No business owner likes the slow season. Not every business has a slow season, but for some contractors, especially those that work exclusively outdoors, like roofers, the winter can be a tough time to find work.
Here are a few ideas for surviving the slow season and keeping your business alive.
Offer discounted services
As they approach the slow season, many contractors think the solution to booking gigs is lowering their price, but price reduction is a slippery slope. Once you advertise a certain price for a certain service, it devalues your work all year round and customers will feel cheated when the warm weather roles around and your prices go back up.
Rather than advertising a lower price, you could distribute door flyers or postcards that offer 10% off select services for the next 30 days. The word “select” is key, because it reserves from wiggle room depending on the job. This makes it seem like a special, since it isn’t for the whole season and is a percentage instead of a flat drop in rate.
Always weigh a price reduction carefully before you implement it since this strategy can affect your business long term. There are those that believe that if you are truly good at your job and deserving of the rate that you charge, then you shouldn’t lower it for any reason. This can garner you more respect with clients and other contractors alike.
Expand your skills and your target audience
What keeps you busy 9 months of the year may not do the job in the slower winter months. But if you can diversify your skill set and bolster your audience with new clients, you can keep yourself busy when your specialty slows down.
For example, if you are an exterior painter, you could consider offering interior painting in the winter. Seems pretty obvious, but then how are you to compete with the guys who do interior all year long? But if you spend some time adding drywall and plaster repair to your repertoire, you may just have an edge. If you run a crew, it may be enough to have one guy who can handle certain more complicated tasks, as well.
Pitch early (September) to local businesses, churches and small offices for any work they may need done. You probably can handle some light reno jobs or handyman tasks, too. There are lots of options for how to keep yourself busy, just outside of your specialty. You just have to pursue them and know how to nail them down.
Get a seasonal job
If you run a solo operation, you may want to just close up shop for the slow months and get a seasonal job. A lot of places look for seasonal help, especially around the holidays, like warehouses.
Snowplowing is another very common option for a lot of contractors in colder climates. You already have a big truck (most likely), so renting or buying a plow for the winter could pay dividends.
If you’re comfortable with it, you could also work as a sub or join a crew temporarily. Sometimes larger contractors will have projects that run through the winter and they could take you on for your slow months.
Do side projects
The slow season is a great time to get things done that usually get pushed to the side in favor of project after project. If you are looking to keep your team or yourself busy short term, there’s always the standard maintenance: clean the shop, clean and tune up your work vehicles, organize the tool trailer, etc.
Another great option is offering continuing education to employees. You can do training for more complex or difficult tasks, CPR/first aid or the OSHA 10-hour training course (which can reduce your insurance costs, actually). You can also spend some time reviewing old projects to see where you could have been more efficient and done things a smarter way.
Of course, these are only good ideas if you’re just filling a day here or there. DON’T try to keep employees working if there it isn’t work. You’ll just end up bleeding money for the whole season and having to lay people off when you need them.
If the need is to fill your own time, not that of a crew, you can (and should!) use the time to bulk up your SEO, website and marketing. This is something that can often be neglected until you have a desperate need for it and then it’s too late. Having an updated website (whether it’s just a Facebook page or an independent URL) is critical for your business. Activating and updating your Google My Business is an easy way to bolster your online presence.
You can also do offline marketing. Posting flyers, sending postcards or distributing door flyers are all great ways to remind your local community that you’re around and can drum up business in the slow season.
This last one involves a lot of smart planning and prepping. Basically, charge more the rest of the year to compensate for the slow season and just take the time off.
As a one-man operation, this can be relatively simple (though potentially difficult). If you can reduce overhead costs for the off season (for example, avoid unnecessary insurance premiums by getting per-project insurance) and work (and charge) enough the rest of the year to cover your costs and maintain your lifestyle, you’re all set.
If you operate a crew, this can be a bit more complicated. You need to either pay your employees enough or have an understanding when you hire them that when you lay them off, they’ll come back to you when you start back up. Whether they enjoy having the time off to pursue their own interests or they find a seasonal gig, it’s important that you ensure that they trust and respect you enough to come back when you need them. Remember that these folks depend on your business for their livelihood. It’s a serious responsibility and you don’t want to hang them out to dry.