6 Things to Do When Business is Slow

Two years ago, I was at a networking event in the city (feeling awkward and out of place per usual). I felt like I was the only one there alone—nibbling on a stale muffin and wishing there was wine.

I didn’t belong there.

After quitting my job and moving to a new state, I didn't have an impressive resume or lucrative business—I was starting from scratch. As a supplement to my freelance income, I had started working at Starbucks. And just two weeks in, I lost the freelance clients that made me feel confident enough to move in the first place. Back to square one.

Getting back into the "hustle" sounded exhausting. But going back to the 9-5 life sounded even more daunting. I needed to make things happen.

Sometimes you have no choice—you have to do what makes you uncomfortable to move the needle.

1. Trust the 90-day rule

At that awkward networking event (yes, all events are awkward when I'm there) the speaker shared the single most important piece of advice I’ve ever gotten as a freelancer:

Everything you’re doing now will pay off in 90 days. Not today. Not a week from now. Maybe not even a month from now. Whatever actions you’re taking right now will start paying off in 3 months.

If you’re like me, 3 months feels like a lifetime from today. (Why do I have to wait so long? I’m working right now, and I want my efforts to pay off right now.) What’s the point of all this hustle if you’re not sure what will pay off?

Do the work anyway. Take it from me—you can't sit around and wait for things to get better. Start moving and trust the process.

2. Vent on paper

Venting sounds so much more fun than writing, doesn’t it?

Set a timer for ten minutes and type away. Even if you’re not a writer, there’s something cathartic about releasing the stress you're feeling. Let out the junk that’s holding you back. An ugly Word Doc can do wonders on your mental health.

So type until you feel better. Type stream of consciousness. Don’t worry about how much of an emotional and dramatic teenager you sound like. No one is going to read this but you. Heck, you can delete the whole thing when you’re done.

Bonus tip: if you’re already into journaling, read through some of your past entries. Jump back a year and see what struggles you were facing. A lot of times, you’ll find the same fears and insecurities pop up throughout the year. Recognizing the patterns in your thinking can help you clear up your mindset and get back to work.

3. Focus on relationships

Add to the conversation.

Pick your social media channel and spend most of your social time there. Get active. Instead of worrying about impressing anyone, start to comment and add to the conversation! At first, you'll feel like you're butting in where you don't belong. Then, after a few weeks of being more active, you'll realize you're starting to become a part of a community.

Reach out to a former coworker or client.

I’m bad at this. Especially the coworker part. It can feel uncomfortable reaching out to someone you haven't spoken to in a while—what if they think you're only out to sell? What if they're annoyed to hear from you?

All your fears are sneaky excuses keeping you from reaching your goals. It's never too late to re-connect with a connection. Remember that!

Set up virtual meetups or coffee chats.

Entrepreneur friends are going to help you get through the hard times. They're the ones who will tell you not to apply to that full-time job you have your eyes on; they'll remind you not to give up hope. I have weekly and monthly FaceTimes with fellow entrepreneur friends and they have helped me through so much. I wouldn't have made it this far without them.

Text your friends. I know this sounds like cheating. Or it might feel gross - are you telling me to network with my friends?!

No, not really.

Think about it this way. If you’re too busy to talk to your friends or too stressed to check in on them, what’s the point in running your own business? You didn’t start your business to become a secluded hermit crab. If your business is slow, check in with the ones you love. It’ll clear your head, maybe spark some inspiration, and generally boost your mood.

4. Spend 30 minutes on a job board

Ah, Indeed. Job boards are my favorite time waster. So don't stay here too long. Set your timer for 30 minutes and be intentional, aiming for the following:

Find opportunities.

Type a couple of keywords and see what comes up. After researching a bit, you could find a solid temporary or part-time role in line with your interests—and if your business is slow enough, why not give it a try? Or, better yet, you could reach out to the employer and pitch your services instead.

Get inspiration.

Sometimes, seeing a job description will inspire a new service or offering for your clients. Maybe you're a virtual assistant, and you keep seeing a lot of newsletter and email management jobs. Could you provide more services for your clients?

Be smacked with reality.

Worst case scenario? You'll skim through enough full-time job opportunities to see that your situation isn't so bad after all. Spending a few minutes on the job boards will light a fire under you to get back to marketing your business.

5. Improve your onboarding process.

This is one of those things a lot of us ignore as much as we can. At least I do. Even the word “process” makes me cringe. I hate to say it, but your onboarding process is one of the most essential steps to providing top-notch service to your clients.

Instead of wasting two months (refreshing your email inbox, applying to odds and ends jobs, scrolling endlessly), take time to build a business that clients want to come back to. Update your contracts, email templates, proposals, and any other documents you need to make the onboarding process seamless and repeatable.

6. Do some market research.

Whether you’re trying to refine your offerings or decide on your social media content, get feedback from the individuals you’re trying to serve.

Use Instagram stories

Stories make it easy to get feedback from your community. Use polls and quizzes to get to know your audience better. (Sometimes the questions feature can get a bit spammy, so I don’t recommend using that one).

Send direct messages

Reach out to your ideal clients. The best part about this method is you’re not being a sleazy slider of DMs. You’re out there genuinely trying to learn what people need. If you do this right, you can start to build relationships with these folks, too! Those connections could turn into referrals down the line. Everyone wins.

Start small today

When things get tough, you'll think about quitting and wonder if it's really worth it. Ask yourself: do I want to go backward or forward? If the answer is forward, start focusing on small and consistent steps. Your future business will thank you.