If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my first year as a business owner, it’s that business ebbs and flows. One minute you’re swamped with work and the next, you’re wondering where the heck all your clients disappeared to. There’s usually no happy medium – you’re either really busy or you’re not.
The slow periods can be scary. It’s easy to fall into a cycle of anxiety and worry. What if business never picks up? What if you never get another client? These are the lies we tell ourselves during the slow times.
Here’s the thing: slow periods in business don’t have to be scary. Yes, it can be nerve wracking wondering when the next paycheck will make its way to your bank account. The good news? There are many things you can do during the slow time to grow your business. That way, when the busy times reappear (and they will), you’re ready to tackle them head-on.
Next time business is slow, take your business to the next level by trying one (or all!) of these things:
Give your website a facelift.
If we’re honest, most of us would admit that our website needs improvement. I’ve yet to meet anyone who is 100% happy with their site and would make no changes. There are always little (or big) tweaks that need to be made. And when business is slow, it’s the perfect time to turn your attention to your site – which is your digital hub.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is always top of my to-do list. I want to make sure my website is rising to the top of Google search. For you, maybe it’s refreshing the copy or design on one of your pages. Maybe you want to update your services page or add a portfolio showcasing your work. Make a list of priorities and start tackling that list when things are quiet. Your website is one of the first things potential clients/customers see, so put some love into it and the return on investment will be huge.
Start a blog.
Blogging is one of the best ways to garner credibility and trust in your field. If you haven’t already, now is the time to start a blog. If you already have a blog, chances are you may find it difficult to post regularly. During this slow period, write several posts that cover topics you know your target audience is interested in. Craft 5-10 posts so that when things pick up, you’re still pushing out a steady stream of content.
Make social media a priority.
Social media is often one of the first things to fall by the wayside when business gets busy. Now that things have slowed for the time being, dust off your social media plan (don’t have one? Talk with me about getting one set up for your business!).
If you’ve been posting irregularly on social media, use this time to create a content calendar. That way, you know what you’re posting and when. You can also develop posts and schedule them in advance so that you’re covered when business does pick up (make sure to leave some room for spontaneity).
Maybe you haven’t explored social media, but you recognize its importance to your business. First, create a social media plan. For example, which social media channels does your target audience use? What content do you want to post? If social media strategy is completely over your head or you don’t have time to devote to it, then hire someone to help. When done right, social media will allow you to build one-on-one relationships with potential clients/customers.
Get out of the office.
Yes, networking can be annoying and perhaps even intimidating. But getting out there and meeting people in your industry is still one of the best ways to gain access to new clients and projects. Pick one or two industry events you think are interesting and make it a point to attend. Talk with as many people as possible and share details about your business and what you offer. I have made incredible connections during networking events that have led to long-term clients. Trust me, it’s worth your time.
Explore public speaking opportunities.
You want to be recognized as an expert in your field, right? One of the best ways to reach that goal is to pursue opportunities to speak in front of your peers or potential clients. Yes, public speaking can be scary and may not be your cup of tea, but if you push yourself to become more visible, the possibilities are endless. Start with small events and work your way up. When people see your passion and charisma, they’ll be more likely to keep you top of mind for when they (or others) need to utilize your services.
Reconnect with old clients.
Is there a previous client you haven’t connected with in awhile? Shoot them an email to say hello. Let them know you’re looking for new clients and ask them to pass along any referrals. Even if you’re not working with a client anymore, you’ve still built a relationship. Most clients will be more than happy to keep you in mind for future work. All you have to do is ask. Remember, your clients are busy people so periodic check-ins are a great way to stay on their radar.
This tax season taught me the importance of being organized. I finally have a system in place for tracking income, expenses, etc. If you find that business is slow, clean out your desk, file folders, etc. Create new systems that will save you time and allow you to be more efficient. You’ll thank yourself later when you’re inundated with client work.
Chances are there are many experts with services complementary to yours. Reach out to those individuals and set up a coffee chat. Talk with them about what you offer and brainstorm ways you can work together. I’ve found networking with other consultants to be one of my largest sources of income.
