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.
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 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
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.
But instead of worrying (which isn’t going to accomplish anything other than seriously stressing you out), take that time and funnel it into something constructive: researching the different relief options available to you.
There are a number of SBA disaster loans available to companies struggling as a result of COVID-19. Certain funds have been exhausted and/or are no longer accepting applications. Others—like the Paycheck Protection Program, which is designed to aid companies in keeping their employees on payroll—are still providing funding. Other lending initiatives, like the Main Street Lending Program, have yet to launch, so additional relief is on the way.
Bottom line? If you’re struggling to pay your bills or your employees, use this downtime to explore, research and potentially apply for a disaster loan to cover your expenses. These lending initiatives are in place specifically to help businesses dealing with lost productivity and lost revenue to weather the COVID-19 storm. So if you need the help, now is the time to take advantage of these programs and get that help.
Update and Upgrade Your Digital Presence
This downtime is the perfect time to tackle tasks that you may not have had time for when things were busier. 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.
- 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.
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. Most people are experiencing business downtime right now, whether they’re dealing with a forced shutdown 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 trying to navigate a recession 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.
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 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
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.
Do Your Taxes
Getting your finances in order will also prepare you for the most important financial task of the year—filing your taxes.
While the business tax deadlines in both Canada and the U.S. have been extended, those deadlines are coming up quickly (June 1 and July 15, respectively). So, if you haven’t completed your taxes, get them finished and filed!
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 clients’ 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.