How downtime can actually help you—and your business—grow.
Many small businesses are facing a slowdown as a result of COVID-19. And if you’re one of those businesses, you’re probably faced with a lot more downtime than you’re used to—and because it wasn’t exactly planned downtime, knowing how to move forward can be tough.
There’s no denying that this “hibernation” period is challenging. But if you have some working capital saved up, this period of downtime can actually be a jumping-off point for serious growth—both for your business and for yourself.
Let’s take a look at how you can effectively use downtime right now. And when this hibernation period ends, your company will emerge stronger on the other side.
- Explore Relief Options Available for Small Businesses
- Update and Upgrade Your Digital Presence
- Brush up on Your Skills
- Check-in With Your Clients …
- … And Your Network
- Keep Your Team Motivated
- Get Your Finances in Order
- Explore Hobbies Outside of Work
- Enjoy Your Downtime
- Use This Downtime to Support Your Long-Term Success
Explore Relief Options Available for Small Businesses
If you’re concerned about your working capital, you’re probably spending a lot of time worrying about how you’re going to keep your small business afloat. How are you going to keep enough income coming into your organization to cover your labor, overhead, and other costs, minimize the financial impact, and maintain your company’s reputation?
You might be tempted to spin out into worry, but that’s not going to get you anywhere. Instead, take that time and funnel it into something constructive: researching the different relief options available to you.
There were a number SBA disaster loans made available to companies struggling as a result of COVID-19. And while most of those initiatives are no longer dispensing funds (like the Paycheck Protection Program, which was designed to aid companies in keeping their employees on payroll), some are still active under certain circumstances. (For example, while the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program is no longer accepting new applications, according to their website, they are still accepting requests for increases, reconsiderations, and appeals—so if you already applied and/or received an EIDL loan and are experiencing continued business disruption, you may be able to apply for additional funds.)
You might also explore more traditional funding options to help cover downtime costs during a period of unplanned downtime—like the SBA 7(a) loan program or a business loan or line of credit through a bank.
Bottom line? If you’re struggling to pay your bills or your employees, use this downtime to explore, research, and potentially apply for external funding to cover your expenses. While your ability to get approved will depend on a variety of factors (for example, how much revenue your business is bringing in), getting the dollars you need to cover costs can be an effective strategy for ensuring business continuity when your business faces unexpected downtime.
Update and Upgrade Your Digital Presence
Downtime in your business offers the perfect opportunity to tackle projects that you may not have had time for when things were busier. (Using this time to make tangible improvements to your business can also help to make up for any lost revenue you may experience when downtime occurs.)
And one of the best projects to tackle? Updating (and upgrading) your digital presence.
Use this downtime as an opportunity to update and upgrade your:
- Website: Your website is your company’s online real estate, so it needs to have some serious digital curb appeal. Make sure your website is well-designed, aligned with your branding, and has up-to-date information, visuals and copy.
- Social media profiles: Now more than ever, people are relying on social media as a way to stay informed about and connected with their favorite companies. Use this downtime to maintain that connection and continue to build relationships with your customers. Respond to comments more frequently, post new types of content (like video) or explore new social media platforms. Upgrading your social media profile and making connections with your followers a top priority will help ensure that your downtime doesn’t result in any lost customers—at least not from social media.
- Online portfolio: Your online portfolio is your opportunity to show potential clients your skills, your work, and what you’re capable of. Spend some of this downtime sprucing up your digital portfolio, adding new samples, and making sure your portfolio represents your best work.
- E-commerce shop: If you already sell products or services online, make sure your e-commerce shop is fully functional. This includes up-to-date product and pricing information and eye-catching photos that will encourage your visitors to shop. If you don’t have an e-commerce shop, consider moving your small business online and developing a new revenue stream for your company.
- Security. Downtime also offers a great opportunity to get your digital security up to par. Work with your IT team (or, if you don’t have an IT team, an IT consultant) to implement technology and develop systems to mitigate risk and deal with any costly security issues your company might face in the future, whether that’s a critical data breach (for example, if a hacker were to gain access to sensitive customer information), network outages, server failure, or an unplanned outage or network issues that result in data loss. Security issues are one of the most common causes of reputational damage for organizations—so use your downtime as an opportunity to improve your security and protect your company from unnecessary digital risk.
To maintain your brand reputation, it’s also important to make sure your branding is consistent across every platform. Your customers should have a consistent experience of your brand whether they’re checking out your website, scrolling through your social media feed, or shopping your e-commerce store. Review your digital presence and make sure it feels consistent. For example:
- Are you using the same brand voice across all platforms (like website copy and social media posts)?
- Are your design elements (like color palette and fonts) consistent across your digital presence?
- Do you have the same look, style, and feel on each of your digital platforms?
Brush up on Your Skills
No matter how seasoned a business owner you are, there are always new things to explore and learn. And the more you learn, the stronger your company will be as a result.
So why not use this downtime as an opportunity to invest in the kind of learning that will help take your business to the next level?
There are a huge number of educational opportunities out there that will help you level up your skills, no matter what kind of industry you’re in or what kind of skills you’re trying to learn or expand.
If you want to spend this time brushing up on your skills, some opportunities you may want to explore include:
- Masterclass: If you want to upgrade your skills by learning from the best and brightest, Masterclass, a collection of 80+ courses taught by top experts in their respective fields, is an incredible resource. (Want to brush up on skills outside of your profession? Masterclass has you covered there as well, with expert-led classes on everything from the culinary arts to interior design and how to play poker.)
