How Your Small Business Can Use Downtime Productively

Downtime for your small business doesn’t have to mean low productivity. Use your next lull to jump on those back-burner initiatives that can boost your success.

As a small business owner, the way you use downtime can be just as valuable as how you manage busy periods.

The COVID-19 pandemic, as well as seasonal, cyclical and industry lulls, provides an opportunity to take stock of your operations and find ways to bolster them. Making time for this will put you in a stronger position once business picks up again. Try these seven tactics:

1. Plan Based on the Past Year

During a rush, it’s hard to find time to review your finances for trends, problems and opportunities for improvement. Look over your financial records for patterns and trends that can help you budget for the upcoming year. For example, review sales to identify your most profitable items or services; comb through your spending for areas of waste or opportunities for consolidation; and analyze your business income for problem areas such as slow-paying clients. Then budget time and spending for the upcoming year to maximize profitability.

2. Assess Your Operations

Identify areas of inefficiency in your operations, and determine how you can make a change. For example, do you have breakdowns in sharing information, tracking sales or processing orders? Using your slow time to identify the problem and find a solution will put you on good footing when things get busy again. Many businesses shift to cloud software or update their technology to smooth out operational rough spots. Also, beefing up your internet security software ensures your business and operations stay secure and streamlined.

3. Improve Billing and Collections

It’s the rare small company that has a fully efficient billing and collections process. Review how you create, send and track bills to spot any issues. To streamline your approach, switch to online banking if you haven’t already. On the collections side, look for ways to bill earlier, flag payments as soon as they’re late and capture all payments that are owed to you. Many software programs, like QuickBooks or Zoho, offer features that help with this.

4. Refresh Your Marketing

If it’s been some time since you’ve updated your marketing materials, use this slowdown to spruce them up. Start by revitalizing your printed materials, such as brochures, fliers, signage, direct mailers and sales sheets. A design and print service provider can help you freshen up these materials. Be sure to also look at your website, social media pages and email newsletters to determine where updates should be made.

5. Improve Customer Communications

Great customer service is critical for small businesses, so fix any weak links. Shore up your service by making it easy for customers to connect with you and resolve their issues. Be sure you’re adequately training your employees to handle customer grievances, and equip them to handle customers in a way that leads to the best possible outcome. The first step is to create a flow chart that maps out various scenarios for when a customer is unhappy. Follow the steps, and look for any breakdowns in your system that might lead to a dissatisfied customer.

6. Evaluate Vendor Contracts

Revisiting vendor contracts can help you secure better terms, prices and even offerings for your business. Set up a time to meet with your vendors to go over your existing contracts, and look for ways to negotiate better deals or consolidate to fewer vendors. For instance, if you’ve been with a specific vendor for several years, ask for a discount if you renew your contract, or better pricing if you order in bulk or commit to a new contract. If another company can better meet your needs, work with them to set up a new partnership.

7. Take Time Off

Research shows that only 57 percent of small business owners plan to take vacation in the next year. If you’re among those who aren’t getting away for a bit, you may wind up feeling burned out, no matter how much you love what you do. A slowdown can be ideal for spending time away from your small business. Or take a staycation: Change up your daily routine by doing something you don’t normally do, such as spending the day in nature or taking a class.

There are only so many to-dos you can check off your list before things ramp back up. But, as a small business owner, you know that other lulls will occur. Keep a running list of the objectives you want to achieve when times are slow so that you can easily pick up where you left off.