Every business has slow periods. New businesses often have plenty of non-billable time, when the owner(s) and employees can work on things that help ensure success but that are often difficult to find time for once the jobs start rolling in. How you use those slow periods can make the difference between a business that goes on to have great success or one that flops.
Having started two home energy businesses in the past decade and had slow periods in each, I know a bit about looking for ways to help move the business forward during the slack times. I won't say I've been an expert at it, but starting two businesses in the home energy field—the second one in 2008, one of the worst times to start a business—I think, qualifies me as having done at least a little bit right.
Here then are some of things I've done during slow periods to help improve my business.
No matter how much you know about your field, you can always learn more. I wrote an article a while back on how home energy pros can learn more after their initial training. Malcolm Gladwell says you need to put in 10,000 hours to become an expert. if you don't have that amount of time invested in becoming better at whatever it is you're offering, you've got more work to do. If you do have 10,000 hours in, start on your next 10,000 hours. The landscape changes constantly.
Identify the people, companies, and organizations that you could benefit by knowing. Meet them. Join. Go to their meetings. Speak at the meetings of the civic organizations (Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis...); they're always looking for speakers.
When you're talking with someone, ask them who else they think you should meet. That's a little trick I learned from my aunt who worked as an investigator for a government agency. She told me they were taught that, when doing background checks, always ask the listed recommendations who else might be able to provide valuable info about the subject. You get a more complete picture that way. The same principle works in business.
Don't have a blog yet? Start one. Already have one? Write more articles for it. Promote your articles through social media channels (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+...). Blogging can be a huge advantage for your company, and one of the biggest reasons business people say they don't do it is that they don't have the time. If your business is new or in a slow period, you've got the time. Make it happen!
When you have a lot going on in the business, it can be difficult to see the big picture. Use your slow periods to step back from the day-to-day operations and say, OK, where are we really trying to go with this enterprise? Ask tough questions. Evaluate where your business is at and see if it's on a track you think will lead to success.
One thing to look at is how you spend your time in the business. Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, discussed the four quadrants of time management, shown above. The two parameters that make up the four quadrants are importance and urgency. The slow periods are a great time to look and see how much time you're spending in the most important quadrant: number 2, doing things that are important but not urgent.
Use the extra time in slow periods to appreciate the people who matter to you. Write personal notes to business associates, family members, teachers, mentors, and friends who have helped you. People like to feel appreciated, but too often we think it should be obvious that we appreciate them and don't do anything to show it overtly. Make an extra effort to recognize the people in your life.
Success is never owned, it is only rented; and the rent is due everyday.~ Rory Vaden
The truth is that you should be doing all these things all the time, when you think you're too busy to breathe and when you're sitting around watching the phone. Use the slow periods to build these good habits and then it'll be easier to keep them going when the phone is ringing off the hook.