18 Things Small Business Owners Can Do to Strengthen Their Business When It’s Slow
If you’re a small business owner, you’re likely pretty worried about the future, unless you’re in one of the few industries that are really booming during the COVID-19 crisis.
There’s so much out of our hands. We can’t predict what the future holds. We can’t change our current circumstances in terms of lost revenue. Small business owners can’t control the outcome of all of this. But if you’re looking for a silver lining (even if it’s just a small one) there are things you can be doing that could make you even stronger as a business when this slow season finally comes to an end. Try to reframe your thinking and consider this extra time a gift and one you might not ever get again. How can you use this down time to your advantage? For those of you trying to weather this storm, we’ve compiled a list of super powerful things you can be doing at home in your PJ’s to help ensure a brighter future for your business.
1. Revisit your budget.
That budget/sales projections document you made in January? Unfortunately, you might have to make some massive changes to determine what expenses you’ll need to cut according to any decreases in revenue. Chances are, you’re likely not going to hit those targets. So, revisit your initial budget and adjust accordingly. Didn’t have a budget? Now is the best time to start. Map out each month based on what revenue goals you set and THEN determine what you have to spend. Goals should be based on last year’s numbers and increased to account for some healthy growth – a percentage dependent upon on your industry and number of years in business.
2. Speaking of fun financials….yeah, you need to start making time for those.
“Spring clean” the books. Deactivate old products and services, streamline your chart of accounts and look at each and every expense. Are there things you can cut? Do it now. Are there subscriptions or programs you’re not using that you can temporarily suspend or pause to save for a few months? Can you negotiate a lower rate with a vendor? Remember, you might not be able to control the input right now (revenue) but you do have some control over the output (your expenditures).
3. Connect with your customers.
Personally reach out -via phone – to clients to check in with them. This high touch approach is one you might not have time for when things are crazy busy but it’s a kindness needed now more than ever. This will also help your customers remember you when things blow over and helps build rapport and trust. You may also want to remind your customers about the products or services you’re still offering that meet their immediate needs. People are being inundated with emails and social media posts right now. Be different with a phone call.
4. Focus on getting reviews.
You might have a better chance of reaching your customers and getting them to review your business during this time because people everywhere are in the spirit of supporting small business owners. Also, although most people are super busy during the week and juggling kids and work, most people arguably have more downtime on the weekends while in quarantine. Focus on Google reviews first and then look to beef up your Yelp and Facebook reviews. It’s a simple as emailing your top clients and asking them to support your small business by giving you an online review. Or ask them while you’re on the phone with them (tip #3!)
5.Beef up your LinkedIn presence.
If you’re anything like me, my LinkedIn profile tends to take a backseat to everything else, but it really shouldn’t. Now is a great time to update and enhance your profile – your personal and business page. Make new connections, post some updates, give recommendations and ask others to return the favor.
6.Invest in your employees
They really need you right now. And even if you’re not in a position to support them financially, you can support them by checking in, giving extra encouragement and praise and showing gratitude. Mail a handwritten card, offer optional, online trainings. Perhaps there are webinars you can teach (so you don’t have to spend money on speakers) that could benefit your team.
7.Demo a new CRM.
You’ve heard all about automation technology and the power it has to transform your business. And that’s NO lie. Many platforms offer free trials or demos. Now is a great time to explore new technologies that will help save your business time and money. And just like everyone is adopting puppies right now (because when else are they going to have THIS much time at home), now is the perfect time to do the tedious, all-consuming task of data migration if you do find the perfect software.
8. Re-imagine your service offerings or sales approach.
Never in a million years did I think we would introduce virtual nannies to our service menu, or that families would pay to have someone play with their kids across a computer screen. But COVID-19 has a way of turning the world upside down and your service menu should reflect this new reality. You might be unable to provide services or sell products the way you used to but there must be some way to pivot the way you do business that will create new revenue streams to help get you through this hump. We’ve seen so much awesome ingenuity and creativity among small business owners. A local toy shop owner is hand-delivering ordered toys. Dance schools are teaching classes via Zoom so jazz can be practiced in the living room. Doctors are dabbling in telemedicine for the first time. And you know what? I have a feeling businesses will walk away from this and be forever changed…continuing to integrate these awesome changes and new services!
9. Write standard operating procedures.
The goal of every small business owner – whether you sell cupcakes or provide pool cleaning services – is to create a company that runs without you. Or at least one that is able to run without you. One of the most important things you can do to ensure the long-term success of your business is to have all of your systems and processes written out in a document you might call Standard Operating Procedures. If heaven forbid, something happens to you, how will your team know what to do? Or, if one day you want to take a 12-week vacation in Tahiti, can you step away without everything falling apart? (Doesn’t that vacation sound super awesome right now?) When you’re holed up at home, it’s time to finally get all those processes you have in place (but only in your head) on paper. Step by step, how do you take an order? Onboard a new client? Bill a client? Hire an employee? There are likely dozens and dozens, if not hundreds of processes you need to document. Take it one at a time. Check out Process Street or Trainual. These are great tools to get you started. Oh, and if you don’t believe me when it comes to the importance of this process, read Michael Gerber’s, The E-Myth.
