By John Tabita

12.5 Useful Activities When Business is Slow

By John Tabita

If you’ve been in business for any length of time, you’ve probably experienced predictable slow periods, like summertime or year-end. Business can also slow down due to economic uncertainty, such as the months proceeding a national election. So what’s a freelancer to do?

If you find yourself in a slump, first determine the cause. If you’ve been neglecting to market yourself, then start prospecting for new business right away. But if it’s due to a naturally-occurring slow period, here are 12.5 useful activities to remain productive.

1. Continue to Prospect

Just because you’re in a typical slow period doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prospect. Even if you don’t land new clients immediately, you’re still priming the pump for when business does pick up.

2. Contact Former or Existing Clients

Slow times are an opportunity to reconnect with existing clients or reach out to former ones. Take a client to lunch today!

3. Join a Networking Group

Regardless of how slow or busy you are, you ought to be networking. Its benefits extend far beyond just gaining new business. If you don’t belong to a group, take advantage of your down time to join one or start one of your own.

4. Look for Speaking Engagements

Speaking in front of groups can often land new clients. Contact your local chamber of commerce or SBA Chapter.

5. Enroll in a Sales Training Course

When I started my web business, I knew nothing about selling my services. Some of us are natural sales people. Unfortunately I was not one of those. Even if you are a “natural”, you’ll benefit tremendously from professional training and coaching.

6. Work on Long Term Projects

Update your website, revise your marketing plan, design that logo you never got around to creating, redesign your business cards. Just be sure you’re not doing what’s comfortable to avoid a less pleasant but more important activity.

7. Review Your Business Practices

Every business ought to have best practices and processes in place. I’ve advocated having both a sales process and a web design workflow to increase your efficiency. Now’s the time to review your practices and processes, or create them if you have none.

8. Clean House

Clean your desk, purge your files, rearrange your work space. All of these get neglected when we’re busy. So spend time getting organized and prepared for when business picks up.

9. Prepare for Tax Season

An end-of-year slow down is the perfect time to get your paperwork in order for tax season.

10. Back Up Your Files

Do you keep a local backup? Great, but what if your computer equipment gets stolen? A secondary cloud backup keeps your files safe in the event of a break-in, fire, or flood. When Tropical Storm Lee caused the Susquehanna River to rise over 27 feet, our New York sales office lost all their computers and files. Do you have a disaster recovery plan? Use your down time to set one up.

11. Take Some Time Off

Had a vacation lately? Perhaps now’s the time for some time off.

12. Find a New Hobby or Resurrect an Old One

I’ve always wanted to learn Kendo, the art of Japanese Samurai swordsmanship. How about you? Is there something from your bucket list you’ve been putting off? Maybe now’s the time.

12.5. Refuse to Worry

While this isn’t technically an activity, it’s important, nonetheless. I’ve heard that there are two types of problems: those you can solve, and those you can’t. So if you can’t do anything about it, why worry? And if you can do something about it, why worry?

Have I missed anything? What activities help you during slow times? Add your comments below.

  • Todd Zmijewski

    For programmers a good one to add to this list is to dig deeper into software often used. For example, crawl the core of your favorite open source project or one you use frequently. It never hurts to get more familiar with the inner workings of tools. In many cases it can be even more productive than working on long term projects.

  • Dianne Volek

    There is always something new you can learn on Photoshop – the silly programme is SO non-intuitive!!!


    Enhance your skillset. Downtimes are the best time to get stuck into a new language or framework without distraction.

  • Great suggestions, John – and in the comments so far. I’ll add in “do some pro bono work”. Working for free for a non-profit organisation is a great way to hone your skills, practice things that might challenge a paying customer, build your portfolio and do some good for people who need it.

    • I can’t believe I forgot that one. Regular pro bono work is a great way to get exposure and referrals, even if you’re not just starting out.

    • Ricky, would you suggest just getting in touch directly and offering services?

      • Matt, most of my pro bono work comes about through “natural” connections: my son and daughter’s soccer clubs, junior surf lifesaving, Scout group – that kind of thing. I also get some approaches from groups looking for an inexpensive site, and I’ll suggest doing it pro bono if it offers an opportunity to try something new. A third type is where a friend might have a serious business site they want to set up but little budget – I’ll suggest doing it pro bono with a view to turning into a paying gig once the business “works”. Several of those have turned into lucrative ongoing contracts.

        • Thanks Ricky. Invaluable feedback. I know a few organisations that I’d like to talk further with. I’ll keep in touch, off the discussion thread, about progress.

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