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Slow summer? Business owners should get busy

The summer means a slowdown in business for many small companies, with customers and clients going on vacation. Take advantage of the down time.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The summer means a slowdown in business for many small companies, with customers and clients going on vacation. That gives many business owners a chance to catch up on some of the tasks they keep putting off, such as redoing Web sites or just getting the office painted.

It’s also a good time to do some prospecting for new business.

“Most companies, when they’re busy, they don’t see marketing as a necessity,” said Sadie Peterson, who has a marketing consultancy, SD MarCom Inc., in San Diego.

Peterson sees the summer as an ideal time to send out newsletters to current customers and follow-up letters to reconnect with customers who have been out of touch. These are tasks that often fall by the wayside in busy times, and “it can really increase their business,” she said.

At Decon Environmental, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based firm that cleans up mold and other environmental problems for consumers and businesses, marketing is also a big activity for the summer, which precedes the company’s busy season.

“I’m contacting all my prospects and clients, sending e-mails, updating my database and making sure all the information is correct,” marketing director Tami Muller said.

It takes just a quick look around your business, and maybe a little creativity, to make the summer a productive time. An informal e-mailed survey of company owners by The Associated Press found that revamping Web sites, planning holiday gift giving and doing office renovations were among the other downtime chores they were tackling this summer.

The summer is a great time to redo a Web site because when business is slow, you can be sure that any glitches are taken care of before traffic picks up again. And planning holiday gifts and events like parties now will take pressure off owners who will have a heavier workload later in the year — and maybe enable them to enjoy the holiday season a little more.

Getting your office redone now also makes a lot of sense — if workers are on vacation, there’ll be fewer people to disrupt. You might even let staffers work from home, or, if business is really slow, close down while the work is being done.

Other business owners said they were reorganizing files or taking continuing education courses.

Accountants and tax attorneys urge their clients to use slow periods for financial planning. With the year more than half over, the summer is a good time to plan for the rest of the year, assessing your tax liability, cash flow, the state of your accounts receivable, etc. And while you’re doing that, think about any capital spending you might still want to do before the end of 2006.

Human resources professionals say this is a good time to re-examine employee policies. And, if you have never put a handbook together detailing how you handle vacations, sick time, disciplinary procedures and other staff matters, here’s your opportunity to get it done.

Rick Keating, CEO of Keating & Co., a Florham Park, N.J., public relations firm, uses the summer to give his company what he calls a self audit — looking at what many people call the big picture.

“We’re taking advantage of a slower time to improve our corporate culture and to improve our relationships with both clients and media and to make sure that we’re doing things in a way that fits our style,” Keating said.

“Sometimes it’s good to stop, hit ’refresh’ and ask: ’How are we doing?”’ he said.

The company uses a variety of activities to accomplish this goal, including casual meetings and social events that will bring clients and staffers together.

Many management and human resources consultants note that because the summer is seen as a more social time of the year, it gives business owners a chance to reward employees with events like picnics or barbecues, or maybe just ordering pizza in. A little bit of summer goodwill can go a long way toward building staffers’ loyalty to the company.

Of course, summer also means vacation time. Many new entrepreneurs shy away from taking time off while they’re trying to build their companies, but veterans will tell you that taking time off is critical. Some rest and relaxation will help you come back with more energy and new ideas. And you don’t have to abandon the business; with cell phones and laptops, you can stay in touch with clients and employees.