7 Ways a Contractor Can Keep Busy During the Slow Season
If you work outdoors and live in a climate where there are four seasons, your workflow can vary significantly over the course of the year. You may not be able to provide the same services in winter as in summer or vice versa. So what do you do when work gets slow? There’s actually a lot you can do that will benefit you and your business.
Your own “slow period” is going to vary by your exact industry and location. Here in our Toronto offices, stamped concrete installations tend to slow down as autumn progresses. They get even slower in the first months of the new year before picking up again with spring. That can be very different in the southern US, where they can do outdoor work year round. But still, we find plenty to do.
While we can only talk about our experience in stamped concrete, the principles here are generally applicable for contractors in most trades. We all go through the cycles of the year. When those cycles mean we have fewer projects to complete, there are other ways to fill the time productively.
Getting To Know the Rhythm of the Year
Two to three years is usually enough to help us know when those times will be. After one year, we’ll know when things slowed down, but we can’t be sure if that’s “normal” or an aberration. So seeing the full cycle a couple times gives a more reliable indicator.
Another way to judge is with online tools. If you use Google AdWords, you can see in their tools the average number of searches for any keywords. That tells you when people are searching the most – and the least – for your services. That also means you’ll be getting the most inquiries during that time.
Another free tool that gives similar information is Ubersuggest. Right from the homepage, you put in your keyword and choose your country, and it will give you a chart showing the trend in searches. For instance, we can see that in the United States, searches for “stamped concrete” peak in May and June and are at their lowest from November to January. Makes sense – most people aren’t thinking as much about the product during those cold winter months!
So – how can you put those down periods to best use? Here are some suggestions.
The slow time of year is the perfect time for you to catch up on much-needed rest and relaxation. It’s a time you can take vacation, spend time with your family, and simply rest.
Many business owners, including contractors, can feel guilty or lazy when taking time off or stepping back from the business a bit. But in reality, it’s important for your health – mentally as well as physically – to allow yourself to recuperate from high-stress times. Going full speed year-round is counterproductive. It means you won’t have the energy you need. And your brain suffers too – from both physical or intellectual stress. Be sure to allow both body and mind time to recover.
By necessity, the offseason is the time you can plan vacation. You can also slow down a bit, attend your children’s school functions, or find more time in the evenings on the weekends for your significant other. It’s time when you can get back to that novel you’ve been meaning to finish – whether you’re reading it or writing it!
We don’t mean you should take the whole winter off, of course. If you can afford to, that’s fantastic! But for most, that won’t be the case. However, you can work fewer hours and concentrate on other aspects of life that aren’t as stressful.
2. Schedule Indoor Projects
While the bulk of your work may be outdoors, are there elements that are done indoors? These are great to schedule for when the weather is colder and it’s too uncomfortable or even impractical to do work al fresco.
In our case, the vast majority of our work is outdoors – driveways, walkways, patios, pool decks. Once the temperature gets below about 50° F (10° C), it can be really iffy to install concrete. At the freezing point and below, it’s even worse.
However, not all our work is outdoors. Stamped concrete can also be done indoors, and polished concrete is another popular alternative. Lining up some projects like this helps us keep active during the winter and provides some stream of revenue.
If you’re in another field, there are likewise probably alternatives to your primary source of work. For instance, if you work in construction and primarily build homes, there are probably smaller indoor jobs you could take on in the offseason, such as finishing an addition or converting a basement to a family room. With a little creativity, you can better position your business to secure such projects.
3. Follow Up With Clients and Prospects
Being proactive can help make sure you have work to do as soon as the weather breaks. Use the slow time to reach out to people you have already worked for or who have asked about your services in the past. It’s a wonderful way to show that you’re attentive to them and to remind them you’re there for further work.
For instance, you can ask existing clients how satisfied they are with the work you did and ask how you could improve. Does your work require periodic servicing or updates? In our case, stamped concrete should be resealed every two to three years. You can also ask if there are new projects they are considering.