- EdX: EdX is a free online learning platform that offers access to over 2,500 college courses from some of the world’s top universities (including Harvard, UC Berkeley, and MIT). If you like the structure and depth of a college course, EdX is a great way to get a high-quality education and brush up on your skills—without the hefty price tag of tuition.
- Skillshare: Skillshare offers thousands of courses in everything from design and creative thinking to marketing and entrepreneurship. The courses are all broken down into short, easy-to-digest video lessons (typically less than 15 minutes each). This makes Skillshare a great platform to sharpen your skills one short lesson at a time.
Using this downtime to learn, grow or expand your skills is a great way to spend time right now—and to set yourself up for even bigger success when things return to normal again.
Check-in With Your Clients …
Your clients may not be actively working with you right now, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to nurture the relationship.
If you have clients who employ you on a regular basis, it’s important to keep in touch with them right now. Plan to touch base once every few weeks to see how they’re doing and give them an update on your company and what’s happening. Continuing to check-in, even when they’re not paying you or working on any active projects, will show your clients that you value the relationship and don’t just see them as a dollar sign.
… And Your Network
When you’re in the midst of a slowdown, it can feel like you’re the only person going through it. But the truth is, you’re in good company. Many people, businesses, and entrepreneurs are experiencing business downtime right now—whether they haven’t fully recovered from the impact of COVID or have recently been laid off.
Use this slowdown as an opportunity to get in touch with people in your network. Reach out to former colleagues to see how they’re doing. Touch base with other local small business owners to talk about their products or services, any potential partnership opportunities, or new ways to reach your customers. Hop on LinkedIn to offer support to other companies or provide mentorship to new entrepreneurs who are in a similar situation—and trying to navigate unplanned downtime for the first time.
Not only will keeping in touch with your network make you feel less alone during this period, but it could also lead to new business connections or opportunities—which will ultimately benefit you when things return to normal.
Keep Your Team Motivated
If you manage a team, chances are, this period of downtime has changed their day-to-day experience at work. For example, maybe they don’t have as much work as they used to—or maybe their role has been put on pause until you are operating at full capacity.
Whatever the situation, if you manage a team, one of the biggest downtime risks you’re likely to face has to do with lost productivity. When your business experiences a slowdown, employees may be nervous about the security of their job or frustrated with the unexpected downtime they’re experiencing as a result of the reduction in their hours or assignments—all of which could lead to a drop in employee productivity.
That’s why, if you want to avoid lost productivity and set your business up for success after your downtime is over, it’s important to keep your team engaged and motivated.
If you can, keep your employees working at the same level they were working at pre-downtime—even if that means giving them different types of projects than they usually work on. (For example, if you have a graphic designer that generally creates designs for clients, you might have them work on an internal project. Or if you have an administrative assistant that generally handles client requests, you might have them put their organizational skills towards helping you manage the logistics for your website redesign.) If that’s not possible and you have to reduce your employees’ hours, it’s important to keep them in the loop with what’s going on and let them know you’re doing everything you can to get them back to working at full capacity.
Get Your Finances in Order
When you’re juggling a variety of clients, projects, and deadlines, it can be easy to push other parts of your business to the bottom of your priority list—including your finances. But now’s the perfect time to make sure your finances are in order.
Getting your finances “in order” means different things for different businesses, but here are some financial clean-up tasks you may want to consider:
- Following up on unpaid or overdue invoices
- Auditing your books
- Reassessing your pricing strategy for products and/or services
- Researching new payment platforms (and exploring options with lower processing fees or costs)
- Auditing your tools and subscriptions to see if you can lower costs
- Contacting vendors to see if you can lower costs
- Clearly defining the cost of downtime—and developing a plan to recoup those downtime costs/lost revenue
Staying on top of your finances can be challenging when things are busy, but it’s absolutely essential for the long-term financial health of your business—so use this downtime to clean house and get finances in order.
Explore Hobbies Outside of Work
You may think you need to invest all of your downtime back into your business. But using some of that downtime to explore passions, hobbies, and interests outside of your business can be an equally sound investment.
Pursuing hobbies outside of your business has a host of benefits. From a personal perspective, hobbies can bring a sense of joy, fulfillment, and passion to your life. They can help you relax and find a better balance between your work and personal life.
From a business perspective, hobbies can spark creativity and help you think outside of the box. Plus, if you find a hobby you really connect with, it could open the door to additional revenue streams or business opportunities.
For example, let’s say you own a marketing agency—but you love spending your free time drawing. You might use your hobby to further your business by doing things like drawing custom illustrations for your client’s social media pages or by designing infographic templates that you can sell on a digital marketplace like Etsy.
The point is, taking the time to pursue your hobbies will reap benefits both for you and your business—so use this downtime to engage in your hobbies and passions, both old and new.
Enjoy Your Downtime
There’s a lot of pressure to make “good use” of any extra time right now. But don’t forget: Downtime can be just that—downtime.
There is a lot going on in the world right now and it’s causing a lot of people to feel stressed, overwhelmed, and burned-out. So while there’s nothing wrong with using this downtime as an opportunity to be productive, there’s also nothing wrong with using this time to disconnect, rest and recharge.
It’s nearly impossible to be effective at work and life if you’re headed towards burnout. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed, cut yourself some slack and use this downtime to relax and take care of yourself. Spend time with your family, catch up on your Netflix queue, do some yoga, take a nap … whatever self-care means to you, take this time to do it.
It may not seem productive, but in the long run, taking the time you need to navigate this situation and take care of yourself is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your business.
Use This Downtime to Support Your Long-Term Success
Experiencing a slowdown can be tough. But when you know how to best use business downtime, you can make the most of it—and come out on the other side stronger than ever.