What To Do When Business Is Slow?

Oct 26, 2021, Written by Sue Miley

What To Do When Business Is Slow

I swear the Keurig coffee maker drips at half speed when I am watching it.  It takes forever.  And I know the stock market is way more volatile when I check it every day. 

And those blonde highlights I saw turned grey with bright lights on in the bathroom.

Close inspection reveals the wrinkles, the dirt, the less desirable.

It shouldn’t surprise us then that our business seems in despair when we are slow.  When business slows down, we slow down and watch.  We check sales constantly and wonder what everyone is doing.  We assume we haven’t been paying enough attention and we start micro-managing.  

Or we do the opposite.

We just sink into despair with business.  We only see the bad and we assume good days will never return.

Let’s just step back for a minute.  Think about the year, or the last few years.  Yes, business has been growing, but everyday, every week, and every month will not stay in constant growth mode.  Temporary seasonal lulls occur annually.  Market corrections happen.  The overall national economy can cause a slow down.

We know it is logical that things won’t stay in a constant state of acceleration 365 days a year, year in year out.  But when the slow down occurs, our unconscious thoughts move immediately to this is the end.  We will never be busy again….

….even though our conscious mind understands concepts of seasonality and market corrections.

When things get slow, business owners also tend to think that it is happening only to them.  They have no control.  It is those bad outside market forces that I have no control over, so there is nothing to do.  Except fret and worry.

With over 15 years owning my own and helping many other small businesses, in a large variety of industries, we all have slow times.  We all do.  So if your industry colleague is posting all over social media that they are immune to any adverse correction or dark moments, ignore it.  It is marketing, not real life.

In real life we can manage our business for upward trends, but are foolish if we believe we will never have a dry spell.

In real life we can strategize and look for opportunities to continue in a long-term growth trajectory, but will never find a strategy with zero slow days.

In real life, we can take advantage of the slower moments, and make optimal use of this time to do many things to stabilize, build, and continue to grow your business, or we can create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Take advantage of the slow times whenever possible.  Here are some ideas of what to do when business is slow:

When Business is Slow

1. Seasonality

If your business has cyclical busy seasons like retail or HVAC service companies, there is much to do in the off season to be ready for the crazy busy times:

  • Take inventory – not of just product, of your business results.  What services sold the most and why?  Where did you miss opportunities?  Is your team right?  Do you have enough people to take care of business?  Are your margins in line?  Is there opportunity to grow margins.  Use the slow time to analyze your business and put the foundation in place for even greater growth during the next busy season.
  • Pivot off-season – what other services or sales channels can you take advantage of during the off-season?  In business coaching, the 4th quarter of the year used to be slow.  Clients were either slammed because it was their season or not engaged because things were slow.  We started offering business planning services and helping clients plan for the new year.  We have strategic team meetings and assess the past year, determine key initiatives for the coming year, and establish goals and budgets to support these key initiatives.  4th Quarter is not a dip for us any more.
  • Rest – this season too shall pass and you need to be rested and restored for the next surge.  Worry is debilitating, not rejuvenating.  I am not suggesting a 9 month sabbatical, but it is time to take your time, take time off, and do purposeful activities like above to prepare for the coming year.

2. Economic Downturns

Sometimes the economy does impact our industry and our business.  And sometimes economic downturns last a long time.  The oil and gas industry is an example.  Many businesses that support this industry go into massive layoffs and even go bankrupt during industry slumps.  Worrying and waiting on that to happen becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  I have several clients who claim the oil and gas industry as a key target market for their products or services.  When the industry crashed a few years back, they didn’t ignore it, but they also didn’t panic.  There are many opportunities to weather these storms and even thrive long-term through them.

  • Assess and take inventory and make purposeful and deliberate changes to the current resources of your business.  One of our clients sold off old and obsolete equipment and parts.  They negotiated right away on large receivables to this industry.  And they used natural attrition to keep costs down and delayed in replacing positions.  No layoffs, no strong arm tactics.  Just prudent business.
  • Diversifying into other industries is another strategy that you may have been thinking about, but never had time.  Now you can put together thoughtful plans and create a strategic initiative to go after the other growing industries.
  • Improve efficiencies.  Sometimes we are moving too fast to build efficiencies into our processes or policies.  This is a time to find better, more cost effective ways to manage your business.  Pricing policies and credit policies can be used to strengthen your position.  Inventory pars and turns should be evaluated.

3. Just slow

Again, every single day of the year cannot beat the last days revenue and/or profit.  Regardless of the industry, we all have slow days, weeks or months.  It could be coincidence or it could be internal; we took our eye off the ball.  If you have been growing steadily over time, there is no reason to think everything has changed and that the positive run is over.  The risk in this is we make impulsive decisions that can actually hurt our business.  In most cases, it will be over before you could even make a change.  During these natural slow downs, you can be productive and:

  • Review your marketing and sales and determine if you have changed anything internally.
  • You can take the available time and put together plans to improve efficiencies or ramp up sales and marketing efforts.
  • You can take a much needed “mini-break”.
  • Or you can just keep doing what your doing because it has been working and the slow down is probably a natural ebb and flow of business.

I have personally watched my business dwindle during the summer when all of my clients were off having fun on vacations with their families.  As I watched my calendar empty, it was the longest summer of my life.  I would have sworn that first summer after I started the counseling side of our business lasted at least two more months than a normal summer.  

Once logic kicked in, and I realized that summer is the time we all want to forget our problems and enjoy the sun, not work on them, I didn’t sit and watch anymore.  I planned my own vacation and implemented new summer-proof services to add to the coaching side of our business.

Our mindset can play tricks on us when things are slow.  

We have control over our mind.  I hope this gives you some ideas of how to use slow times to your advantage and avoid the illusion that waiting, watching, and scrutinizing will do anything productive for you.

Seriously, the coffee brews just as fast (or slow) whether I watch it or not.  Now I push the button and go and get busy getting my desk ready for the day.  Guess what? 

Every time I come back to a fully brewed cup.

Every time.

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Sue Miley

Sue Miley MBA, MA, LPC helps small business owners build successful businesses on a foundation of Christian values. After 20 years in business, and 10 years as a Christian counselor, Sue uses a combination of faith, business and psychology to help clients in business and in life.

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