No Facepalms Here: How to Survive - and Thrive Through - a Slow Season
January 1, 2014
Well-meaning people in your life will tell you that the first year in business gets you no profit and that slow seasons are inevitable. And if you've been in business for any length of time, you've probably started to notice that certain times of the year are at least a little slower for your industry than others. For retail shops, December might be booming; for swimming pool installers, it might be the near-kiss of death unless they prepare well. But do you have to just accept it as fate that you will lose money during those times? How can you prepare for these seasons and not just scrape through but actually make a profit?
Before we answer those questions, let's address a couple of misconceptions about marketing that often hold folks back. You know…the ones about how you don't really need it at certain times and how it's kind of smarmy.
"We can't stop…we won't stop…" sings Marketing in its best Miley voice.
"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." I'm sure you've heard this before. "Doing" can also mean NOT doing. If you are NOT marketing effectively, you can't possibly expect the money to suddenly just roll in. Having an amazing product or service is not enough if people don't know you're there and why they need you above your competition. Here's how it works. Business and Marketing meet, fall in love, and make lots of money babies. If Business gets afraid that Marketing is costing too much and tells Marketing it has to go, Business withers without Marketing's vital support system.
Many businesses abandon their marketing ship during slower periods. They either know ahead of time that funds are probably going to be short, or they suddenly find themselves short and basically freak out. They see marketing as either an only-semi-necessary evil or an expensive dispensable, so it's one of the first things to be knocked out of their budget. But marketing isn't an evil, and it isn't dispensable. "The whole objective of marketing is to drive business! If you scale back marketing, all you do is create a self-fulfilling prophecy during the slow times. Marketing is an investment. If it’s ever an expense, then you’re doing something wrong." (Source 1) If you keep starting and stopping, it's going to take even longer each time you restart to get back on people's minds because you keep interrupting the flow.
Small biz owners might be hesitant to start new marketing projects during the holiday season in particular because of personal overwhelm and decide to wait til the new year because they assume no one's hearing them right now anyway. But guess what - competitors might be doing the same thing. If your industry has common slow seasons, chances are, your competitors do too. If they take the typical route and slow down or stop their marketing during those times, and you instead increase or at least maintain momentum, guess who people are going to notice?
People out there need what you are offering! Why would you stop telling them you offer it?
A lot of business owners associate the word "marketing" with dishonesty and trickery. And with good reason, in many cases. We've all known retail stores to falsely advertise that they're having a moving or going-out-of-business sale as a ploy to urge people to come in for a "deal." But when you advertise from a genuine place and have the solution to a need people have, you don't need to employ any used car sales tricks. Maybe even if you're a used car salesman.
Marketing your business is simply telling your story…promoting what you have to offer the world and why you offer it in your own best way. If you don't share this story effectively (ALL YEAR LONG), how will they know how you can serve them?
It would be like…"if you exercised only when you were in great shape, but then slowed down if you got a little overweight or even stopped all together if you became obese with the intent on exercising again when you got into better shape - how do you think it would work out for you?" (Source 2)
So we have just changed your view on year-round marketing AND your definition of the word.
Here are some more tips on how to propel your biz through a period of slowness:
1. Set up your marketing budget for the year ahead of time (even if that "year" starts in mid-June). You've got to be done with flying by the seat of your pants when it comes to marketing, or the business you attract will be just as sporadic. If you know how much you intend to spend each month, you will know before the slow season even hits that you need to set aside money to cover marketing during that time.
2. Get a newly designed logo or website to refresh your long-standing (read: stagnant) branding. This is an excellent way to draw attention to your company and online presence. People get tired of looking at the same stuff year after year. They want to know you're current and mindful of your vibe. It doesn't necessarily mean you have to completely switch branding directions.
3. Keep up a strong social media presence, email newsletter campaigning, and regular blogging (better yet, hire me to do it all for you). Stay top-of-mind for them even if they don't need your services RIGHT NOW. When the time comes, they will need you, and that presence will make them choose you over another company. "You may not be able to stop the slow season from happening, but you can keep people talking while you go through it." (Source 3)
4. Reconnect with existing customers who haven't done business with you in a while. Ask them and more current customers for testimonials you can share on your website and social media. Marketing is smart for attracting new business - but it's also good for keeping existing customers in the loop and, therefore, loyal.
5. Offer customers a discount or freebie of some kind. Maybe existing and former clients get one, and newbies get another. This is a good way for people who've been on the fence to finally make that commitment without energy-draining coaxing from you. (Because you SO do not have time for that.) Even if you come out shorter than you would during a peak season, it's better than you might have otherwise. When grocery stores offer something like a free 12-pack of soda for only $1, they know they aren't going to make any money off the soda. But by getting you in the door, they know they will probably make money from you on something else.
6. Get the idea in people's minds that they need to be preparing for the NEXT season. Then they will be more likely to buy from you NOW instead of waiting. And this still isn't smarmy, if that's what you're thinking. If this seems sketchy to you instead of helpful to their lives and to your bank account, what the heck are you selling?!
What are your tips for preparing for and making a profit during slower times?