Summer officially begins on Thursday, June 21, though many of us have been in summer mode for weeks with rising temperatures and kids getting out of school.
This time of year often includes vacation time — a relaxing or adventurous trip and being with family and friends. But for some small business owners, it can also mean a slowdown in sales and productivity.
There are ways to combat these downturns, and to make the most of revenue opportunities and planning for the months ahead. Here’s a look at some methods that could help this summer.
When the weather heats up, it might be time to get creative. Brainstorm new ways to bring customers through the doors. Ideas can come from all sorts of places, so ask employees, peers and friends for their thoughts, and be open to trying new things. Monica Zent writes about taking a retail-style approach in a story for Entrepreneur.
“For instance, offer a promotion in which clients can refer friends and colleagues and get 10 percent off their next service, visit or purchase,” she writes. “Depending on the nature of your business, this type of summer promotion may or may not be successful, but it’s worth trying. If the promotion succeeds in generating new or increased business, you can tweak and repeat the same campaign during the winter holidays as well.”
Caron Beesley explores promotional ideas in a story for the Small Business Administration. She advises against relying on “across-the-board” discounts. Among her suggestions:
- Be selective: “Test the market to see if you can shift slower selling products with a limited-time discount (say, for the month of July). Promote your offer to a select segment of your email list, perhaps those who haven’t purchased from you for some time. Monitor the results. If the offer works, then consider extending it to other products and consumers next month.”
- Package deals: “Offer a discount if customers buy more than one product or service. For example, buy a coffee and a donut for $3.50 instead of $5.”
- Special perks: “Many people have more flexible schedules during the summer months. Consider ways to draw people in during your off-peak hours, whether it’s a time-bound discount or another incentive.”
The summer months could be an opportune time to introduce a new line of products. This sort of strategy would need to be considered well before the summer begins, so it could be worth planning ahead for next year. Marcia Layton Turner included this in a Forbes roundup of summer tips, with a high-profile collaboration as an example: the Lilly Pulitzer water bottles that quickly sold out at Starbucks in 2017.
“The bottles flew off the shelves as soon as they were available …” she writes. “While you may not be able to partner with Lilly Pulitzer for your own special product, you can certainly design something through CafePress or Vistaprint that will appeal to your shoppers. Or have a contest and ask your customers to submit designs to be featured on limited edition merchandise.”
Small gestures can have a significant impact on customers. When a business specifically sets out to thank its clients, the effort and gratitude can strengthen the bond between the two. One possibility is to throw an event to show appreciation, and it doesn’t have to be a ritzy banquet. In Beesley’s SBA story, she suggests a fun, laid-back sort of event: a cookout.
“Invite your customers (past and present) to join your business for a celebration of summer,” she says. “Use your parking lot or public park and plan on catering yourself (a grill, hot dogs, hamburgers, salad, and cold drinks are fine). Look for ways to make this a worthwhile event for folks to want to join — hire a magician, moon bounce, or give away prizes. Don’t forget to offer incentives (demos or special offers) to those who attend so that they have a good reason to keep frequenting your business over the summer.”
An additional way to show appreciation is the old-fashioned art of writing thank-you notes. As Turner notes in her story for Forbes: “Letter writing is so rare these days that you’ll definitely get their attention. Thank them for supporting your business — nothing else. Don’t make it a promotional message, just sincere appreciation. Not only will this deepen your relationship with your customers but it may also spur them to stop by and shop with you again.”
Examine the sales process
If a business has a naturally slower pace during the summer, a smart move can be to dig into internal processes. Explore the overall structure, search for inefficiencies in day-to-day operations and in long-term projects. In a story for smallbiztrends.com, Al Davidson suggests diving into sales procedures, “from intake of new inbound sales leads to outbound cold calls, to sales demos, to ROI calculations, and more.”
“Where are the points in your process that achieve the highest conversion rates?” he writes. “Where do you attract the most interest from prospects, and where do you tend to lose the most deals? How can you fix the parts of the process that need help — for example, do you need to rewrite your sales call script, or enhance your online demo with more details or updated features? Now is a good chance to go back to the drawing board and reimagine a sales process that works more efficiently for your buyers and for your business.”
Deal with taxes
This may be an unpleasant topic to consider when beach trips and lazy days are on the brain. But tax season can be stressful — especially for procrastinating types — and that may provide enough incentive to get organized and plan ahead. Nellie Akalp wrote about this in a story for smallbiztrends.com.
“Meet with a tax adviser to see if there’s anything you should be doing this year (whether it’s changing your business structure or increasing your expenses and distributions) to optimize your tax position,” she explains. “Get your finances organized, including all expenses and receipts for the year. You’ll be grateful you did when tax time rolls around.”
Study cash flow
Here is one of the essential elements of keeping a small business afloat. Cash flow is so important that Beesley described it as “the lifeblood of a business and critical in its growth” in a story for the SBA.
Businesses that are greatly affected by the seasons can benefit from a detailed cash-flow analysis. This may call for preparations to get through less-profitable months. As Rohit Arora writes in a story for Inc.com, “Dealing with the ebbs and flows of business operations can be challenging, especially when the changing of the seasons has a direct impact on your company.”
“Know your fixed and variable costs and how seasonality impacts them,” he explains. “If summer is a time when revenues are high — boardwalk food stands and souvenir shops, landscapers, ice cream shops, etc. — squirrel away funds for times when income will be leaner. Create a best- and worst-case analysis to help prepare your finances for the future. A change of seasons is a perfect time for business owners to reassess their company’s business strategy and plan.”
Take a break
This falls in the easier-said-than-done category. Leading a small business means an enormous sense of responsibility, and that doesn’t stop in the summer. For the first few years of a business, it may seem impossible to break away for a vacation. Unplugging completely is also difficult, with email, texting and social media playing such a large role in our daily lives. If summertime isn’t the right time, perhaps plan on a vacation in the fall, winter or spring.
But everyone needs a chance to step back and have some time off. In Akalp’s smallbiztrends.com story, she acknowledges that entrepreneurs may have “gotten used to working round the clock.”
“Whether you take a two-week beach vacation or just make a point to set aside an hour to do something you enjoy every day, remember that it’s important to recharge your batteries in order to stay focused and motivated throughout the year,” she writes. “A change of scenery can stoke your creativity. Who knows what brilliant plan you’ll dream up when you step outside your daily grind?”