NEW YORK – Attention small business owners: It's time to get ready for the summertime slowdown.
Business slows down a bit in the summer as people head away to take vacations. But that doesn't mean you should flip the sign on the door to "closed," pull out the bikinis and swim trunks and head to the beach until Labor Day. True, taking out some time to hang out with friends and family to enjoy the better weather is a great idea (check out suggestion No. 6 below). But, the more relaxed summer months are also a good time for company owners to step back and take steps to improve their businesses.
If you don't own a seasonal business such as an ice cream or surf shop that gets busier when it heats up, here are six things most small business owners can do this summer to set themselves up for a profitable end to the year.
1. Grow your network. Get out of the office and meet new people. "All my business leads and clients came from networking and word of mouth," says Jennefer Witter, the CEO and founder of The Boreland Group Inc., a public relations firm that represents small businesses and real estate developers.
Go to a conference or networking event, and don't be afraid to start conversations. "Turn to the person to your right and say 'isn't this a great organization or event,'" says Witter.
Take advantage of people's lighter summer schedules. Email or call potential clients and see if they are willing to grab a coffee with you. If there's someone in your industry that you have always wanted to meet, take them out to lunch, they're more likely to say yes in the summer, says Witter.
If you are chained to your desk, improve your digital networking. Connect with people you want to get in front of on social networking websites such as LinkedIn and Facebook. Just make sure you keep your business accounts separate from personal ones. Witter once landed a new client after a business owner said on Facebook that he was looking for a new public relations company. She messaged him, met him in person, and she was hired.
Your down time can lead to new connections, too. You never know who you'll meet at a barbecue or another summertime get-together. "Never leave home without your card," Witter says.
2. Refresh your website. First, if you don't have a website, it's time to build one. "People will Google you before they call you," says Melinda Emerson who consults with small businesses on their social media strategies. Websites such as Weebly.com and Yola.com let you create basic websites for free. If you don't want to be bothered with doing it yourself, hiring a developer to create a simple website shouldn't cost more than $1,500, says Emerson.
For those who already have a site, make sure it's simple to navigate. The address and phone number for the business should be easy to locate, says Emerson.
And the website must be readable on mobile devices. "People are traveling, and there will be new people in your town who have never been there before," says Emerson. "If they can't find you on a mobile device, you are toast." Ask your web developer to make it mobile-device ready.
3. Assess your goals. By the summer, you should know if your business is on track to reach its goals for the year. Take out the list of goals and plans you wrote down at the beginning of the year and make sure you are sticking to them, says Brian Moran, founder of Brian Moran & Associates, a consultancy that works with small business owners.
So you don't think you will meet your goals by the end of the year? Well, set up time to work on them, says Tracy Benson, the CEO and founder of On The Same Page, a company that helps companies with their internal communications. She meets with her company's leaders through the summer. They discuss what the company needs to do to meet its goals, says Benson.
As part of the process, Benson suggests calling customers and asking for feedback. Depending on what they say, you can adjust how you do business in the future to keep your customers happy and achieve your goals.
4. Get your staf on track. Give your employees a break from daily duties, and train them one on one. Love and Quiches, a dessert and baked goods seller, brings the company's salespeople, who are scattered around the U.S., to its Freeport, N.Y. headquarters. Vice president Joan Axelrod schedules two days to talk to each of them about how they can reach their goals for the rest of the year — and help correct any mistakes. "July and August are do or die time," says Axelrod.
5. Automate your business. Putting aspects of your business on autopilot can save time and money. For example, if your website lets potential customers email you to ask for an estimate, setup your email so that it automatically responds with a list of rates, says Carrie Wilkerson, a business consultant and author.
Chances are the email program you're already using allows for automation, says Wilkerson. Use the slower summer months to read your email program's instructions or watch tutorials on YouTube. You can also use the automation function to email coupons or information about sales or new products, says Wilkerson. This will free up a person from having to do it manually.
6. Get away from it all. Getting small business owners to take a break is hard, but getting away will recharge your batteries and help you work better. Go on a trip, have a picnic or just stay home a few days and read a book that has nothing to do with your industry. "Many small business owners are raging workaholics," says Emerson. "Remind yourself that you're a person and not just a slave for your business."