Every business, seasonal or not, experiences lulls. Maybe you know when your lulls will come. Maybe business has started slowing unexpectedly. Either way, you may be better off treating this slow period as an opportunity.
With a little creative thinking and planning ahead, you might ride those lulls out. And, who knows, maybe in the process you'll find a revenue generator that will help your business during its busiest times, too.
Here are seven ways to try to keep the cash flowing when business slows down.
1. Add complementary services or products.
Think about related services or products your customers would appreciate. If you own a gourmet food store, for example, you might stock specialized kitchen equipment or add an online ordering and delivery service. If you're a landscaper, you might add snow removal during winter. Or maybe you own a summer camp: You can use the winter months to rent out your facilities for conferences, weddings and more.
No matter what, don't just think of your primary product or service as the only asset your business has. Often your location or expertise can also be utilized. Even if this goes off of your original business model a bit, the fact that your business will continue to generate revenue is what matters.
2. Create a loyalty program.
A loyalty program can be as simple as a punch card or a more complex point system. Whatever format you use, the strategy is similar: You track customers' purchases and reward them with a discount or freebie. This helps keep customers coming back in order to earn the reward. If possible, also build a rewards-for-referrals element into your loyalty program to incentivize customers to recommend your business to friends. Loyalty programs aren't a brand new idea, but they exist and continue to exist because they tend to work. You just need to make sure you're putting the proper time and investment into it so yours can stand out from the pack.
If you don't already have a customer relationship management (CRM) program, there's no time like the present to set one up. This software helps you to track customers' behaviors and your interactions with them to better target coupons and communications to their needs.
3. Offer pop-up sales.
Pop-up sales are either unannounced, announced only to your social media followers or another specific segment of your customers, or announced just a few days prior to the event. The spontaneity of these sales may help keep customers coming back to the store or checking your social media channels to find out when you'll be having another sale—or even better, if you're having one right now.
4. Host events.
Want more foot traffic? Try throwing a party! Find ways to create a memorable, and ideally repeatable, in-store event. An open house–type event may be a great opportunity to give out samples of your products or offer short demos of your services. Bring in big names in your industry for lectures, signings, workshops, performances and the like. Celebrate your business's anniversary or a relevant holiday (National Ice Cream Day, anyone?)—or make your own.
Consider partnering with neighboring, non-competitive businesses, local artists or musicians or charitable groups in your community to make your event an all-out bash.
5. Go into power-marketing mode.
Your slow season may be the perfect time to ramp up your low-budget marketing. Promote your mailing list and give your email newsletter a makeover. Create discounts just for your mailing list or social media followers.
Invite customers to provide testimonials that you can highlight on your website, via your social media channels, on your review site profiles and in-store. And, of course, reward them for doing so. Also consider coming up with a clever way to engage customers and incorporate their own content (such as selfies at your business) into your marketing.
6. Find a niche market.
Increasing business during a slow period may be a matter of finding and serving a niche population of customers. For example, maybe you're an ice cream and candy shop that does a lot of business during the summer when it heats up and kids are out of school. When business slows down, maybe you could focus on capturing the hearts of dog owners and work on developing a line of sweet treats for pups. Pet lovers could help keep business up throughout the whole year.
7. Set up an online store.
Several of the above suggestions (such as creating a loyalty program or setting up CRM software) will require a significant investment of time. A slower period—when you find you actually have a good amount of free time on your hands—may be the perfect opportunity to tackle these types of projects.
Likewise, if you're not already selling online, now may be a great time to set up an online store. Not only is it a good project for off-peak seasons, it can be a way to help increase sales during those times. Look into an affordable, easy-to-use e-commerce solution such as Shopify or Bigcommerce and get started. If your business is service-based, you might offer virtual consultations and use a software like Youcanbook.me or SetMore for scheduling. If you're unable to provide your services virtually, investing in the time to set up software like this may be smart. It may make it easier for your customers to schedule appointments, increasing the ease of your overall customer experience.
Don't let lulls get you down. Taking steps to prepare ahead of time—and taking the opportunity during a lull to invest time into your business—may help you generate revenue even during slow seasons.
A version of this article was originally published on February 26, 2016.