customer retention Customer service Improvement Management planning Productivity Small Business Strategy

How are you preparing for a long business winter?

All around Columbia Falls, people are cleaning up their yards, picking up and storing canoes and such so they won’t get snowed on; and getting firewood cut, split, stacked and covered as winter approaches.

All the signals are there. The cool weather is already here, often dropping below freezing at night. Most of the leaves have fallen and the tamaracks are golden. Winter is coming.

Interestingly, I see people treating their business the same way. They’re taking steps to deal with the economy’s anticipated winter. Some markets are already seeing it, some are not.

With the slowness of the economy – and yes, I’m hearing it from a broad mix of business owners, but not all of them – folks are preparing for winter in their business.

What do I mean by the winter of their business? Two things really. Winter might be when portions of the economy are slow, and winter might also be when a company is near the end of its life – perhaps a natural thing.

In this case, I’m talking about the natural changes of the season of the economy, although sometimes the changes of the season aren’t so natural.

In the spring and summer of the economy, in other words – when the economy is rocking and rolling, some businesses seem to think that it isn’t important to pay such close attention to “trivial little things” like customer service, ROI on various media targets for advertising, lead sources and so on.

In that same strong economy, it often seems like almost anyone can run a business and make a profit. Ever notice how many people suddenly are in the construction business during those periods? A business card and a diesel pickup is all it takes to become a home builder.

But then…the economy turns. Or at least housing-related markets do. When it happens, spec homes sell slowly and weigh on a new contractor like the clock on Flavor Flav’s neck. Before long, many of these newbies and their diesel pickups are doing something else for a living.

In the winter-like periods of the economy, you start to see businesses pay more attention to expenses, lay off people that they probably shouldn’t have hired in the first place, start emphasizing customer service; in other words, start paying attention to the stuff they should have been watching all along.

As spring and summer comes, some will get lazy and stop watching those things. Will you be one of them?

The easy thing to do right now is to be consumed with thoughts of survival if your business is one of the ones that is struggling. Short term fixes won’t serve you well when the seasons change.

Plan your winter strategies with a long-term view. Put things in place that you can keep in place as your business and the economy strengthen.

Don’t waste time on duct tape and twine. No matter how long winter is, the strong but flexible steps you take now to fine tune your business will pay dividends in the spring.