is paramount.
"If you know that there's a lull looming ahead, it's best to begin to plan for it as soon as you're able. Depending on what service you provide, try to understand why your particular clientele isn't as interested during these times and create additional services to help increase their interest."
Richard Hayman points out that paying attention to very practical monetary management year-round is a big part of this, too. "In general, it all comes down to cash flow. Keeping expenses in check and creating a cash reserve to rebuild, recharge, and improve their business is the only way to survive and even grow. Change is not the enemy of small business. It is the lifeblood of staying profitable."
Consider getting a small business loan while you're company is doing well financially, knowing that you can save that money for a rainy day—or to keep your business afloat when you're experiencing a lull.
3. Don't work "in" your business, work "on" your business.
During slow periods, you can afford to take time from the day-to-day hustle and bustle to pay attention to the bigger picture. Michael Mehlberg, cofounder of Modern da Vinci says that means looking at your marketing campaigns to see how they performed, checking your customer emails to see which ones had the highest open rate, and evaluating your sales process, project deliverables, or any other metrics you track.
He shares, "The goal is to see what's working and what isn't. Once you have a handle on that, you can make small tweaks to each area of your business before the busy season starts up again. It may seem trivial, but a 3% increase in marketing response combined with a 2% increase in sales success coupled with a 2% increase in project deliverables isn't additive… it's multiplicative. In other words, these small improvements start to build on each other until you get a 1+1=3 effect."
4. Offer A Prepay Period
The folks at Tailor Made Lawns, a local lawn care company in Charlotte, North Carolina, share about just how very seasonal their business is, so maintaining business through particularly slow periods takes definite strategic planning, especially since they have a year round staff. They plan and account for this by thinking of ways to keep cash coming in during months when business is at an almost stand still.
"One of the biggest strategies that we employ to get through our slow season is to offer an early prepay period in December. In the lawn care industry, it's not unusual to offer a pre-pay discount for customers who would like to pay for the entire upcoming year of service all at once. Because our sales drop off so heavily in the winter, our biggest struggle has always been paying our bills and making payroll in January."
5. Diversify What You Offer
Depending on the nature of your business, you might use this time to identify smaller niches which have a need for your product/service year-round.
Dave from Driven Insights, an outsourced accounting firm that works exclusively for small businesses says that he routinely helps our clients successfully navigate their slow seasons. His advice? Offer more and different. He shares, "A way to minimize the impact of the slow seasons is by diversifying your revenue streams (eg: a bike shop might sell skis or stoves in the winter or a landscaper might plow when the snow flies)."
Veronica LoSoMo, an advertising firm, says something similar. "We release new services and products during slower periods to create some excitement.Fewer clients sign up for those services but they're our beta testers anyway - by the time we hit busy season, kinks in new products or services have now been ironed out and we pick up more business and better retaining business when it counts..
6. Treat Your Current Customers Really Well
And ask for referrals. All across the board, small business owners say there is nothing quite like word-of-mouth - and simply making sure that the customers that are already with you are happy and feel appreciated is always going to be your number one asset.
Every business experiences seasonality. But with a little bit of planning and creativity, you can survive—and even thrive—during slow seasons.