10. Refine systems and processes.
Now that you’ve written your processes down, maybe you’re looking at them and realizing that there must be a better, more efficient, cheaper, more effective, more accurate way of doing things. You are refining your systems and processes by taking one at a time and studying it carefully. Is this working? When I factor in the value of my time is this really making me money? Is this way of doing things too slow? Too open for human error? Does it include mundane, repetitive tasks that I could easily delegate to someone else or better yet, automate? If you change the order of things could it make a difference? We recommend putting each step on an index card and moving the cards around so you can visualize the sequence. On the back of the index card you can brainstorm ways to make that particular step in the process better. This is the epitome of working ON your business. This is the important work. If you’ve been doing things the same exact way for three or more years, you’re probably not evolving as you should be.
11. Invest in yourself and your professional development.
Your business should be evolving but so should you. Do some research on the best books for business owners (or ask us for ideas!) and commit to reading 1-3 of them before the quarantine is over or until business picks back up again. Every single time I read a business book, I walk away with a handful of things I want to change about my business. Those action items are added to my to-do list and implemented one by one. So, each book I read, brings me one step closer to reaching my full potential. Knowledge IS power. If books aren’t your thing, there are so many webinars out there that are free or low-cost. Sign up for some and make sure you follow through with your takeaways. We are hosting a 3-part webinar series for nanny agency owners that starts in May. It’s just $60 for all three courses and will help nanny agency owners launch or improve their temp service. Click here to register.
12. Here’s a fun one. Update your email signature.
Online tools like Wisestamp can help you create your own masterpiece. If you think about it, your email signature is shared dozens of times a day. Why not make it work for you and make the best use of this real estate space? Give people an easy way to follow you on social media sites by linking to them in your signature. Highlight a recent blog you would like people to see. Make sure it’s branded with correct colors and styling. Throw in your “one-liner” so everyone knows not just who you are but what’s at the heart of what you do. I used to say, “I own a nanny agency and we place nannies with families who want someone full-time and we also offer a sitter service that….” Are you bored yet? After doing the game-changing work of story branding, I now know how to effectively verbalize what I do in a way that resonates with my audience. “For families struggling to juggle it all, our team of exceptional childcare professionals provides customized childcare solutions to help families thrive.” Much better.
13. Here’s a not-so-fun one. Unsubscribe to all those emails that clutter up your inbox.
There’s nothing more demoralizing than reading all of your emails only to have 27 more to read 15 minutes later. Part of the problem is at least some of them don’t need to be there. They distract you from what really matters and cut into your productivity. So, get rid of them. One by one. And then, experience the glorious satisfaction of not having to go through and delete all the unwanted ones before getting to the good stuff each time you check your email. Unsubscribe, unsubscribe, unsubscribe.Ahhh…it feels good just saying that.
14. Get behind the camera.
Videos are super important. Your website should have them. Your social media pages should have them. Your YouTube page (obviously) should have them. If your business doesn’t have a YouTube channel yet, boom! You’ve just added another boredom buster to your list. Videos sell like words cannot. So, make it a goal to create 1-3 videos about your business in the next few months. It doesn’t take a lot of money or effort to create really beautiful videos with even just an iPhone and a light from Amazon. Make a video about “your why” as a business. Tell prospective applicants why they should want to work with your company. Give potential buyers some clear reasons to choose you over your competitors. You might even consider creating some training videos for your staff just to be shared internally.
15. Blog your heart out.
Hello! This is me practicing what I am preaching! You’ve always had the excuse of lack of time but now there’s no excuse. Fresh website content is important for SEO (when done correctly) and it’s important for establishing yourself as an expert in your field. Write blogs and then save them for future busy weeks. They can always be scheduled out in advance, so you don’t forget.
16. Marie Kondo your Dropbox folders and files. Or your actual office.
If you don’t know what the heck I am talking about, be sure to familiarize yourself with the KonMari method, if not for your client files, do it for your underwear drawer. Ok, so maybe those I9’s don’t spark joy and you still can’t just toss them away. But you can clear out some other documents that are just wasting space and creating visual chaos. Go through each file, consolidate or create new files depending on what makes most logical sense. Everything needs a place and every place needs proper labels and active, updated files. Anything old or unusable needs to be deleted. Some old stuff is too good to get rid of though. Caroline and I have a “memories” box where we store old branding and client materials so we can go back and see how far we’ve come and laugh at what we used to think looked good. If you haven’t gone digital yet, maybe now is the time for scanning all those papers.
Canva is the super cheap tool that can turn anyone into a design pro. There are pre-designed templates for just about every project imaginable including social media posts and banners, flyers, invitations, business cards, infographics and more. You can store your own branding elements (logos, fonts, colors etc.) to quickly make each piece “on brand.” Create a collection of creative collateral to be used once the market is booming again.
18. Focus on the future.
This won’t last forever. It really won’t. And while the landscape for your industry may have totally changed when all of this is over with, if you want to survive long-term need to start rethinking your long-term strategy in this new environment. How will this lead you to market your services differently in the future? What new needs will your clients have once stay-at-home orders are lifted? Each year, you should be creating a strategic marketing plan centered around 3 to 6 overarching goals. These goals should be broken down into strategies and tactics you are going to use to reach each goal. Existing marketing plans may need to be altered depending on new budget restrictions or changes in demand. Nonexistent marketing plans need to be built. This is not a time to waste money chasing butterflies. You need to put your money where you’re going to get the most return on your investment and monitor it throughout the year.
Well, there you have it! 18 great things to do right now to strengthen your business. Get busy business owners.