What to do when business is slow – 5 tips to help you push through hard times

When work is plentiful and your cash flow is secure, it can feel like the future is yours for the taking. Then suddenly, everything comes to a crashing halt, and you’re left wondering what to do when business is slow.

A business slowdown can strike out of nowhere in the trade and service sector, even after extended periods of positive growth. Sometimes it’s a lack of consumer spending that leads to slow business. Sometimes it’s sudden global changes that halt entire industries and reduces incoming work to a trickle.

For a trade or service business owner like yourself, your options during periods of slow business can seem very limited. Either wait for things to pick up or have a serious think about your current finances and whether you can keep your team employed.

But there are positive steps you can take and ways to help ensure that your business makes the most of the work available.

In this article, we’ll discuss several strategies you can use to stay afloat when business stalls and capture more work in ways you might not expect.

Here’s what to do when business is slow.

1. Re-evaluating how customers are spending their money in your industry

When the amount of work available is limited, the best way to keep things going is to shift your focus to areas where customers are still spending their money.

Changing focus sounds like a no-brainer, but for many trade or service professionals, this may mean altering the way you do business, at least until things pick up again.

For example, if your business primarily works on new installations, it might be worth focusing instead on the service and repair of existing items.

The reason behind this is that consumers tighten their belts when things get tough. Where they would normally buy something new, they instead look to make what they have last as long as possible, which is where a savvy trade or service professional comes in.

By identifying what customers are doing during periods of slow business and building your service around providing for them, you can quickly scoop up any extra work.

But this is just a single example, and there are no doubt dozens of opportunities you can pursue by tailoring your service to meet customers’ needs when business slows.

Just remember that the more work you put into adapting now, the less time you’ll have to spend figuring out what to do if business is slow again in future.

2. Redefining what your service means to your existing customers

Leading on from our first point, a great way to increase your incoming work during a business slowdown is to look at what your customers rely on from your service. You’ll quickly discover that there are several core reasons why they initially transact with your business and why they return as repeat customers. Repeat customers are very important, so use this as an opportunity to keep them coming back when times are tough by offering value for their continued loyalty.

How you add this ‘value’ is up to you, but the aim is to ensure that the service and experience you provide is so good that customers choose you again and again.

An excellent place to start is the process you use to respond to or follow up on work. By getting back to customers as quickly as possible, you actively show them that they are a priority for your business. You can also establish price reductions or offer other incentives for customers who do business with you regularly or over long periods. It may sound odd to actively reduce your income per job when business is slow, but a repeat customer is often worth far more than the extra cost to keep them.

3. Re-designing your workday to fit a business slowdown

A problem many trade or service professionals face during a period of slow business is what to do with all the extra hours in their workday. You might think that being ready to take on any work that comes through immediately is the right decision, but if that work fails to appear, your downtime increases.

When business stalls, it’s always a good idea to invest more hours into creating as many avenues as possible for work to reach you. In other words, instead of asking yourself what to do when business is slow, ask yourself what you can do with all the extra time you now have.

If you’ve neglected your social media, now is the time to get connected and start building a buzz around your business online. Or you could revamp your Google My Business listing, making it easier for customers to find you with a single search.

You could even take the time to follow up on past quotes and see if there’s any work you might have missed when you were busier.

Pick a strategy that works for you and use all that extra time to explore every available option.

4. Re-developing your business operations

It can be hard to change the way you operate, especially if your trade or service business has existed for a long time.

But continuing as if nothing is wrong during a business slowdown can have serious long-term impacts on your profitability, and sometimes scaling back is the best option.

This may be something as simple as ordering less inventory than usual or making sure spending within your business is more tightly controlled. It could even mean taking a step back from hiring new staff and focusing on the employees you have now, rather than trying to push through a rough patch by growing.

If scaling back isn’t an option, though, consider ways of cutting costs that involve running your business more efficiency instead. A job management software package can help you catch every billable hour and even get paid faster, making it a great asset even when work is slower than usual.

These kinds of choices can be tough to make and require lots of thought and research before deciding on the path that’s best for your business. But the toughest decisions are often the ones that have the biggest positive impacts on your success when business is slow, so don’t be afraid to make them.

5. Re-discussing changes with your team

If you’re feeling uneasy about what the future holds during a business slowdown, chances are your employees are just as worried about what will happen if things don’t pick up.

When making decisions that affect how your business runs or putting strategies in place to combat slow business, it’s important to make sure your team are kept in the loop. Fear spreads quickly, especially when it involves financial security. Transparency is the key to putting these worries to rest and keeping morale high in your business while tackling the question of what to do when business is slow.

Always remember that periods of slow business don’t last forever, and having a strong team that can weather tough times is worth more to your future success than anything else.

Searching for more ways to combat slow business? Check out another one of our articles on bringing more customers into your business with easy to apply marketing tactics here.

James Burgess
Content Specialist

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August 12, 2021
James Burgess
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