With Christmas around the corner – how do you prepare for a quiet period?

It’s probably fair to say that in terms of business, Christmas is either the busiest or the quietest time of the year.  It’s also probably fair to say that most businesses have seasonal peaks and troughs to at least some extent.  Part of the art and science of business is managing workflows effectively and that means making the most of quiet periods.  Here are some tips for handling them.

Identify when they are and what is causing them

Christmas is a fairly obvious period which is either hyper-busy or stagnant, but what about other periods throughout the year and what about mini-cycles within a month or a week or even a day?  Having systems in place to monitor the flow of your business is generally good practice in any case and can be vital in understanding less obvious ebbs and falls in your workflow.  This will allow you to look at what is causing them.  Even if you can’t identify a clear reason at first, you can at least be aware of when these down-times happen and think about what you can do about them.

Minimise them with mobile

If your website is integral to your business then make sure that it is accessible to mobile and tablet users and make sure that your customers are aware of this.  You may find that this goes a long way to minimising downtime at times of year when users are likely to be away from their desks and home PCs for long periods.

Use them to deal with essential but non-urgent tasks

Some administration has to be done on a regular basis, but if it can wait, let it wait.  Likewise, make a point of scheduling any necessary staff training or meetings for quiet periods.  In these days of social media, quiet periods can be a great opportunity to get ahead of your game when it comes to having a constant stream of quality content to go online.

Prepare to succeed

As the old saying goes, “If you fail to prepare, then prepare to fail”.  Downtimes are an opportunity to take a clear-headed look at your business and see what you can do to make it work better.  In the most basic of terms, the three pillars of all businesses, particularly small ones, are cash-flow, staffing and logistics.  Now is the time to look at the best approach to all three.

Cash flow – While all businesses should generally aim to avoid tying up cash unnecessarily, it’s crucial for small businesses to avoid getting bogged down in fixed commitments if they possibly can and the more cyclical the business, the more important this is.  The basic rule of thumb here is that you should only aim to own anything you know you’re going to need day in day out over the long term and which you know you can support (or for which you have a support contract) or replace quickly and easily.  For everything else you should probably be looking at access rather than ownership so hiring, leasing, renting, borrowing…

Staffing – Frankly similar comments apply to staffing.  As soon as you become an employer you take on a raft of financial and legal obligations.  Unless you are sure that you will have sufficient work for someone to justify employing them full time, you are probably better looking at agency staff, outsourcing and finding good freelancers.

Logistics – Look at all your options for getting your products from A to B and think about the pros and cons of paying extra for fast delivery as opposed to stockpiling goods.  Make sure you have a back-up plan for mission-critical deliveries.

Diversify your income streams

There are basically two ways to do this.  One is to expand your existing business into complementary areas to keep cash coming in during lulls in the main business.  The other is to start another line of work which keeps the money in during down periods.  You could even consider taking up employment in an area which is busy during your down periods and needs temporary workers to meet its own needs.