At Your Service: Sept. 30, 2009

With the turn of the seasons comes falling leaves and, unfortunately for most local businesses, the falling off of sales. The painfully slow economy has already made this year challenging and many businesses are short of the funds to carry the business through the down time. This makes it a perfect time to be creative with ways to boost sales and/or do those time-intensive business chores.
Clear out that inventory to make room for the coming holiday merchandise with a big sale. Mark items down to just above your wholesale price point. While you might prefer to make more of a profit, you may want to consider it a win to simply improve your cash flow.
Even though it isn’t hunting season yet, you can use this time to kill two birds with one stone by creating a Web site and then using it to move that extra merchandise. You may think that you can’t afford to spend the money, but some investments must be made in order to prosper. In these times, it is simply being smart to build an Internet presence. We have long passed the threshold of computer saturation and most people now have them. We are rapidly approaching the point where you simply cannot afford not to have a Web site, even for service businesses.
While the best Web sites are those designed by professionals, there are other options for those with less money to spend. There are several blogging sites that enable you to develop a Web presence with less effort and little or no cost. Service businesses can use a blog to provide tips in their area of expertise; retail businesses can use them to move excess inventory. Restaurants can post their menu and tempt people with the specials.
Facebook, Twitter and the other social networking sites afford business opportunities as well. While they aren’t as good for direct sales, they are ideal for low cost promotion. While these formats may be free, they can chew up your time very quickly; they are nonetheless a great way to use your down time.
Don’t rule out a professionally created Web site before talking to a pro. These are hard times for everyone and you might be surprised by what you can afford. Writing your own copy and working with a design pro could make an otherwise extravagant site affordable. It will also enable you to create a site for secure transactions, making it easier to move that old merchandise.
These few slow weeks also make a great time to review your business’ performance and adjust plans for the future. Check in with some of your regular customers and get a sense for what their plans are for the holidays. You may want to make some changes to your holiday orders based on customer responses.
With slow sales, you may find that it costs more to stay open than close and may want to consider taking a break. Turn off the lights, put out a sign and close the doors for a week and take some time away to re-create yourself. The time away gives you the opportunity to relax and renew your own energy. If you can afford a trip somewhere, take it; if you cannot, try a stay-cation. I will be taking a stay-cation myself for the next couple of weeks. My next column will appear in mid-October.
These slow weeks can be a burden of an opportunity. The key difference is finding ways to make them productive and even a little profitable. Use the time to create something new for the business, improve your operations or regenerate your own excitement and energy.