The slow season in business is stressful—I know, I've been there. When I ran my nail bar, winter was brutal. Customers were wearing gloves and boots, so they skipped their manicures and pedicures. It made me want to wallow during these low-revenue months, but I quickly realized wallowing didn't help.
Instead, I started using my slow season to refresh and prepare my business for peak season. Since I wasn't as swamped, I was able to check some things off my "do later" list and go from just getting by to thriving. Here are a few of the things that helped me the most—give them a try to breathe life into your business when things are a little slow.
1. Learn more about your customers
Really getting to know your customers is a high-priority task that might often feel low-urgency. That makes it a great task for slow season.
You can get direct insights from your customers simply by asking. Here are the three tactics I used to get feedback:
Send out surveys. When you ask the right questions, you'll get valuable insights about what customers want, what language they use to describe their problems, what platforms they spend time on—and even how your customers describe you, which can be used to refine your value proposition. Does your fictional buyer persona match the data you receive from your actual buyers? Use this information to update your personas and better target your audience.
Conduct one-on-one interviews. Surveys help you identify patterns, but interviews will add a more human element and help contextualize survey answers. This is where you'll learn how your brand fits into your customers' lives.
Review customer complaints. This is the time to figure out why returns, refund requests, or churn happened. Nobody likes to hear complaints about their business, but if you find any patterns, you can make a serious impact on your bottom line. For example, after reviewing complaints, I realized we needed to track our time, so we could solve for inefficiencies and better stick to our appointment times.
What you do with the information you get from customers depends on what they say. You might create content that alleviates their problems, add additional services or products, improve the customer experience, or anything in between. And since it's the slow season, you'll have more time to actually act on the information you get.
2. Find ways to save money
A small leak will sink a great ship—this was especially true for my small, bootstrapped business. The slow season was the time for me to go through our expenses with a fine-toothed comb. Your expenses will of course be different depending on your industry and business, but here are some of the things I did.
Shop for different suppliers. Slow season is a great time to order from some new suppliers with lower prices: you can test their quality, service, and reliability before fully committing to big orders. Even if you decide not to switch, having options puts you in a good position to bargain if increasing prices start to affect your margins.
Look for discounts from existing suppliers. Try negotiating with suppliers by offering them bigger orders, larger upfront deposits, or repeat business. I've learned that nothing is cast in stone, especially when it comes to business contracts. Everything is negotiable, but closed mouths don't get fed—so you have to proactively ask.
Downgrade software subscription plans. Figure out if you really need the subscription plan with all the bells and whistles. Whether the downgrade is temporary or lasting, you'll save some money and learn a few things about how you're using your software.
Renegotiate business lease terms. After we'd proven ourselves to be good tenants, we were in a strong position to negotiate more favorable terms for our business lease. We didn't get a rental increase for 12 months, which helped us gather the capital for our second location expansion plans.
A close look at your expenses during the slow season will cut costs—but it will also prevent you from having to make big financial decisions during a stressful peak season.
3. Prepare for peak season
My goal every peak season was to maximize revenue and productivity, but it always ended up looking like functional chaos. That is until I decided to be more intentional about how I wanted the business to operate during these months. And, of course, I did that planning during the slow period.
Optimize your org chart. During my slow seasons, I could manage with a handful of employees, but peak season would overwhelm everyone. So I decided to look into temp workers who could come for the summer months and increase capacity without having the year-round overhead. You might also take this time to look into contractors or other ways of staffing.
Train your staff. When I finally decided to adopt a CRM for my business, I had to invest time to train my staff to use it. This flat out couldn't have happened during my busy months. The slow season gave me time to introduce the system, get buy-in, train everyone, and help them find their feet in order to be comfortable using it even during the bustle of peak season. This was a game-changer for us.
Audit your processes to get rid of inefficiencies. My goal was to make sure that I was running a well-oiled machine during our peak season. If you haven't already created your standard operating procedures, slow season is the best time to do it. Drafting SOPs will help you audit your processes to determine which ones can be automated, delegated, or eliminated.
Automate. Based on the results of your audit, take time to set up automations that can take some manual work off your plate. Using a tool like Zapier, you can automate all sorts of business processes so your busy season is less overwhelming.
4. Brainstorm new streams of income
Slow season can be a little demoralizing. That's part of why I liked to spend some time brainstorming exciting new business ideas—specifically new ways to generate income.
One of my slow season brainstorm ideas was to create my own brand of retail products, which could be sold independently of the services we offered. Customers could buy the hand creams and cuticle oils online without coming to the nail bar, and because these were maintenance and self-care products, they were less affected by seasonality.
You never know what will come from a brainstorm, and the simple act of sitting down to think about what could be for your business is energizing.
5. Clean and segment your email list
Maintaining the health of your email (or SMS) list will give you the highest returns from your marketing efforts—but it always gets booted to the bottom of the priority list. So when slow season rolls around, start with these tips on how to clean and manage your email list. It'll improve deliverability and also lead to a more engaged list.
Maybe the most important item on that list is segmentation. Sending targeted content will increase your open rates and click rates, while helping your customers feel loyal because you're speaking directly to them.
6. Repurpose and redistribute content
Social media posts have pretty short lifespans, which means that YouTube video you created can be updated and turned into an Instagram Reel and a TikTok. You can even transcribe it and turn it into a blog post, then summarize it in an engaging Instagram post or Twitter thread.
My point: while creating new content is always a good idea, don't forget to repurpose and redistribute your existing content.
The slow season is a great time to dig into this and create a dedicated social media calendar. If you use a social media management app, you can even use this time to pre-schedule all sorts of posts for busy season. Just be sure you're also creating new, topical content during every season.
Take a step back
Generally, slow season is the right time to take a step back. Think about what's been working and what hasn't, and don't be afraid to take some risks—whether that's trying something new or cutting loose an old habit.
The success of your peak season will depend on what you did during the slow season, so make the most of it. But also: breathe. You've earned it.