Make the Most of Holiday Downtime

Whether you own a home-based or other small business, distributorship, licensee operation or franchise, chances are you run so hard all year long that you feel as if you can barely catch your breath.  For many of you, the slowdown in business that often occurs at this time of year can be somewhat of a jolt to your normal routine, not to mention your bottom line. 

While it’s true that the holiday period can present a host of challenges for any business owner, it’s also a tremendous opportunity to regroup and catch up on everything you wanted to get done over the past year, but couldn’t.  The trick is to not lose your momentum and to direct all that energy that you use every day when things are busy to your advantage now that you may have some downtime.

Here are some key ways you can make this holiday season work for you and your business to ensure your sanity and its growth in 2011:

Review, Update and Install New Software

Lead management, accounting, sales and revenue tracking ―you name it ― practically anything and everything that you need to run your business efficiently can now be done more simply than ever if you have the right software to get the job done.  The problem is that many business owners just don’t have the time to do their homework to identify which programs would work best for them and then to actually install them, let alone train themselves and their staff on how to use them.  Additionally, you may find that your business has outgrown the software you’ve been using up until now.  Maybe you’ve been meaning to take a look at what upgrades or new developments have been made that will solve your problems and perhaps even incorporate some other helpful features to boot.  Holiday time can be the optimal time to tackle a project of this magnitude. 

Get Organized

Busy people often must fly by the seat of their pants when it comes to simple tasks such as filing and record keeping.  Particularly if you are a home-based or other small business owner, you probably have a system for keeping track of things that is all your own.  Although you may know where everything is and how to put your hands on it quickly, chances are that unless you’re really organized no one else could keep track quite the way you do.  If that’s the case, the way you’re doing things is not a good or efficient way to run any business, no matter what its size.  Take advantage of when business is slow to focus on getting your files and office in shape.  Throw out any unnecessary paper work.  Make sure you have just one file for each client and that all the papers pertaining to that client are in chronological order within each file.  Just taking a few hours a day to tackle these tasks can mean a whole lot fewer headaches for you in the coming year.  It will also mean that anyone you may hire down the road can jump right in and easily make sense of what is going on, which means that person will be of assistance to you more quickly ― time is money.

Fill Your Database

This is a great time of year to do your homework, especially with regard to lead generation.  If your customers’ needs for your products and services lessen about now and you have some extra time in your day, use those precious minutes or hours to research sales leads and map out a strategy to contact each one in 2011.  If you’re a business that requires contractors and consultants to get the job done, this may be a good time to research who and what is available and to then reach out to request proposals and estimates for partnering up in the coming year.

Use Holiday Greetings to Earn Face Time                                  

Depending on the nature of the business you are in, you may not have the opportunity to engage your customers in person as often as you would like, or perhaps more importantly in a relaxed and social manner as opposed to “all business, all the time.”  The holidays are a great time to call on customers with no other agenda in mind other than to say “hello,” thank them for their business, bring them a holiday treat or other gift, and wish them “Happy Holidays” and “Happy New Year.”  This time of year also provides an opportunity to just make small talk and get to know your customers on a more personal level for a change.  It’s no exaggeration to say that these kinds of gestures are very much appreciated and go a long way toward building customer rapport, trust and loyalty, which will only serve you well in years to come.

Drive Business with a Special Holiday Promo

Where the holidays provide precious downtime for many entrepreneurs, for others the slowdown presents very serious financial challenges.  If your business lends itself to special promotions of any kind, the holidays may be just the excuse you need to create promotional and other incentive opportunities that will drive traffic and keep the money coming in.  Can you afford to offer a “Buy One, Get One Half Off” deal?  Can you afford NOT to offer it?  Perhaps you can give a 10% discount on your services to anyone who signs a contract between mid-December and late January.  The incentives and offers you can come up with are practically limitless and will of course need to be tailored to your type of business and its own unique circumstances.  The point is that if you need to drive business around the holidays, you may need to be creative in how you do it.

Create and Update Your Marketing Plan and Materials

Good, solid marketing planning is the backbone of every successful business, no matter what its type or size.  Each year brings with it the need to create a new marketing plan and to update your arsenal of marketing materials at every level.  When business slows down, it presents the perfect opportunity to do your marketing planning for the coming year, take stock of what you’ve already got in the way of materials, update what you have and plan for what you need.  It’s also a great time to get all your materials organized and in one place so that you can lay your hands on them quickly just as soon as January rolls around and the new plan is underway.

Conduct a Year-End Review

One of the greatest predictors of any entrepreneur’s success is the ability to examine what’s been done and to then make adjustments moving forward that capitalize on lessons learned.  In other words, successful business people learn from their mistakes and plan ahead for how NOT to make them again.  They also give careful thought to what they’ve done right and how they can do more of the same.  Trouble is that most business owners are running so fast all the time that they can’t focus long enough to evaluate their past performance and that of their business in any truly measureable way.  If you’re an entrepreneur who finds yourself with some free time during normal business hours this holiday season, why not take that time to engage in some really critical, analytical thinking about your past year in business?  By taking careful stock of what you did well and what you need to work on, you can begin to craft a plan for how to make changes in 2011 that will surely serve you and your business well.