12 Ways To Stay Busy When Business is Slow

“I have nothing to do” – said no business owner ever.  Yet most businesses experience a “busy season,” followed by a period when business is slooooow. For example, product-based businesses tend to slow down during the summer months only to ramp up through the holidays.  Wedding professionals may experience the opposite– busy summer months, punctuated with slower winters.  Whatever may be the case for you, take advantage of slower paced days by using the time to tend to projects that you’ve been putting on the back-burner during the rest of the year.  Here are twelve ideas to keep you busy when business slows down: 

1.     Catch up on content creation for the coming months.  When you’re in the midst of running the day-to-day activities of your business, it can feel like SUCH a chore to write a blog post, send out a newsletter, or prepare your social media posts. Create a content calendar and batch process these elements as much as you can, so you’ve got a library of content that you can pull from during the course of the year.

2.     Pitch content ideas to magazines, blogs, and podcasters for some extra exposure.

3.     Review your website to identify how you can make improvements. Do you need new photography? Maybe a better “About Us” page? Or maybe you never got around to properly posting your terms of service or privacy policy.

4.    Learn something new. Is there a topic that you’ve been meaning to learn more about? Whether it’s related to business or just for fun - use this time to brush up on old skills or pick up some new ones.

5.     Reach out and connect with others. Whether you schedule phone calls, Skype chats, or coffee dates, take this time to establish relationships or reconnect with those you’ve lost touch with. You never know what kind of collaboration opportunities might come about.  Join my Facebook community to meet and connect with other entrepreneurs.

6.     Do you find yourself doing the same task over and over again – like sending out contracts or answering the same questions about your services and products? Think about how you can systemize these activities so that you can recoup some of that precious time spent doing these redundant tasks. For example, you can set up template email responses to your most commonly asked questions or create templates of frequently used documents.

7.     Upgrade your technology.  In my business, every piece of technology is like my team member.  Good software helps me get things done more efficiently and cost-effectively.  What are some pieces of technology that you need to invest in or upgrade? Take this time to learn how to best use that tech for your business.

8.     Review your client experience from start to finish to identify where you can deliver better customer support.  Send your customers a survey, or better yet, pick up the phone and call your clients/customers to learn more about their needs, then use that insight to improve your business.

9.     Review your sales over the last period to understand what products/services are selling like hot-cakes. Consider eliminating or tweaking what isn’t working and driving attention to what is working.

10. Revisit your social media accounts to update profiles to reflect your current services/products and engage with your followers.

11. If you’re not already keeping track of the key numbers in your business, then start doing so.  Here’s a template of the monthly report I use. 

And finally,

12.. Find time to relax and recharge. Running your own business can be consuming, so take advantage of this moment of pause to rest and reconnect with life outside of your business.

How Tracking Your Business Progress Can Get You Focused + Increase Your Productivity

I've been tracking various "key metrics" for my business for some time, but a few months ago I created  a monthly report that summarizes all of the key activities and metrics like revenue, expenses, social media engagement, marketing efforts and such. I include a little summary of what I did do and what worked and what didn't work. I have to say that by doing this short exercise I realized that I accomplished so much that I often don't given myself credit for. Not everything worked out as planned, but seeing this monthly snapshot on paper has helped open my eyes!

 

Here's a short video where I walk you through what I do. You can also grab a free template of the monthly report I use by clicking here.

I'd love to hear about how you keep track of your key metrics to stay on top of your business? Or if you don't do this regularly, what are you going to start keeping track of today?

SORRY, THE TEMPLATE FOR THIS EPISODE IS NO LONGER AVAILABLE

The 4 Books I Read this Year that Shaped My Approach to Business (and Life)

The other day I went to reach for a pen from the jar on my desk. Although it's overflowing with pens and markers of all colors and types, the first few I pulled didn't work – they were all dried out.

It got me thinking about how much stuff I've filled my life with that isn’t serving me anymore. I'm not just talking about pens or material things, but stuff – ideas, to-dos, thoughts, and as much as I hate to admit it, even people who bring little value to my life.

