How Do I Survive My Slow Months?

It’s common for small businesses to have some seasonality to their sales. The National Retail Federation reports retail shops earn 20% of their annual sales during the holiday season. Tax preparers experience a slowdown after the filing deadline. So what can you do when your peak season ends and business drops off? Here are eight ideas to manage through those slow months.

  • Conduct a post-season audit – It’s hard to judge how far you’ve come when you’re going a mile a minute. Now that you have the time, ask yourself two simple questions—What worked? What would you do differently next time?  The answers will help uncover your strengths and weaknesses. Integrate that information into your annual business plan. For example, if you didn’t have enough help during the busy times, scout out sources for temporary staff that you can use next year.
  • Convert unused inventory - Did you misjudge how much inventory you needed during the peak season? You could store them away until next year, hoping they’re still a viable product. Or you can convert your inventory to cash. Check with your supplier to see if you can return them and get a refund. Another option is to stage a close-out sale. That may narrow your profit margin, but it can help you maintain a positive cash flow.
  • Keep talking – You worked hard to connect with customers during the peak season. Take advantage of that equity by continuing to communicate with them throughout the year. Use social media to post ideas on a new way to use a product. Promote a discount on refills for a product. Or talk about what’s planned for next year. The idea is to keep your name front and center so they’ll remember you during your next peak season.
  • Transform into a complementary business – Meet a complementary need for your customer. For example, a lawn maintenance business might shift to snow removal during the winter months. You serve the same customer but for a different need. A holiday decorating business may offer to store a customer’s decorations offsite for the rest of the year. The customer frees up valuable storage space in their home and you maintain cash flow by charging a monthly storage fee. 
  • Gin up your skill set – The slower months are a great time to learn a new skill. Enroll in that online class you were too busy to bother with during your busy time. Attend a local Chamber of Commerce event or a SCORE workshop. Both are great opportunities to network with other business owners and find solutions and resources you may not have known existed.
  • Reassess your connectivity needs – Did your internet connection keep up with demand? If you had to wait for your system to catch up before you could answer a customer’s question, maybe it’s time to upgrade your service. It might be a speed upgrade or a switch to a fiber connection that lets you run voice and data on the same line. That investment can help you deliver faster, more reliable service throughout the year.
  • Look for cost-cutting opportunities – Now’s a great time to sharpen your pencil and look for ways to reduce expenses. Focus on noncustomer-related items. For example, what interest rate are you paying on your credit cards? If lower-cost options aren’t available, work to pay off the higher interest ones first. Don’t underestimate the power of negotiation. Maybe your landlord would lower your rent if you assumed some minor maintenance duties.
  • Take a breath – Give yourself permission to do something just for you. Maybe it’s taking a few days off, catching up with friends and family or getting back on your exercise routine. The break will give you the energy you need to look at things in a new way. The solution may have been there all along but you were too busy to notice it.

The secret to a successful business is thriving in the good months and surviving the slow ones. Use your non-peak time to shore up your business. Start with these ideas to make your slow time more productive.