As marketing consultants, we work with many businesses in the trades industry. Our conversations are commonly centered around marketing and business strategies to become consistently more profitable. A reoccurring fear that comes out in these conversations is the fear of an impending slow season and what that means for business.
For some business owners a slow 1-3 months is just fine and offers a much needed break. For others, the thought of a slow season brings anxiety and fear around sustaining employees and providing for their own families.
At SPM we work with businesses on the full comprehensive scope of their marketing, which is often tied to business strategy. The clients whose marketing efforts go the furthest are those who understand that how they run their business directly affects and is impacted by how successful their marketing efforts can be.
At SPM we seek to guide businesses and to turn the fear of a slow-season into an opportunity to improve marketing strategies and we do this by looking at the whole picture.
There is no quick fix or a one solution answer on how to become more profitable during a slow season. There are however 7 simple business and marketing strategies that every seasonal or trades business can consider to help improve consistency throughout the year.
Here are 7 strategies that your seasonal business can start implementing today to improve business year-round:
1. Always schedule estimates, even during your busy season
At the time of this writing, it’s late August and many seasonal businesses (painters, exterior companies, pavers, remodelers) are in the midst of their busy season and can’t even think about taking on another job for the next few weeks (this might sound like you). However, you most likely aren’t always going to be this busy. A strategy that we recommend is continue taking calls and scheduling estimates during your busy season to keep yours sales cycle carrying you further and later into fall/winter. If you need 2 weeks to get out there for an estimate that’s ok, let the customer know, but you need to call them back in a timely fashion and at least schedule the estimate appointment. If 2-3 weeks is too long for that customer to wait, let them make that decision.
In some ways the fact that you are booked out may work to your benefit, showing that you are a sought after company. The same way that talented hair stylists book out by a few months and the best hotels are booked up in advance, your company provides something of great value that people like and want which has you staying booked, so why wouldn’t another prospective customer want that too and be willing to wait just a few weeks? You will make a better impression with a call back within 24 hours to show that you care about the opportunity to serve a potential customer, rather than waiting days or weeks to call them back when you are ready to fit them into your schedule. This leads to tip #2…
2. Get back to people in a timely fashion
Prospective customers are much more willing to wait for the estimate if they receive a timely and professional call back and get the appointment scheduled. However, if you wait a few days to call back, by that point your prospective customer has gone looking elsewhere. But if you wait two weeks to call them until you are ready to schedule them, then you’ve lost them. If customer phone calls go directly to your voicemail (business owner), maybe it’s time to consider an answering service or professional phone line so that messages aren’t lost or missed on your phone or email.
3. Review your sales training and make your estimates go further
This might feel like sales training 101, but it is so very important and a piece of the puzzle that some sales-teams continue to miss … take time during the estimating process to do a customer needs discovery. Ask questions and find out what their true needs are so that you can be a solutions based provider. I really had two companies out to quote a home improvement project. The salesperson who asked me questions learned about our goals for not only the immediate future but our plans for the next 1-2 years and because of that they were able to offer more in depth recommendations on how we should strategize our home projects over the next few years, thus having a better opportunity to earn our business on a more consistent basis. The other salesperson came out, reviewed the project based on what they were told from my initial phone call when I called to make the appointment, didn’t ask any questions, and sent me the quote, for that 1 specific project, completely missing the opportunity to prove their skills and earn our business for the long-term. It’s more effective to provide 8 more thorough estimates and close 6 of them rather than providing 10 estimates and closing 5. If you find yourself in a slow seasons, use that as opportunity to work on sales training so that your team is prepared to make their estimates go further when the busy season arrives.
4. Develop a prospective client follow up system
What are you doing to follow up with prospective clients once the quote has been provided? You might have heard the statistic that 8% of sales people get 80% of all sales because they continue to follow up. Research indicates that only 2% of sales occur the first time of two parties meeting, so this would indicate that follow up is required to close the sale and yet, studies reveal that as many as 48% of sales people never follow up after the first meeting! 44% of sales people give up after the first “no.” Many sales will happen months or a year+ after that initial meeting and yet only 8% of sales people will continue to follow up with that prospective customer at least 5 times. Develop a follow up system so that you are maintaining top of mind awareness with these prospective customers. Even though they might not be ready now, they might be in a few months or a year and with your professional and consistent follow-up throughout that time period, there’s a much better chance that they’ll remember you when they are ready to make their final buying decision.
5. Develop a former client communication system
What are you doing to tap into former customers? For many businesses, there is opportunity to tap into an existing client base more than once whether it’s directly doing business with that customer again and again, and/or through referrals that the former customer can give. Studies indicate that for most seasonal businesses, customer retention is more valuable than customer acquisition. We recommend creating a system to capture customer emails so that you can remarket to them. Find a way to retain these relationships and continue that customer relationship.
6. Plan your marketing strategy ahead of time
It’s important to plan ahead on your marketing so that you have time to evaluate and understand your options and develop a strategy. Do you want to improve your online search ranking to consistently be found at the top of the search listings when prospective customers search for the services you offer? If so, you should be looking into Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and you should plan ahead by 4-5 months as SEO usually takes times and is an on-going process to allow you to maintain rank. Want leads right now, today? Consider Google Ad Words. Want to aggressively grow sales and need new customers to do so? Consider a TV or radio campaign to reach a wide audience. Aren’t sure how social media plays into your plans? Talk with a marketing specialist to understand how the role that social media plays on your business, or read our blog post here, Why Social Media Matters in SEO. Whatever you are considering, we recommend planning your year in advance so that if your efforts require advance preparation, you’ll have time to get everything in place in time for the start of your busy season.
7. Review website analytics
We recommend analyzing your web traffic on a monthly or quarterly basis to understand where your visitors are coming from, how long they stay on your site and what they are visiting. If you have a high bounce-rate of 40% or higher this could mean that prospective customers aren’t finding what they need/want quick enough and you are losing them within seconds of them visiting your page. You may be receiving a lot of web -traffic, but how long as they staying on your site, and are they filling out online contact forms? If you have a lot of site traffic but not a lot of contact form submissions this may mean that you need stronger calls to action so that people can easily navigate to the form. Review your analytics so that your site is in tip top shape and ready to convert visitors to leads so that you don’t lose out on the opportunity to gain customers.
We hope that these 7 strategies will help you to sustain business longer through the year, and to help you feel more prepared for the next season!
If you are looking for more tips to drive online business, download our eBook, the 30 Greatest Lead Generation Tips, Tricks and Ideas for your Local Business