This year I read a few books that instilled this idea of doing more with less, focusing on the essentials, and prioritizing on the value driven activities. As we enter into a new year, my goal is to take these ideas of simplicity and essentialism into the upcoming year.

If you resonate with what I’m talking about, then I’d encourage you to check out the top four books I read this year that most influenced my thinking and approach.

 

The 12 Week Year by Brian P. Moran and Michael Lennington

Does this sound familiar? You set out to achieve well-intended goals and projects at the beginning of the year to only see them go unrealized by the time December 31st rolls around.  In the 12 Week Year, the authors encourage redefining your year to be only 12 weeks.  Why? Because a 12-week year is long enough to make significant accomplishments, but short enough to maintain the sense of urgency and momentum needed to stay focused and motivated to accomplish the goal.  It forces you to focus on the projects and tasks that will deliver the highest impact on your ultimate vision.

I’ve applied this thinking to my business over the past few weeks and although I haven’t been implementing it 100%, I have to admit that it has helped me to stay focused on the projects I’ve identified as the most important for moving the needle forward in my business and life. So when another enticing project (aka “Shiny Object”) comes along that will pull me away from my plan, it forces me to pause and think through whether or not that project is going to move me closer to my ultimate vision or if it’s going to distract me. If it’s the latter, I either say “no” or put it on a list to revisit it again in the future.

 

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown 

Essentialism is based on the philosophy that it isn’t about doing more to achieve more. Rather it’s about “doing less, but better.” The book has forced me to evaluate the reasoning behind why I do things, to ascertain their value, and to confidently eliminate the unnecessary tasks or activites (and thoughts!).

 

The Pumpkin Plan by Mike Michalowicz

At the suggestion of a marketing consultant friend of mine, I picked up The Pumpkin Plan when I was evaluating my own marketing efforts.  After reading an article about a local farmer who had dedicated his life to growing giant pumpkins, the author applied the same process to growing his business. He encourages you to focus on identifying the “one thing” that you do better than anyone else and to focus your attention on it. You then figure out which customers provide the most value and best opportunities for growth. An essential part of doing this is also to eliminate the services, products, and customers who may interfere with becoming the best in your field.  In essence, it encourages you to focus and to niche down. 

As the old marketing saying goes, “if you’re selling to everyone, you’re selling to no one.” Although at first it feels scary to niche and focus down, after applying this philosophy to some of my projects, I see the value of it. By staying truly focused on who you are, what you do, and who you serve, it becomes easier to craft your marketing and communications. It also helps you streamline and achieve economies of scale with your products and time.

 

The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level by Gay Hendricks, PhD

I’d recommend The Big Leap to anyone, regardless of whether or not you run your own business. The book identifies the different ways we “upper limit” ourselves or in other words, stop the flow of positivity into our lives. According to Hendricks, we each have an inner thermostat for positivity. He writes:

“Each of us has an inner thermostat setting that determines how much love, success, and creativity we allow ourselves to enjoy. When we exceed our inner thermostat setting, we will often do something to sabotage ourselves, causing us to drop back into the old, familiar zone where we feel secure...”  - Gay Hendricks

The book identifies the common ways we upper limit ourselves and show us how to eliminate these barriers to success by overcoming false fears and beliefs.

 

Creative Conversations with Maria Bayer about Irresistible Selling

This week I'm shaking things up a bit and bringing you a video interview with my friend Maria Bayer who's a sales coach for creative entrepreneurs.  I don't know about you, but selling is something that does not come naturally to me. Learning how to sell in a way that feels authentic and comfortable to me has been a skill set that I've had to learn (and am still learning).

 In this video, we're talking about:

1:20 - What is selling?

3:06 - How to overcome the fear of selling

6:00 - How not to take “no” so personally…

7:15 - Why selling is just like dating…

12:15  -  Working backwards to win over your dream clients. 

