Tuesday, 30th April 2019 | Sales,Marketing,Management
10 Ways to Survive Slow Times
Seasonal slowdowns are a common occurrence for many small-business owners. Here are some tips on how to survive the slow months and make the most of your time until sales spike again.
Spring has finally sprung across Canada! While most of us are excited for warmer weather, many small-business owners are fearing the start of a slow business season. Depending on the nature of your small business, there’s typically a season (or two) when you see a spike in sales and another that represents your biggest slump.
Regardless of when your slow business season takes place, it’s entirely possible for your business to survive–if not, thrive–with a little preparation and planning. Here are some ways you can make the most of a slow business season, and a few ideas on how to survive any slips in sales.
1. Anticipate your small business’ slow months
As a business owner, you know your operations better than anyone. So, looking back on previous years, it should be easy for you to predict which months will see fewer sales. As you plan out each year, avoid basing your sales targets on strictly your best months. Maintain a conservative approach with your budget and spending so that you don’t face a budget shortfall when sales are slowing down.
2. Strategize your savings
If you’ve planned ahead, you should be fully aware of when the slow business season will set in. With less revenue to work with at this time of year, many small-business-owners will need to implement a cost-savings plan, including some (or all) of the following measures:
- Reduced operating hours
- Fewer shifts for employees
- Smaller inventory purchases
- Discounts on excess or aging inventory
Remember: your savings plan needs to account for fewer customers and less revenue. Before you implement the savings tactics above, be sure to forecast your anticipated sales and budget needs based on the activity of previous years.
3. Plan for the rest of your year
When sales are slow, you’re likely to have extra time on your hands. Use this time to plan your marketing activities, budget forecast, inventory orders, staffing plans and more. Using the time you have now can set you up for success when business picks up again.
4. Undertake renovations and other fixes
Many small-business owners fear disrupting their operations with a renovation or upgrade, especially during their peak sales periods. This is why a slow business season is a perfect time to fix up your storefront or office space. If you own a restaurant or service-based business, slow months are also a great time for refreshing your menu and service offerings.
5. Rethink your marketing tactics
Some small businesses just aren’t seasonally relevant, such as landscaping companies trying to operate in the winter, or a snow-plow operator trying to drive sales in the summer. It can be hard to find market relevance, but a little creativity in your marketing will go a long way.
In your slow business season, consider hosting a giveaway that customers can redeem when the season is ripe; this can help your business name to remain top of mind year-round. You could also sponsor an event or hold a contest to ensure your name still generates a word-of-mouth buzz that carries you through the slow season.
6. Optimize your operations plan
Updating your operations and testing the validity of any new processes is something business owners simply can’t do during busy periods. When a slow business season approaches, it’s the perfect time to change course. Take a look at your regular procedures to evaluate where and how you can improve. This can include everything from customer service to accounting, shipping, inventory management and even invoicing.
7. Broaden your knowledge and network
It can be tough to take time off as a business owner. Slow times are the best time to take a day or two away for a conference, course, seminar or another event that will better your business. Not only will a learning opportunity to improve your own knowledge, but industry events provide ample networking options for you to gain partnerships that can better your overall business.
Connect with your local Chamber of Commerce or Board of Trade for details on upcoming events for small businesses in your area.
8. Reflect on customer feedback
Let’s face it: customers are leaving you reviews on Google, Yelp and other social media outlets whether you like it or not. Even though it’s a best practice to respond to your reviews (even the positive ones), it can be tough to carve out the time to do so regularly.
Use the extra hours you have during a slow business season to not only review and respond to all of your feedback, but also implement any changes required if you receive recurring negative comments regarding your products or services.
9. Revisit your website
Even if your website is brand new, there’s always room for improvement where SEO is concerned. A little effort goes a long way when it comes to optimizing your search ranking. A few quick checks you can implement include:
- Ensuring you have title tags, headings and alt-tags on your site
- Updating and implementing keywords throughout
- Fixing any broken links
- Checking your page-load speeds
10. Evaluate your social media efforts
While you’re updating your website, a slow business season is also the perfect time to check in on social media. Even if you have an agency or freelancer running your channels for you, how often are you looking at your ROI?
