By Seth Richtsmeier

For most small business owners, slow times can be an indicator of reduced revenue and profitability. But slow periods can also be an opportunity to focus on long-range growth and truly set your business up for success.

Whether it’s the down season for your business or you’re just feeling the economic downturn, here are seven ways to use your free time to create long-range growth opportunities.

1. Analyze Business Performance

Look inward. How’s your business performing? Start by reviewing your financial statements and identifying any patterns or trends. Ask yourself:

  • Could my profit margins be better?
  • Are my business expenses declining, stable or growing?
  • Are unpaid invoices impacting my cash flow?

Then determine areas for improvement. You may consider increasing your prices for a better profit margin, cutting unnecessary expenses or creating ways to make it easier for customers to pay their invoices.

2. Develop a Long-term Growth Plan

Once you’ve taken a closer look at the financial health of the business, you’re ready to plan long term and set yourself up for success.

Follow this process to develop a long-term growth plan for your business:

  • Set realistic goals and objectives. Consider what you want to accomplish in the next six months, one year and five years.
  • Identify strategies and tactics. What methods can you use to achieve these goals? This may include marketing, updating your pricing strategy or refining your processes.
  • Allocate resources and establish timelines. What do you need to achieve your goals, and how long (realistically) will it take?

Once you’ve developed your strategy, prioritize your goals based on what will have the biggest impact on your business.

3. Evaluate Systems and Processes

A slow period presents the perfect opportunity to refine your internal systems and processes. Consider every stage of your sales process — initial request, quoting, scheduling, completing the job, invoicing and payment. 

What works well in your process? Are there any bottlenecks in the system you currently have in place? 

Find ways to incorporate automation with software to help you maximize productivity when business picks up again.

4. Invest in Marketing and Advertising

Between emergency service calls, quoting, scheduling and invoicing, running a small business often means you have little to no time to advertise. Use slow periods to invest time and money into promoting your services and developing a marketing plan.

Here are a few things to get started:

  • Optimize your website to speak to and attract your target customer
  • Update your business profile on lead generation websites
  • On social media, share before-and-after photos and business updates
  • Create an email campaign to promote new services or re-engage past customers
  • Attend events and participate in community outreach

Interested in something more unconventional that just might work?

Get more visibility for your business and showcase your expertise by pitching your service to a local TV news station. Not only could you gain a few minutes of uninterrupted airtime, but segments are also often posted online.

Plus, you can ask for a recording of the segment to share on social media or via an email.

Remember, a news station doesn’t just give away free ad spots. Segments are meant to educate the audience and provide value, so find a seasonal angle for your pitch. For instance:

  • Childcare services can provide tips to keep kids busy during the weeks of summer.
  • HVAC technicians can share tips for air conditioning maintenance before hot weather arrives.
  • Landscapers can suggest ways to get a lawn ready in the fall to encourage luscious growth in the spring.

5. Improve Customer Service and Loyalty

By providing exceptional customer service, businesses can build trust and loyalty with their customers. That alone provides a competitive advantage in the market which assists in long-range growth.

Touch base with both your employees and customers to improve loyalty and create lasting relationships. 

For your employees:

  • Train employees on customer service and upselling techniques
  • Onboard and train new employees to prepare for upcoming busy seasons
  • Establish a corporate culture that makes employees want to stick around

For your customers:

  • Develop a customer loyalty program that incentivizes customer referrals. Solicit customer feedback and implement any changes to your services and processes as needed
  • Show customers how much you appreciate their business by sending thank you cards or offering discounts on future maintenance or services
  • Have phone support? Reduce the wait time or consider removing the automated answering machines. People who take the time to call like to talk to humans — not a robot. Set yourself apart by having the quickest time to connect your customers to you.
  • Have email support? Answer messages as quickly as possible. Set up a separate support email address just for customer issues and have it auto-forwarded as important to your main email address.

6. Diversify your Products and Service Offerings

When seeking long-range growth, you have to step out of your comfort zone. Generate more revenue opportunities and attract a broader customer base by diversifying the products and services you offer.

  • Expand on your current product or service offeringsRoofers may offer different types of roofing materials like solar panels, slate, or clay tiles.
  • Develop new revenue streams: A plumbing business may expand to offer both plumbing and HVAC services.
  • Identify complementary products or services to offer: An interior painting company may also offer wallpaper removal, drywall repair or popcorn ceiling removal.

7. Perform a Competitive Analysis

Research competitors in your service area. Focus on businesses that offer similar services and target the same clientele as you. Examine their website, directory listings, customer reviews and social media profiles. Be sure to pay attention to:

  • The services and packages they offer: Are there any services you can add to your offerings?
  • How they price their services: Is it comparable to your pricing strategy? Or do they charge more for the same services? Less?
  • How and where they are marketing their business: What social media platforms and lead generation sites do they use? What type of messaging do they use in ads? 
  • What types of promotions they are offering: If it’s a seasonally slow period, are they offering any deals on services?

Consider what the competition does well and use that as a learning opportunity to bring into your business. Identify what makes your service business different and use that messaging in your marketing strategy to stand out from everyone else.