The school year is ending, the temperature is rising and the theaters are full of blockbusters. Summer is upon us, and with it comes a potential change of pace for small businesses. This change isn’t necessarily a positive one. Taking a major dip in sales can throw a business’ financial standing into chaos.
Small business owners that use the summer months to plan and target new leads and opportunities can have a better shot at surviving the lean months, and also have an advantage later in the year. Here are a few ways to keep the production levels high.
In summer’s slower moments, take a good look around at existing inventory and equipment. Are there improvements needed? Will a few investments in updating older equipment pay off later? This can be especially true in technology matters. As Rhonda Abrams explores for USA Today, summertime is “the perfect time to work on internal operations.”
“Switch any soon-to-be-upgraded on-premise software programs to cloud-based applications,” she writes. “Set up an online document storage and sharing system, such as Dropbox (www.dropbox.com), Box (www.box.net), or Google Drive (www.google.com/drive) and start using it.”
Look for automation and efficiency
Many parts of running a small business can be simplified with technology. For example, examine how your company’s website and email responses can be more helpful to potential clients. As the Associated Press reports, certain areas can go on autopilot, which can increase efficiency.
“… If your website lets potential customers email you to ask for an estimate, set up your email so that it automatically responds with a list of rates, says Carrie Wilkerson, a business consultant and author. Chances are the email program you’re already using allows for automation, says Wilkerson. Use the slower summer months to read your email program’s instructions or watch tutorials on YouTube. You can also use the automation function to email coupons or information about sales or new products, says Wilkerson. This will free up a person from having to do it manually.”
Start that project
Perhaps you had bigger plans for the year so far. Go back and see what your New Year’s resolutions were, and see if you really tackled any of your ambitious ideas. Abrams suggests taking on a big project that you’ve daydreamed about in her story for USA Today.
“We all have a wish list of projects we’d like to take care of someday,” she writes. “It may be creating a new prototype of a product and trying out a crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter or IndieGoGo. It might be clearing out old inventory, cleaning out a back room, getting some training. Do the spring cleaning you didn’t have time to do in spring.”
Networking, networking, networking
We hear about the importance of getting out and meeting other professionals, which can open the door to new business leads. But some small business owners may feel so overwhelmed by the day-to-day operations that a networking event might seem like an unreasonable task. Jennefer Witter, CEO and founder of PR firm The Boreland Group Inc., is featured in the Associated Press piece. She says that all of her business leads come from networking, and she encourages finding conferences and other events, especially because some people have lighter schedules in the summer:
“Email or call potential clients and see if they are willing to grab a coffee with you. If there’s someone in your industry that you have always wanted to meet, take them out to lunch, they’re more likely to say yes in the summer, says Witter. If you are chained to your desk, improve your digital networking. Connect with people you want to get in front of on social networking websites such as LinkedIn and Facebook. Just make sure you keep your business accounts separate from personal ones. Witter once landed a new client after a business owner said on Facebook that he was looking for a new public relations company. She messaged him, met him in person, and she was hired.”
Small business owners need vacations, too. Recharging your batteries and taking a break can make a huge difference in your outlook and approach. But it can be a challenge to manage this time off and feel secure about how things will run in your absence. A two-week, out-of-the-country, no-communication trip is likely not the best idea for a young small business. Yet the vacation that is dominated by business calls and checking email is really not a vacation at all. Nicole Fallon examines this in a story for Business News Daily. In it, she features Craig Bryant, founder of software company KinHR.
“If owners need to work during vacation, they need to put up boundaries to keep it in check,” Bryant says in Fallon’s piece. “Schedule one hour per day to respond to emails, take a client call and talk to employees. Do it before or after regular business, so the people on the other end know you’re making accommodations and, more importantly, they’re not creating more work while they know they have your attention.”
Fight the summer slowdown
Here’s a more aggressive approach. Rather than just accepting the fact that sales can slow down in the summer, and that clients and customers will be taking vacation time, take an active approach to combat all that. This can apply to the business’ employees as well. In a story for Entrepreneur.com, Grant Cardone writes to “make a firm decision not to participate in a slowdown.”
“Don’t allow your employees to buy into this thinking because I assure you that they will make a summer slowdown one of the first excuses if there are any issues with their job performance,” he says. “Hold a daily meeting to discuss what you are going to do to prosper — not contract — this summer. Set clearly defined goals and list the activities that need to be undertaken to achieve them. Give yourself deadlines for your goals and create a no-excuses, no-negativity environment. You’ll be surprised by what you can achieve.”
There’s nothing like getting a head start on the next big season. As summer begins, keep in mind what comes later in the year, especially from a marketing perspective. Vacation time, the Fourth of July and other summer events may distract you from looking forward, as Abrams writes.
“Summer won’t last forever, and you want to be ready to land some big customers as soon as people are back at their desk,” she says. “The summer months are a great time to do some strategic planning. Clarify and narrow your target market and figure out the best ways to reach prospects. Come up with a marketing budget and marketing vehicles so you’re ready to go.”Business & Finance Articles on Business 2 Community