Snow is gone, temperatures are climbing and even green sprouts are starting to pop up --all sure signs of spring that remind us that summer will be here shortly.
Besides looking forward to taking a much needed vacation -- if you're lucky enough to schedule one this year -- you should be thinking about how your business can capitalize in what for many companies is a slow season. In fact, the following planning tools can be utilized by any business with a slow season.
Payroll Control: Nobody likes to cut employee hours, furlough workers or lay people off. If your head count is what you need to run at capacity, then you have too many people on the payroll. Permanent staff should be adequate to handle 80%-85% of capacity, with temporary hires used to bring production as close to 100% as possible. This eliminates the angst and disharmony of workers affected by cutbacks. It can also affect your P&L statement positively.
Advertising and Marketing: A slow period is not an opportunity to slack off. It's a good time to gain on your competition. Here's an example: The majority of the printing industry historically took off the first week in July, which forced customers to put their needs on hold. Some print companies saw this period as an opportunity to attract customers from closed print vendors and establish relationships by filling their immediate needs. These printers' ads and marketing highlighted their 52-weeks-a year availability. Being accessible when others are not gives you a chance to show off, to perform and make inroads to continuing sales.
Training: Since staff usually has some extra time during the slow season, this could be a good time to schedule training days or strategy sessions. Your employees will be less distracted by the amount of work waiting on their desks and able to concentrate more on the subject at hand. It also gives you a chance to implement needed changes that have been identified before your organization gets back into high gear.
Cash Flow: Unless you're a very new business you'll understand that cash flow slows down at different times of the year. It should be expected, and you should prepare for it. Employees get paid, vendors get paid and bills come due all year round. You need to anticipate your cash demands during the slow season and plan accordingly. Perhaps you can squirrel some money away systematically during the good-cash-flow months to create a cushion that will undoubtedly be needed. This practice was a lifesaver for our company when the recession hit. We had a pool of available cash that buoyed us through some really tough situations.
Change: There are many reasons why businesses experience slow periods. Some slow periods are industry-specific, some are weather-specific and some societal in timing. Regardless of the cause, a slow time can allow you to provide value-added products or service lines that complement your core business, but are not dependent on those external factors. For example, if you own a sporting goods store, perhaps selling online into other geographies can help. When one sport quiets down in one area it could become active in another. If you're in the north, sell summer sports items in the south during the winter. Perhaps adding a craft or hobby department, which is not seasonally driven, would help smooth out sales each month. The idea is to take a look at your sales numbers and even out the peaks and valleys.
Take a Vacation: As difficult as it may seem, you MUST take time off. Too many business owners - myself included - battle with taking vacations. The interesting part of this dilemma is that even though owners think their business cannot run without them, it can and often does run better when they're away. An owner's presence 24/7/365 is detrimental to the growth of any organization. It can stifle the staff, does little to instill creativity and can suppress individual initiatives. Your people will be eager to tell you how well they did in your absence - guaranteed. You need to lose the battle with yourself and get away. Your body needs rest, your mind needs to clear, your family deserves it.
And no cheating. While you're on vacation, contact with work must be limited ONLY to the essentials and nothing more.
If you would like to read more of Greg's published articles please visit the site of Long Island's Marketing Firm, The Lorraine Gregory Group.
This blogger graduated from Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.