Finally, the summer months are upon us, one of the historically slow seasons for many businesses. Small-business owners everywhere will take pleasure in outdoor sports games, swimming, barbecues, and…work as usual?
According to a June 2016 Small Business Trends poll, only 28 percent of the 2,412 small-business owners who participated said they will not be working over their summer vacations this year. Understanding that worker absenteeism and product sales often flag during this time of the year, many owners want to prevent ruts and ensure that their workforces are as productive as possible.
I asked three business owners—Zeeshan Ali, CEO of screen printing company The Zee Group in Chicago; Bryanne Lawless, managing partner of PR firm BLND in Los Angeles; and Michael Mogill, CEO of Crisp Video Group in Atlanta—about how they turn historically slow seasons into growth periods.
What are the ebbs and flows of your business in a typical year?
Ali: Typically, the start of the school year and the end of the year—as we are ramping up for trade show season—are our busiest times of the year. We have focused on diversifying our portfolio of clients this year, so the wavelength is a bit different than in past years.
Lawless: The beginning of the year is always the craziest since businesses want to re-market themselves, update their branding or expand their social media presence. The slowest time is usually the third quarter because companies are running out of budget for marketing and PR efforts. Luckily for us, almost every business needs PR to compete and be seen as an expert in its industry.
—Bryanne Lawless, managing partner, BLND
Mogill: The slower times of the year are the early part of Q1 and Q4. Starting the year, our sales pick up stride as we get into March and are very strong through Q2 and Q3. In Q4, things start to slow near Thanksgiving, not just because of the holidays but also because clients are going out of town.
Can you predict when activity will slow down? How do you prepare for slow seasons?
Mogill: Absolutely, since we have tracked activity data over several years. Because we are able to anticipate them, we can ramp up marketing significantly during slow periods to ensure that we are still able to be productive and hit our goals. Also, we frontload our goals through the early part of the year rather than spreading them evenly over 12 months.
Lawless: When our pipeline slows down, that’s a signal that everything else will follow. It’s important to focus on the clients we have, but we also have to make sure there are always clients ready to sign and hit the ground running.
Ali: We use the reporting feature in our CRM and in QuickBooks to monitor slow and peak periods of activity. This information dictates how we should manage our expenses and allows us to accurately forecast each month.
During slow seasons, how do you keep your employees focused and motivated?
Lawless: We hold brainstorming sessions to come up with out-of-the-box ideas for our clients, and give team members the time and freedom to work on more creative projects. Also, during those rare slower times, we sustain momentum by pitching our services to new clientele.
Ali: We don’t have many slow periods because we are aggressively proactive. Our team members are aware of our goals and the development areas that we need to continue to refine. Customer acquisition is one that we work on when we have a spare moment!
Mogill: We invest in our team through education and improving our product/service offering. Staying focused and motivated is really about understanding what happens in a typical year and how we can achieve consistently throughout.
How can small-business owners turn slow seasons into a positive and useful time for their companies?
Mogill: You can focus on building your infrastructure and laying the foundations of your processes so that you’re prepared and ready to capitalize on the busy times.
Lawless: Slower periods are great opportunities to strengthen our capabilities and learn new methods for doing things. Also, they are an ideal time to test out more streamlined and efficient processes. That way, when things pick up again, team members can handle anything that is thrown at them.
Ali: I recommend reaching out to your existing client base and qualifying future projects. I also encourage additional training during this time so that you can grow your team members and make them into superstars!
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