For many businesses the first few months of the year are a slow time -- retailers and summer resorts come to mind, but it hits every business sooner or later. The holidays are over and you're just slogging through until things pick up again in a few more months.
That doesn't have to mean you have to go into the red, though. Time to get creative and figure out ways to make the offseason profitable.
Here are eight tips for making the slow time more productive:
1. Shed staff. I recently visited my local 5-plex movie theater and discovered it is currently staffed by exactly two people. Obviously, that's not ideal for customer service, but it reflects the reality that business is slow now. No doubt as the busy summer season approaches, they'll hire a few more workers.
2. Cut other spending. Whether it's ordering office supplies or inventory, now's a great time to review the budget and see where purchases could be postponed or costs reduced. Take a look at your phone plans and utility providers to see if there's a better offer out there.
3. Manage cash flow. When income is down, it's important that invoices get paid on time. Call customers promptly, extend less credit or hire a collections agency if you need to. Just make sure you aren't waiting too long for payments.
4. Think of new uses for your resources. If you have a physical location, maybe you could rent it out after hours for parties or meetings. Or maybe your company truck could make a pit stop at local events to pass out samples if you aren't making many deliveries.
5. Ramp up marketing. While you have time, reach out to customers, as USA Today columnist Rhonda Abrams wrote recently. It's a great time to try creative marketing approaches you haven't used before. Hold a contest on your Facebook fan page, or have an in-store event with special giveaways. The goal is to keep your brand in customers' minds until they're ready to buy again. Which may be sooner than you think -- Macy's marketed aggressively in the new year and raked in over 4 percent more sales than the department-store chain had in January last year.
6. Think of ways to extend your season. Whistler, BC is famous as a ski resort. But they've developed a substantial summer business too, by offering carnival games and other amenities for families with kids. If you're a retailer, maybe you could stock other merchandise that might be more of an offseason draw.
7. Team up. You're probably not the only business in your town with down time. Find others and cook up a promotion together to bring people back. One that happens in my town that's always a big success is a Girls' Night Out in early May.
8. Refresh. Whether it's the decor in your store, the design on your business cards or the layout of your website, slow times give you the opportunity to introduce a new look.
What do you do during your slow times? Leave a comment and let us know.