Now that you have a few extra hours, check up on your social performance and metrics. Ask yourself if you’re reaching the right audiences on the right platforms. If not, consider rethinking your approach to ensure you’re making the most from your investment on social.
When your slow times rolls around, don’t panic. With solid forecasting and planning in place, you should be able to predict when your slow times will occur each year. With this additional foresight, you’ll be able to make the most of your time, ensure you have processes in place to account for any slumps in sales and avoid the fear that can come when sales slow.
Self-care tips for entrepreneurs to help manage your mental health
Business ownership is stressful at the best of times but when you add a pandemic that involves operating restrictions and lockdowns, the pressure can be overwhelming. Entrepreneurs handle so many responsibilities and attending to their mental health can sometimes take the backseat when in fact it should be a top priority. Entrepreneurs are actually 50% more vulnerable to mental health problems than the general population, according to a study by University of San Francisco researcher Michael Freeman.
COVID-19 has taken an economic and mental toll on small business owners so now, as restrictions are being lifted, is the time to address and manage stress. Here are some self-care tips for entrepreneurs and small business owners.
Be kind to yourself
Treating yourself with care is a key foundation to strengthening your mental health but what, exactly, does it entail? Be gentle with yourself. Don’t beat yourself up over mistakes. Watch for (and try to eliminate) negative self-talk. Anything that you can do to boost your comfort, security, and self-esteem might fall into this category. We share more specific ideas below.
Limit your social media consumption
Social media invites users to compare themselves to others. Curated accounts foster envy and even posts from family and friends can ignite negative thoughts. Set limits for yourself, bearing in mind that if you use social media for your business (and you should be!), you won’t be able to go completely cold turkey. Plan accordingly.
Manage your screen time
Social media aside, many people use screen time to relax, tune out, and wind down. Binge watching shows on Netflix is a great way to escape, but like most things, it’s best in moderation. Stick to a set number of tech-free hours every day.
Even a short while in nature can act as a natural mood-booster. Take a tip from the Japanese and go forest bathing to fight stress and recalibrate. Just make sure you leave your phone at your desk.
Schedule “me” time
Running a business is a 24/7 endeavour. It’s far too easy to go weeks or even months without a break which is why it’s essential to schedule time for yourself. Identify activities that make you feel good and block out time for them. Physical exercise, social time, and creative projects are all effective ways to benefit your physical, emotional and mental health.
Saying “no'' can be challenging for many people but when you’re running a business it can feel especially risky. Acknowledge that you can’t do everything for everyone all the time. Manage people’s expectations by being clear about your boundaries.
Take a deep breath
It might sound silly but you can affect your mood with the way you breathe. When people are under stress they tend to take shallow sips of air. Stopping and allowing yourself a lungful can actually help you calm down and recalibrate your mood.
Develop healthy habits
Mental health is tied to physical health so one of the most effective ways to boost your mood is to break a sweat. Complement regular exercise with a balanced diet, lots of water, and sufficient sleep and you’ll be on your way to overall wellness.
Entrepreneurs are busy people who have limited time to properly attend to their mental health. By following the tips on this list, you’ll quickly and easily tweak your lifestyle to improve your mental health.
Start your holiday planning now: How to make the most of the 2021 season
Even in the best of times, the winter holiday season is a key earning period for small businesses but this goes double in 2021. After more than a year of uncertainty and lost sales due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadian small businesses will need a prosperous holiday season this year to recoup some lost revenue. Take action towards your end-of-year success by putting the wheels in motion—now. With more than half the year gone by, now’s the time to trade your thoughts of sunscreen and sandals for stockings and snowmen and get your seasonal plans in place. Read on for three key areas small businesses should attend to now for a stellar holiday season.
Inventory is a constant task for retailers. You’ve got to make sure you have enough stock (empty shelves are a terrible look) but not too much that you take a loss on clearance markdowns. This problem can be compounded with seasonal stock—ask anyone who’s tried to sell an Elf on the Shelf in April.
