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Business often comes in fits and spurts, doesn’t it? Sometimes you’re out there pounding the pavement to drum it up and sometimes you have so much that you wish you could clone yourself about six times over just so one of you can sleep.
There are books and articles and tips galore for being more efficient and organizing your to-dos, but how about when your to-do lists are sparse because business is slow? What should you do then?
If you’re looking at your immediate bottom line, slow times can be scary but with a mini arsenal of stuff you can “save for later” and pull out to make your down times super productive, you’ll discover that slow times are also a blessing in disguise.
Whether yours happens in June or in January, the best thing about slowdowns is the opportunity they afford you to grease the wheels of your business, shine up the rusty parts and make sure that when things pick up again you’re ready to be that much more productive, efficient and profitable.
Here are a few things that I do during slow times that can really help during the hectic ones – things I bet a lot of us neglect and forget about but that can start to drag us down if we don’t bump them up to priorities once in a while.
Hit Up Old Clients
Not that you should be ignoring old clients until the day you’re bored, but slow times are the perfect time to reach out to clients you haven’t heard from in a while.
If it’s a slow time for them, too, they just might have the mental bandwidth to think about that project they’ve been back-burnering.
At the very least, it will give you a chance to practice building those relationships we talk so much about yet often seem to run out of time to nurture.
Back Up Your Data
Maybe it’s the 784 photos still on your camera card or those dozens of pages of notes for your next eBook. I bet there’s something, somewhere, that you’ve neglected or forgotten.
In fact, when was the last time you backed up anything on your computer?
If you keep precious business assets on your computer – from website files to logos, photos, contracts, marketing plans, etc. – and you haven’t backed it up in the last week then now is the time to remedy that.
If you don’t have cloud storage then it’s time to find a service that works for you and then ask yourself this question: If my computer died/fried/fell out a third story window right now, would I miss it?
When it comes to your data, make sure the answer is no!
Analyze Recurring Expenses
Tell me if you’re like me… you sign up for a service, usually for a small amount, say $10 a month. Maybe you use it and maybe you don’t. It gets billed automatically to your credit card and after a while you develop a sort of billing blindness.
Months, maybe even years go by until you suddenly wonder why you’re paying that $10.
That can add up to hundreds of dollars – a month – in losses if you’re not careful.
Use your breathing room to evaluate your expenses and I bet you’ll find something to cut.
Revisit Your Contracts
Or any business documents for that matter. Things change, and something you described in your detailed process document may no longer apply. A term in your contract may be obsolete. Or worse, you might have neglected to add something important that will haunt you later.
During slow times I drag out the paperwork and do some cleanup. That may be removing the fax number we cancelled a year ago from invoices (yep, did that) or cleaning up the wording in our project agreements.
Anything that you’ve gotten “used to” and send to clients by rote can be dusted off and polished up.
Update Your Social Profiles And Bios
There are so many profiles floating around out there, from Facebook to Twitter, Pinterest to LinkedIn, Google Plus to Google Local. There’s your own website and about sixty gazillion other accounts you set up and then subsequently forgot about.
But the internet never forgets! That crummy half-hearted attempt at a bio that you threw onto Random Social Network #48 is still floating around out there, coming up in Google search, getting in your way when customers and prospects look you up online.
When things around the office are quiet it’s a lot easier to make a list of your profiles and give them an overhaul. That goes for your three year old photo as well as your outdated accomplishments and all those nitpicky inconsistencies.
I recently spent a few days updating all of my profiles – but first I had to make a list of where they all were. I was pretty surprised to uncover bios and profiles that I didn’t even remember creating except for some vague memory in a mutated cell somewhere in the back of my brain.
Slow times are a great time to first organize and then update all your little bits of online real estate.
Plan Your Holidays
Summer slowdowns are an awesome time to plan holiday cards and gifts.
More importantly, I’ll tell you when it’s not a good time to plan them: November.
It’s a lot easier to brainstorm, plan, budget for, create, reserve, etc… when you’ve got months of lead time as opposed to say, two weeks.
Our most successful business holiday marketing event ever? The year we started putting the pieces together in June.
Our worst? Well, that would be the year when halfway through December I thought… crap, we need holiday cards.
Some helpful soul will surely snicker as you design your winter holiday promotions before the first summer barbecue but those people will also be the ones who are stamping their name onto 500 boring, boxed cards during the second week of December.
Just like hitting up old clients, networking is a great way to extend and expand on your relationships.
You may network during busy times, too, but how much nicer to sit down over a slow cup of coffee (or wine!) and get to know someone better?
Social networking is both fun and rewarding and trust me, sharing a burger and a beer will get you a better seat at someone’s mental table than handing them your business card once a month at some formal networking event.
Slow times in business are the perfect time to actually slow down and put the human back in being.
Stock Up On Blog Posts
Yes, you could designate a day a week to write. Or an hour a day. Or you could frantically key a few words onto a page ten minutes before you hit publish.
Or… you could spend your down time writing and canning those posts for the busy days ahead.
Think in terms of evergreen content – that’s content that won’t be out of date in a week or a month but that speaks to the core of your business. Answer some common customer questions. Address some fears or concerns. Get opinionated about something and then wrap it all up in a bow as a gift to give yourself when you simply can’t pull another hour out of the day to write. You’ll keep your sanity later and keep your marketing going at the same time.
Your inbox. Your desktop. Your files. Your apps. Your social accounts.
Anywhere that you’ve been accumulating digital clutter, get rid of it. That includes all the junk you’ve saved in your downloads folder because you never got around to organizing it. All the photos of your thumb that never got deleted off your camera. The thirty squadzillion apps you don’t use anymore or the bookmarks you’re never going to read or the eBooks you downloaded and then forgot about.
Believe it or not, that all adds to your mental clutter. All those unread eBooks you downloaded because they were free? Those are mental weight, reminding you of unfinished business, nagging at the back corners of your brain because somewhere in there you know you have to read them/organize them/care about them.
But you don’t. You can, in fact, ditch them completely. Even if they were free.
If you set up social accounts but don’t use them, I bet somewhere in the other back corner of your brain you feel a little nagging guilt. Way, way down on your priority list you tell yourself you need to “get back on there” or “get the hang of it”.
I challenge you to wipe the slate clean. With a few minutes to breathe, you can slow down, prioritize and think clearly and realistically about what you will read/try/learn/do and what is going to hang out on your list indefinitely, making you feel guilty and leaving you with a sense of unpleasant unfinished business.
We’re so busy that something as fundamental as thinking has become a luxury. And often even if we have a few moments of down time during the day, we fill our brains with social statuses and Candy Crush.
But sitting and thinking – just thinking, not writing, not researching, not playing games or reading social feeds or brainstorming or mindmapping – is one of the most important luxuries we can allow ourselves.
Thinking gives us space to explore, to imagine and to invent. It allows new ideas to spring up and helps us solve old problems.
When business is slow, instead of trying to fill up your time with busy work or “productive” tasks, try sitting still and letting your brain go wherever it wants to.
You might be surprised to discover what brilliance was lurking there all along.
Now promise yourself that next time business is slow, you won’t panic. You won’t zone out in front of Farm Heroes. You won’t even try to look busy! You’ll simply pull out one of these tasks and use the time to effectively work on your business – not just in it.
If you’ve got any other tricks up your sleeve for making the most of business lulls, let me know!