There are a lot of reasons why your business might be slow right now – it could be the macroeconomic environment, the nature of your business, the current part of your particular business cycle, or a dozen other causes. Instead of focusing on why things are slowing down, I’m going to to focus on 4 tips you can use immediately to turn these slow times into sources of innovation and profit. These tips are battle-tested, and helped work my companies out of the worst recession.
Tip #1: Never close early
Closing because business is slow is like fasting because you’re hungry – it’s counterintuitive. Don’t ever fall into this trap. I saw it all the time with other businesses around me – 3 other businesses to be exact – they’re all out of business now. The owner would send everyone home at 3 or 4 in the afternoon, s/he’d lock up, and head home. Lights out. Fridays in the summer, they were closed. Minor holidays, closed. When I asked why they were closed so often, the answer was always the same “business is just so slow right now”. You’ve got to be in your business, with the lights on, finding the next opportunity that will define your future. It just so happens that slow times are the best times to find these opportunities…
Tip #2: Reach out to old contacts
Talk to anyone and everyone you haven’t spoken to in a while: media contacts, old clients, and vendors even. You’ve got lots of time on your hands, and networking is one of the more difficult things to do when you’re busy. I’ve found that reaching out to people during the slow times has lead to some good conversation at the very least, and some amazing new opportunities that could be transformed into entire businesses at its best. It can often lead to some projects that can help pay the bills – maybe not exactly the work you’re looking for, but you’ll learn the needs and wants of your contacts, and might be able to generate some cash flow. In my companies’ slowest periods, we certainly weren’t above doing odd work or jobs that were tangential to what we do just to add some revenue. Get out there and network!
Tip #3: Cut every expense possible, including yourself.
If business isn’t great, you’ve got to stop the bleeding. Be judicious with your cuts – I once saw a business owner turn the lights off in his office to “save electricity” while he was working. Don’t do this. You look desperate, closed, and most importantly, who can work with the lights off? But you’ve got to trim things down: cleaning staff, memberships, fringe benefits, and even your take-home salary. Chances are, you’re the business’s biggest expense, so think about how low you can go to save your business. Do you want that paycheck for 3 more months, or 15 more years?
Tip #4: Expand your role and add value to your company.
There are a lot of things you can do that will add value to your company immediately and might give you your next idea – however, a lot of these things are not glorious, and people will shrug them off as banal. They can do so at their own peril. Here are some of my favorites: pick up a copy of Fast Company, Inc, Entrepreneur – whatever business or industry publication you like, and start reading. Clean the office/store/restaurant. Write some blog posts for your blog for when things are busy and you won’t have time. Teach yourself to be more creative. Get the idea? Do something! One of the most successful businesses I co-founded was thought up on a down-day when nothing was happening, and I was just reading an Entrepreneur magazine article that got me thinking in the right direction. Remember point #3 about cutting expenses? Cleaning the office, updating the website, and other chores may be things you’re currently outsourcing at an expense! You’ve got time – do it yourself, and save the money! You can always task it back out to someone when things turn around, but for now, do it yourself. Learn how to develop a web page, do a tax return, use SolidWorks….you get the idea…these are real, valuable skills that you wouldn’t normally have time to do. They contribute real value to your company, and make you a more valuable executive at your own company.
No matter what is causing it, a slowdown period at your business is either a chance to go home early, or an opportunity to explore new possibilities and projects at your business that you wouldn’t ordinarily have time to do. You stand a better chance of staying in business by adopting the latter attitude. Slow days at work simply mean you have an excess of time on your hands – but time is a valuable resource and something most business owners would kill to have more of – use it wisely, and see these days as a huge opportunity. Good luck!