17:40 - Tips on how to close a sale 

24:37 - Getting people to understand your value

To learn more about Maria and her work, click here. 

Also, we'd love to hear from you. Is selling something that comes easily to you? If not, what are some ways you've worked through becoming better at sales? If you're a sales superstar, what are some of your best sales tips? Leave a comment below!

How to Find An Attorney for Your Small Business

One question I get asked often is "How does one go about looking for an attorney to help them with their small business?"  Here are four ways to find qualified attorneys to help you with your business.

ASK FOR REFERRALS FROM TRUSTED COLLEAGUES

If you have any colleagues who are in your line of business,  ask them for recommendations. Personally, I like working with people who come referred by someone I trust. You can ask friends of friends or join some Facebook groups or LinkedIn groups related to your business and ask for recommendations from the members there.  If you do know lawyers, or know someone who might, ask them too. We often have old friends from law school or past colleagues who might be able to help.

SEARCH YOUR STATE BAR ASSOCIATION WEBSITE

Most state bar associations websites provide legal resources for the public, including attorney referral services.  Search your state's bar association website for terms like "Find Legal Help" or "Find a Lawyer" to find qualified attorney services in your state.  

CONTACT A LOCAL SMALL BUSINESS ASSOCIATION OFFICE

Another potential resource for finding attorneys with experience working with small businesses is to inquire with your local Small Business Association Chapter or SCORE office.  They usually have a roster of professionals and mentors who specialize in the types of issues facing small business owners.  Here is a link to search for assistance by state

ONLINE ATTORNEY SERVICES

There are a variety of online services now available that make hiring a professional as easy as sending an email.  For example,  UpCounsel , is an online service that connects you with qualified attorneys based on your legal needs. 

SOME FINAL TIPS

Just like you wouldn't go to a cardiologist if you were suffering from a broken foot, you should seek out and hire attorneys who have the experience or expertise in the legal issue that you are looking to resolve.  Remember to interview and research the attorney prior to retaining them.  They are an extension of your business team and you should hire someone who you not only feel comfortable with, but who has the experience to understand your business and your legal needs. 

 

How to Set Up Your Next Online Giveaway

You see them all the time online - loop giveaways on Instagram in exchange for followers, campaigns for likes on Facebook. But did you know that there are laws and rules that govern these marketing tactics? Read on to learn how to structure your next online giveaway.

What are the different types of social media promotions?

There are three main types of promotions include lotteries, sweepstakes, and contests. Although these terms are used interchangeably, they actually have very specific legal meanings.  They also should not be confused with giveaways or promotions – which are marketing terms used to generally refer to lotteries, sweepstakes or contest.

LOTTERIES:  A lottery is a prize drawing where people pay money for a chance to win a prize. It is important to know that only states can run lotteries – non-state-operated lotteries are illegal, so you should avoid structuring your promotion as a lottery.  The following elements must exist in order for a promotion to be a lottery: (1) consideration, (2) chance, and (3) a prize.   In the context of promotions, consideration is something of value given in exchange for the opportunity to participate in the promotion.  Consideration can be monetary (an entry fee or requirement to purchase) or non-monetary (a significant amount of time or effort that the participant must expend to the benefit of the sponsor).

To avoid an illegal lottery designation, one of the three elements -- consideration, prize, or chance -- must be omitted from your promotion.  Since a promotion without a prize will likely not receive much interest, removing the elements of consideration or chance are the best ways of avoiding operating an illegal lottery.

SWEEPSTAKES:  Sweepstakes are prize giveaways where the winner is chosen by chance. Unlike a lottery, a sweepstakes does not require consideration in order to participate. Many of the giveaways we see on social media, like loop giveaways or product giveaways are actually sweepstakes.  The sponsor of the giveaway is giving a prize, like a free piece of jewelry, in exchange for a follow, a comment, or a like, for example.