You can avoid the major inventory pitfalls by having a plan.
- Start an inventory document. You’ll have enough on your plate without trying to remember whether you ordered 100 or 1,000 units of tinsel.
- Review last year’s sales data to refresh yourself on the tactics that worked and those that didn’t, and use that data to anticipate your sales for the upcoming season. Take note of the hot items and remove slow sellers from the list.
- Survey existing inventory to avoid repurchasing items you’ve already got.
- Analyze the current year’s trends to prevent overbuying and overstock, then make a list of what you need. Remember: frequent re-ordering is a better strategy than massive one-time buys to keep your shelves full and your cash flow, well, flowing.
- Reach out to your suppliers as soon as possible to take advantage of early-order price incentives.
eCommerce vs bricks-and-mortar
Some stores that were originally bricks-and-mortar found new markets online during the pandemic and in the coming year it’s likely that many retailers will be offering an eCommerce and bricks-and-mortar hybrid model. Plan now for how your holiday online shopping and in-store experiences will work.
Consider the following:
- Will you provide the option to buy-online-pick-up-in-store (BOPUS), in addition to in-store shopping?
- Will you offer delivery or shipping?
- What about curbside pick-up?
- How will you handle exchanges and returns?
- What restrictions will be in place in-store, and how will you enforce them?
- Do you plan to offer your customers sanitizer and masks? And if so, you’ll need to order them, now!
Create a logistics plan far in advance to account for the eventualities of your 2021 holiday shopping experience.
Marketing is always a key component for retailers going into the holidays and the 2021 season will be no different. One change, perhaps, is that social media will likely play an even greater role than in past years. During the pandemic, many retailers relied on social media to communicate with customers and sell merchandise. In fact, according to business consulting firm Grand View Research, the global social commerce market was valued at US$474.8 billion in 2020. If you plan on developing a social media content and advertising plan, consider what products or services you will be promoting on social media ahead of time.
Aside from your social media concerns, there are also countless other marketing tactics to consider:
- You could run ads in print or online.
- Direct mailings like flyers or brochures can attract new customers, as can digital mailings through email.
- A partnership with another company might allow you to tap into their customer base.
- Special offers, discounts, and coupons can bring in new leads.
- A contest or other special event is effective at raising brand awareness and stimulating sales.
- Use your data to create holiday-themed promotions.
- Branch out thematically and increase sales opportunities by keeping alternative holidays like Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday in mind.
There’s no shortage of holiday preparation tasks but advance prep in these three areas will get you off on the right foot and on the way to a prosperous 2021 season.
Customer retention best practices for your small business
It’s common knowledge that it costs less to keep customers than to acquire them, but have you ever put a price on it? According to research from Bain & Company, “a 5% increase in customer retention produces more than a 25% increase in profit.” This, they say, is because repeat customers are likely to spend more money with your brand over time. They are also likely to refer you new business. Put simply, investing in customer service to make sure your customers have consistently positive interactions is good for your bottom line. Read on for top tips on retaining your customers.
Maintain consistent business hours
One of the joys of owning your own small business is the flexibility and ability to manage your own schedule. However, unpredictable operating hours could be costing you. Your customers are busy too and wasting their time is a quick way to lose their business. Be consistent with your business hours so customers can plan to visit with confidence that you’re open.
Keep your website and Google My Business listing up to date
If your website lists out-of-stock merchandise, last year’s pricing, or services you no longer offer, your customers may well feel like they can’t trust your business. Make sure everything is up to date, including your hours or location, across platforms.
Offer online shopping or other options
Even though retail is reopening, many customers have become accustomed to shopping online. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to sell your services or products online, but offering the flexibility of custom orders in cases where customers don’t feel comfortable returning in-store shows respect and thoughtfulness. Also, consider offering phone and email ordering with the option to pick it up or have it delivered. Seamless transactions that suit your customers' needs will go a long way to ensuring you get repeat business.
