Small Business Thoughts: What to do when it’s quiet

My work is very seasonal – from September when Christmas order start coming in, then Valentine’s Day, then Mother’s Day, and up to Father’s Day in June, I don’t get a second to think about anything other than those big occasions. It’s just endless making cards, going to the post office, and coming back to make more cards. Don’t get me wrong, I love it (it’s my favourite part of the year!) – but there’s so many aspects to a business and fulfilling orders is only a small part. Once each occasion has passed, I get a small breather before it’s onto the next, and there are some super organised customers out there who are already ordering for the next occasion before I have time to sit down after the last post has left from the event before.

When things are so hectic for part of the year, it’s hard to know what to do with yourself when it’s quiet. It’s so easy to panic: “what has happened to make people not buy my products?” “are they all on holiday?” “are they not finding my products on the shopping sites anymore?”. Of course, it’s never anything too drastic – people genuinely have busy summers with holidays, kids, trips, barbecues, sporting events like the olympics, going on in their lives. With lovely warm weather, time with family and long, lazy summer days, customers don’t necessarily think about the next big gifting occasion (it begins with C and ends in…hristmas!).

So, what do you do when the order book is quiet and you’re twiddling your thumbs waiting for the highstreet to turn on the carols and fill shelves with Quality Streets and 3 for 2 gift boxes? After nearly 7 years running my own business (and that’s 7 years on Etsy and notonthehighstreet) I’ve been through many peaks and troughs of the seasonal gifting calendar. I thought I’d share my top tips for what to do when it’s quiet. And I’m sure I’ll add my tips on how to cope when it’s busy too at some point…unless I’m, you know, too busy! 😉

1: Work on unfinished projects

I am the queen of having great ideas (in my opinion anyway!) that don’t get seen through to the end. Quieter business days are perfect for working on a half finished project, new range, or designs that have not made it to your virtual shelves. If you keep a list or notebook with you all year round for jotting down ideas, you’ll have a heap of new things to try out when you find the time. Right now, I have loads of notes on my phone, paper, diary etc., all waiting to be mocked up, photographed and listed. It’s a great opportunity to try experiment with new that you’ve always wanted to try out…a new technique, material or even a whole new product line.

2. Spruce up your product pages

Go through your product pages and read your descriptions. I find that I’m often in a rush to list new products and if you can ‘copy’ an existing listing, sometimes I have descriptions that are relevant only to the product I originally listed…like a Birthday card that quotes Father’s day information, or colour options that aren’t available on your latest product. Check your descriptions, attributes, headings, delivery settings etc., to make sure they’re all relevant and it’s easy for customers to browse. Read up on SEO to tweak your search terms so more customers can find your card. If you need help, get a fresh set of eyes to look at your page and tell you what they think – a great option is something like Becka Griffin’s Shopfront Review on Etsy. I purchased a review from Becka, and despite being on Etsy for almost a decade, she had a whole booklet of things I needed to change to make my listings more customer friendly.

3. Retake new product photos

Let’s face it, whatever you’re browsing online, nice photos sell it! Whether it’s a product, a blog, or even someone’s Instagram profile, if there are stunning photos, you linger longer, browse more, and even buy into what they’re showing you. I do most of my shopping online and there have been times where I’ve seen the same product for sale from different retailers with different pictures…some photos would have turned me off buying it, and other photos would convince me I need it in my life…showing the same product! Photos are everything! Every now and then, I refresh my photos. Not only do trends change when it comes to styling, photography skills improve too. I cringe when I see old product photos I took years ago, and each time I update my product photos, I am proud of the new fresh look I’ve given them. I love accessorising my shoots with stationery items, confetti, craft tape and twine. I also love the scandi look with whitewashed walls and minimal staging. Make sure your products are eye-catching, well lit, and customers can see exactly what they’re ordering. Flat lays are so much fun, and lifestyle shots are great to entice customers into thinking their life would be better with your product in it.

4. Read for inspiration, motivation, personal and business growth

Business books get me fired up to work harder all the time. Reading is inspiring, especially when it’s about a subject you love or written by someone you admire in business. I recently read a book by Tony Robbins, who said (and I’m paraphrasing) that to be successful in what you want to do, find someone who already is successful and do what they do. And it doesn’t have to be a book that inspires you, I am often inspired by blogs or business people on social media who share their story with the world. Nothing motivates me more than seeing people who are inspirational at what they do and that makes me want to achieve what they achieve. Reading to learn new skills, understand something a bit better, or just to refocus on the business is a great use of time!

5. Plan for the rest of the year

I’m one of those people who are always super jealous of super savvy, exceptionally organised businesses who are seasons ahead in their planning. Retail planning is always 6 months to a year ahead of where the calendar is right now – most products need researching, designing, prototyping, making, before being marketed and sold to the public. I’m lucky in the sense that my business is so tiny, I can think up an idea, mock it up and have it online for the world to purchase within an afternoon, so I know planning way in advance is not *as* vital to me compared to a big highstreet chain for example. However, even marketplace sites like Etsy and notonthehighstreet have curated categories, press and blogger events, social media campaigns etc., so they do need to know what we sellers are making ahead of the gifting occasions. Having products ready in advance for when they start thinking about their marketing means you’re more likely to get included in something special like a spot in a magazine or in a Facebook post to hundreds of thousands of potential customers. Make a plan of what occasions you need to create new products for (or improve existing products) and when you need to get it done by. This also ties into my first point, where you can use quieter times to plan new goodies!

6. Spend time doing non-business things

I find myself making excuses and being too busy for things for half the year. I wouldn’t dream of going away in the run up to any of the big events, and even an evening out for a meal is sometimes an hour or two I need to use for fulfilling orders (usually black friday or the week before Valentine’s day where every minute counts). In the summer months when I’m working more like part time hours than 20 hours a day, I can say yes to days out, trips away and evenings with friends. Sometimes it’s hard for other people to understand just how much pressure small businesses are under at the big gifting times of the year and it’s nice to be able to catch up when things are quieter, without feeling guilty for being away from your business for a bit.

7. Rest!

Similarly to point number 6, use the quiet times for a bit of relaxation, catch up on things you’ve been putting off while being busy. Sleep in, take long coffee breaks, visit friends and family, do things you’ve been wanting to do for months but never had the time. I’ve been spending the summer relaxing in the garden, doing yoga, riding my bike in the sunshine and trips with the family. It’s good to use quiet times to work on your business, but it’s also necessary to work on yourself – have a break, enjoy the time to yourself before things get crazy again, regain your energy and stamina as before you know it, it will be time for…dare I say it…Christmas 😉

8. And don’t panic! 

This is probably one of the most important things. Everyone wonders if things will ever pick up when going through a quiet time. I know so many people right now are concerned that it’s the quietest time of the year and they don’t know what they can do to improve the number of orders. But for all the busy times of the year, you have to have quieter times. August is notoriously slow in retail and everyone is noticing it right now. The important thing to remember is don’t panic and use your time wisely to improve your own offering.






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