CONTESTS:: Contests are prize giveaways where the winner is chosen based on some merit, skill, knowledge, creativity, judgment or expertise.  The main difference between a sweepstakes and a contest is that the contest participants must use at least some skill to win the prize and may have to pay some value to participate in the contest. So for example, if the winner of a prize is chosen based on submission of the funniest comment or most inspirational photo, it requires some level of skill and therefore the promotion would be characterized as a contest.

What requirements do you have to include in your promotions?

Each state has different laws and procedures for operating promotions. The challenge of operating a promotion online is that you must still comply with the laws and restrictions of each state (and country) in which your promotion is conducted, which arguably is every state and country. Here are some guidelines that are generally applicable to most U.S. states and should be included at a minimum when planning your promotion.

For sweepstakes and contests, you must have official rules that are clearly and conspicuously displayed on your website.  Provide a link to your official rules when you announce your promotion on social media platforms.  Make sure not to change these rules during the course of your promotion. You should also indicate:

  • The dates and times (with time zone) when the sweepstakes/contest will start and end.

  • The manner in which winners will be selected and notified and where and when a list of winners can be obtained.

  • ny eligibility requirements/exclusions, such as any age or geographic limitations. (Ex. Open to U.S. residents only, age 18 or older.

  • The sponsor’s name and business address

  • A description and approximate retail value of each prize, and the odds of winning each prize.

  • “Void where prohibited” statement.

For sweepstakes, you should also indicate:

  • An alternate method of entry (“AMOE”) that does not require consideration (the payment of money or significant effort). This is because with the element of consideration present, a sweepstakes can be characterized as a lottery. AMOE entrants must have an equal chance of winning as the purchasing entry. Include a statement that “no purchase is necessary” and a “purchase will not improve one’s chances of winning.”

For a contest, make sure you also indicate:

  • The number of rounds or levels of the contest, the cost (if any) to enter each level, and the maximum cost (if any) to enter all rounds. Note that some states prohibit purchase requirements for contests.

  • Whether subsequent rounds will be more difficult to solve, and how to participate.

  • The identity or description of the judges and what objective criteria is being used to judge the entrants and what weight given to each criteria.

Additional Requirements

Some states also require that sponsors register and post a bond with the appropriate state authorities. For example in Florida & New York, if prizes in a game of chance exceed $5,000, they must be registered and a bond must be posted. In Rhode Island, registration is required for games of chance conducted through retail outlets with prizes in excess of $500.  Sometimes it may be simpler to exclude residents of these states from participating in your promotion than to comply with these extra state-specific requirements.

When you conduct your promotion online, you’re opening it up to participants all over the world.  This means that you must also comply with each country’s rules regarding promotions.  As the laws of each country vary widely, you may consider limiting participation in your promotion to U.S. residents only. Otherwise you will want to hire counsel in the country where you want to run your promotion to ensure compliance with local laws.

Do giveaway rules differ for every social media platform?

Federal and state laws govern the rules for sweepstakes, contests, and lotteries.  However, when you use a social media platform, you agree to comply with that platform’s Terms of Service. A common mistake I see people make is failing to comply with these terms. Here are the guidelines for the more commonly used social media platforms:

When planning your promotion, make sure to read and comply with the guidelines of the social media platform where you will be running your promotion.  Also, revisit and review the platform’s guidelines regularly as their terms may have changed since the last time you reviewed them.

What are some important things to keep in mind whenever you’re dealing with giveaways on social media?

When you’re running a promotion online, it not only requires compliance with laws governing contests and sweepstakes, but it also implicates a variety of other laws as well.  These include laws regarding privacy and the collection of personal information, consumer protection laws, and marketing and advertising laws.

One common mistake I see bloggers make is failing to properly disclose when an advertiser has sponsored a blog post or giveaway. For example, if an advertiser or brand pays or gives a blogger something of value to promote their product to the blogger’s audience, the blogger should clearly and conspicuously disclose that relationship to its readers with a statement like “Company X sent me [name of product] to try, and I think it’s great” or “This post has been sponsored by Company X.”

This post was originally written for The Bloguettes.