Communicate with your customers
Your website, social media, email, and even newsletters are all ways to communicate with your customers. Figure out which works best for your industry and reach out. Regular communication keeps your business top-of-mind, but make sure you don’t flood your base with overly frequent messages.
Train your employees around customer service
Think of your team as brand ambassadors—because that’s what they are. Your employees are the face of your business and how they interact with your customers will inform your reputation. Make sure your employees are trained to provide top-notch customer service.
Nobody likes to feel like they’re just a number. Take the time to learn your customers’ names and a little about their lives. Encourage your employees to take time with your customers rather than rushing them to the till. A little human interaction goes a long way.
Loyalty programs can be as simple as a punch card or as complex as a multinational campaign. Giving your customers a little extra when they return is an effective way to keep them coming back, while showing your gratitude for their business. Points programs and discounts are easy-to-implement strategies that will make your customers feel valued.
Resolve issues quickly
Perhaps a product doesn’t work as intended or a service doesn’t meet expectations. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, things go wrong. These occasions are opportunities to deepen customer loyalty. If you can resolve the issue quickly to your customer’s satisfaction you’ll build trust with your customer so they feel confident enough to return next time.
Many consumers have demonstrated their willingness to support small businesses, especially right now. Acknowledge that you appreciate them. A simple thank-you goes a long way and a grateful approach will help ensure your customers keep coming back.
So much of customer retention comes down to simple customer service. Follow these guidelines to give your customers a positive experience every time they interact with you. Your reputation and your bottom line will thank you for it.
4 winning strategies to make your loyalty program a success
We’ve all heard about job loss, missed school, and the overtaxed health care system, but a surprising consequence of COVID-19 comes from the business sector. Pre-pandemic customer loyalty is all but a faint memory. According to a McKinsey & Company report, consumers around the world have changed their shopping practices during the crisis, including trying out new brands. The result? Changes in brand preference. The communications firm Ketchum found that nearly half (45%) of consumers surveyed changed their preference for at least one brand, and a majority (62%) anticipated that these shifts would be permanent.
All this upheaval creates yet another challenge for Canadian small businesses, but planning—and a solid loyalty program—will encourage more devotion from your customers. If you’re looking for ways to incentivize your customers, you’ve come to the right place. Read on for four winning strategies to encourage customer loyalty.
What is a loyalty program?
If you’ve ever used a buy-ten-get-one-free card, a coupon, or referral link, you’ve taken part in a loyalty program. Simply put, these are incentives designed to attract and keep customers by offering something back in return for their patronage. Implemented properly, loyalty programs can not only attract new and repeat customers but also foster positive associations with your brand and even your staff.
Like anything else in business, there are best practices for loyalty programs. These four strategies will help you design a winner.
Loyalty program best practices
1. Make it simple to use
Your loyalty program will not work if it’s too complicated. Make sign-up easy (or non-existent). Avoid multi-step ideas that may cause customers to abandon the program. Be flexible to accommodate real-life situations. For example, if a customer has forgotten their loyalty card, issue them another and allow them to combine stamps for redemption. The simpler your loyalty program is to use, the better.
2. Make it easy to redeem
Customers use loyalty programs for the rewards, so make sure they can easily redeem. Don’t make them jump through hoops. If they earn it, they deserve it. Simplify the process by asking for customer information upon sign-up, not when they want to redeem. Nothing turns a customer off like feeling they’ve been duped so make sure your redemption process has no nasty surprises.
3. Have few to no restrictions
Don’t complicate your rewards program with too many restrictions. For example, if you have a points program, don’t limit what they can be used to redeem. This kind of “small print” will only erode the goodwill you’re trying to foster.
4. Keep time to reward short
Your customers want to realize the benefits of your program as quickly as possible. Your program will never get off the ground if it takes too long for customers to be able to redeem. Make it easy for your loyal customers to start earning points right away and be reasonable about the amount a customer is required to spend or the number of times they have to visit before they have accumulated enough points for a reward.
A customer loyalty program can be the right strategy to bring customers back to your brand—and to attract new ones. These four simple best practices will guide you toward a program that works for you and your target market.