You also have a chance to follow up with prospects who never followed through on their projects. After they made their first inquiry, they may have run into money troubles or other issues that led them to delay completion. But your call may spark their interest again and lead to the implementation of the work.
Making these calls when work is slow helps you have a few projects lined up to start the season. It also becomes a way to keep your name in front of people so that they’ll think of you when they’re ready for something new.
4. Plan Ahead
When you’re out in the field, your mind is on the job at hand. You have a lot to worry about to make sure you stay on schedule and on budget.
That means you don’t have the time or energy to plan the next steps for your business. So the offseason gives you the chance to think about the changes you need to make to continue your growth. Assess your employees, your marketing, and every aspect of the business. Even look at the condition of your tools and see what you need to replace or upgrade.
The peace and quiet of the slow period can leave you disoriented after the hectic busy season. But it also gives you the time to actually think things through. And that’s necessary if you want your business to be successful.
While you’re sitting around wondering what to do next, you can be reaching out to the people who might hire you!
Fewer people may be looking for information on stamped concrete during this time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t put the idea in front of them. Get them thinking about it early so they have plenty of time to make the decision for the next season. This is a great time to run print or digital ads – or even radio or TV if you’d like.
It’s also the perfect time to get ahead on other areas of marketing, too. For instance, if you blog on your website – and we recommend that you do – this is the perfect time to get ahead on your writing.
When you’re already in the busy part of the year, it’s too late to introduce ideas into people’s heads. They’ve already made their plans for projects for that year. But by marketing early, you give them an idea and allow them to plan (and budget) for it.
6. Concentrate on Paperwork
Most of us became contractors because we love working with our hands. We prefer to be out in the field building, connecting, constructing. That often means we aren’t particularly interested in or adept at the paperwork that needs to be done.
There are, of course, certain things you need to keep up with during the entire year. Taxes, for instance. As a business or an independent contractor, you probably have to file quarterly. And there are many other things that it’s good to keep on top of at all times just so you don’t get too far behind.
However, when you have more free time, you can play catch-up on areas you haven’t been able to concentrate on. Review your financial standing. Make sure everything is up to date.
It’s even an opportunity to get ahead. Be sure your licenses, insurance, and other forms are current Even if they aren’t due until later on, you can start preparing them now. File them in folders that tell you when to come back to them or when they are due. For instance, mark a file folder “Due by May 1st” or “For early July completion”. You’ll be that far ahead and less likely to miss deadlines.
Finally, we think “studying” is a great way to spend your slower season. This can take a variety of forms and doesn’t only mean sitting in a classroom to learn.
Trade shows and related events are one avenue you can pursue here. These give you a chance to learn about new techniques and developments in the industry. Nearly everything in the world develops new and better forms, and to be competitive, it’s essential to stay up to date. Trade shows are often the first place to see these innovations up close.
Another avenue to learning is to read. There are so many websites now that provide fantastic coverage of even the most obscure niches. Of course, there are still traditional magazines around, too. You might not have the time to read everything you want until things gear down at work.
While we said that you don’t necessarily have to sit in a classroom to learn, you shouldn’t discount this possibility, either. Community colleges or other local institutions might offer condensed courses you could be interested in. Of course, there are also huge numbers of online courses available, even for free. Many of these count for certificates or even degrees.
Remember also that you should be trying to learn more both about how to perform your trade and about how to run your business. For most contractors, it’s probably the business side we really need to learn about. That can include aspects like administration, taxes, personnel management, and marketing.
No matter what path you choose, use the opportunity to learn something new and increase your knowledge!
For many contractors, work isn’t consistent throughout the year. That can be challenging but it can also be an opportunity. We’ve provided seven ideas for how to take advantage of these slow times, and doing a little of each will really help you grow personally and professionally. Even though you’re not directly practicing your trade, these will help you expand your business and lead to a better future.