Does your local paper publish business news? Is there a blog you read that addresses topics you’re well versed in? Pitch yourself for those opportunities! For example, my local paper has a weekly Small Business Spotlight where they publish information about local business owners and links to websites. I submitted information about my business and was published one day later. Because the online article included a direct link to my website, I saw a huge spike in traffic. In fact, I’m still seeing visits to my website as a result (even though the article was published several months ago).
Any article that you’re published in also offers an opportunity for inbound links – which are links back to your website. This is SEO gold and will help get your site at the top of Google search results.
*If pitching really isn’t your thing or you’re not sure where to start, consider investing some money into hiring a consultant to help you. Public relations is one of my core services and I’d be happy to give you more details.
Invest in your professional development.
When you run your own business, the learning never stops. Maybe there’s a course or webinar you’ve been meaning to take. Or perhaps there is an event or workshop that will give you valuable insights and skills you need to grow your business. Since you’re not under water with client work, you actually have the time to pursue these opportunities. Educate yourself on new skills or tactics that will make life easier and impress your clients at the same time.
Set up client management systems.
During a recent slow period I created a welcome packet for my clients. I got the idea from Leah Kalamakis’ “Stress Less & Impress” course (highly recommend it!) My welcome packet includes a brief note to my clients, my background and skills, core services, office hours, preferred method of communication and samples of my work. My clients enjoy receiving the packet and it kicks off our work together on the right foot.
Is there a system you can put in place to onboard new clients more easily? If you provide an incredible experience from start to finish, clients will be more likely to continue working with you and send referrals your way.
Shout from the rooftops.
Do your friends and family know you own a business? If not, spread the word. I found some of my first clients through friends and family. Don’t neglect this important resource – send out an email letting them know you’re looking for new clients or post the news on your personal Facebook page. Immediately after I started my business, I posted the news on Facebook and ended up securing one of my largest clients. Clients can come from anywhere, so leave no opportunity untapped.
How often are you measuring your efforts? Probably not as often as you should. Review the analytics for your website (Google Analytics is free and easy to set up), social media channels and email list. Measure your performance month-over-month and year-over-year. Look at what’s working and what’s not working. For example, are you focusing all your efforts on Twitter but Facebook is sending the most traffic to your website? Consider putting more emphasis on Facebook versus Twitter moving forward. Are your monthly emails falling on deaf ears? Switch up the content or try a new email format.
Clean up your email list.
Speaking of email marketing, most of the small business owners I encounter have email lists, but they’re a complete disaster. In many cases, the lists haven’t been updated for years. Given that email marketing is one of the top ways to close a sale or snag a new client, it’s well worth your time to clean up your list and get organized. Look at your stats and remove people who haven’t opened your emails for the past year. Yes, you’ll have a smaller list but it’s much better to have a list of 100 engaged people versus a list of 1,000 people who couldn’t care less about what you have to say.
Participate in online groups/discussion forums.
Want to be seen as an expert? Offer valuable advice free of charge. It’s that simple. Search for 1-2 discussion forums or groups that focus on your area of expertise. Frequent those groups and post helpful tips and advice without asking for anything in return. This may seem counter-intuitive, but people will start to become familiar with your name. When they see you’re offering such valuable insights for free, they’ll wonder what they could get if they actually paid for your services.
Not sure where to find these groups? LinkedIn and Facebook have tons of groups for every industry. Just do a quick search on your topic to see what appears. I’ve also had success with Quora – a discussion forum that covers a wide array of subject matter.
By the way, this doesn’t have to be time intensive. Set aside 30 minutes to an hour one day a week to search the forums and answer questions. If you show up consistently, people will begin to pay attention to what you have to say.
Volunteer your services.
Normally I don’t recommend offering services pro bono, but if things are really slow you may want to take on a project for free to build your portfolio. Perhaps there’s a non-profit organization you’re passionate about. Consider offering your services free of charge in exchange for publicity. This is a great way to expand your presence in the industry and build up a queue of referrals. Be sure to have a contract in place clear timelines so you’re clear about expectations.
Hopefully this list will change the way you view the slow periods in your business. Remember – slow periods are inevitable. It’s what you choose to do with them that really matters.
How have you handled slow periods in your business? Leave a comment below and share your tips!