Don’t Get Derailed By Downtime

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Don’t Get Derailed By Downtime

10 Ways To Keep Your Momentum Going
By Mindy Charski

It’s the new year, and with it, business owners hope, come busy days ahead.

Of course, there will likely be some slow periods, too. Rather than dread these downtimes, plan to use them to your advantage.

“A slowdown in business can actually be a great thing because it gives you the opportunity to ramp up for an even better future,” says Dan Coughlin, author of “Accelerate: 20 Practical Lessons to Boost Business Momentum” (Kaplan Publishing, 2007).

Indeed, a temporary drop in customer requests means there’s more time to spend on endeavors that can improve your business. Here are some to consider.

1. Enhance Your Brand
Coughlin suggests business owners ask themselves:

  • What makes their products or services effective for customers?
  • What is effective about the way they deliver value for customers?
  • What value do people perceive they get from the business?
Business owners should then ask how they could improve in each area.

“Write down your answers,” Coughlin says. “You now have a to-do list of what to do when times are slow.”

2. Polish Your Marketing
Think about whether you’re targeting your message to the right people and reaching them through the best, most cost-effective vehicles.

“Look at where your customer base has come from,” says Angie Mohr, author of “Finance & Grow Your New Business” (Self-Counsel Press, 2008). “If you spent $1,200 for a Yellow Pages ad, how many customers did you get from that ad? Did that actually make financial sense for you to do?”

Likewise, get started on creating a Web site if you don’t have one; if you do, spend time navigating your site to spot areas for improvement. You can also begin showcasing your expertise on your own blog.

3. Invest Time In Current Customers
“My best clients refer the best people,” says Pamela Barc, who offers etiquette training through her company, Etiquettes Edge in Lake Orion, Mich. “Someone once said, ‘You don’t need to work so hard to obtain more clients, just treat the ones you have like kings and queens.’”

During slower times, Barc says she keeps a “periodic presence” by sending hand-addressed birthday cards, for instance, or notes of encouragement about client accomplishments.

“Sincerity cannot be faked, but sincere caring has always produced positive professional results,” she says.

4. Boost Business Alliances
“Normally during the hustle and bustle and during the busy times, you don’t have the opportunity to strengthen the relationship like you normally would,” says James B. Evans, assistant region director for the University of Houston Small Business Development Center Network.

Invite your clients, suppliers and prospective customers to lunch, perhaps, or to join you at a sporting event.

“Talk maybe five minutes of shop and then try to enjoy whatever social event it is,” Evans says. “Don’t make it a total business event.”

If you have business partners that serve as sales channels, ask if they’d like help from some of your staffers who don’t have full calendars.

“Whatever you can do to make that partner more successful selling your product, I would do,” says Steve Clark, vice president of business incubation services at TechColumbus, a nonprofit that supports the growth of Central Ohio’s tech economy.

5. Attend To Financials
Get caught up on your bookkeeping to know what your current numbers are, Mohr suggests. Then, take a look back.

“It’s a really good time to sit down and take a breather and look at the history of what’s happened,” Mohr says. “Make sure you know why your revenues were two-thirds of what you thought they were going to be, and make sure you could actually say that out loud if you had a board of directors to report to.”

Next, do financial planning for the future. Look at your business plan for ways to improve revenues and profits.

“A lot of small-business owners don’t understand a business plan is a living, breathing document and it should change as circumstances change,” Mohr says.

6. Declutter
Every business can benefit from cleaning out the stacks of paper and other stuff that seem to haunt its owners.

Shedding “clears your mind from the distraction of old things hanging around,” says Julie Morgenstern, author of “When Organizing Isn’t Enough” (Fireside, 2008).

But while many things in those piles are probably now obsolete, Morgenstern says there may also be “treasures” that can help“ catapult you forward” in your business.

Old business cards could lead to new prospects. Forgotten magazine articles could jump-start new product ideas. To figure out what to keep and what to toss, ask yourself what you would miss if it all disappeared, she suggests.

Examine your client roster in this same light. Should you be saying goodbye to problematic customers who require inappropriate amounts of time?

“There’s no way you can get more high-quality clients if your time is bogged down with time-consuming, bad clients,” Morgenstern says.

7. Organize
It’s different than shedding, says Morgenstern.

“Organizing is all about creating systems so that you function better,” she says. “You can get organized without throwing anything out.”

Just don’t try to shed and organize simultaneously. “It’s too many things to think about at once,” Morgenstern says.

Of course, it’s not just paperwork that may need organizing. Also consider rejiggering the workload among staffers to gain efficiencies.

8. Hone Your Hiring Approach
Before you’re suddenly faced with the need to hire, visualize the ideal candidate you’d like to bring aboard for each position. Study the factors that help your top talent excel, including their thinking style and drive.

Use this information to help craft help-wanted ads and interview questions for future job candidates.

“Once we know what makes the top performers really perform, we can hire and coach to that benchmark,” says Jay Hargis, a Boston-based vice president at Profiles International, which offers organizations candidate assessment and employee development resources.

9. Educate Yourself
Hargis likes to catch up on industry reading during downtime. “Keeping current is so important and it is always a struggle,” he says.

Why not browse through trade publications to learn about new trends and the latest moves of your competitors?

Attending pertinent conferences and workshops can keep you up to date, too.

In addition, consider learning new skills and brushing up on old ones. One convenient option: online courses.

10. Take A Vacation
Yes, your micro-business can benefit when you take a break to relax and refresh.

“Most of my best business ideas came to me when I got away from my business,” Coughlin says. “Business is about applied energy toward creating value for customers. You need to get away so you can have the energy for the customers.”

Mindy Charskiis a Dallas-based freelancer who scans blogs and message boards looking for story ideas during her downtime

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