You may dread the times when the phone isn’t ringing, but it can be an opportunity to play catch-up on neglected tasks and make plans to ward off future slow periods
Ever have a day so slow you called your own business just to make sure the phone was working? Meanwhile, when you’re booked to the max, the phone rings off the hook.
Wouldn’t it be nice to wave a magic wand and get just the right amount of work, every day, all year long?
Dry spells are completely natural. A lot of different factors can affect the ebb and flow of business. Some factors you can control and others you can’t. Either way, it’s cause for frustration and stress.
Macroeconomic concerns like consumer spending and industry seasonality are outside of your control. Not only do you not cause them, but there’s no instant fix for them either.
There are also microeconomic concerns that are caused by decisions in and around your business. Even if you aren’t completely in control of these things or how often the phone rings, you have the power to shape the outcome.
Let’s look at how you can make your phone ring on a slow day.
On Demand Ads
The beauty of running a pumping company in 2017 is the instant gratification of advertising. We get insight into buyers’ intentions and can serve them just the right ad at the right time. It’s amazing to a point, then it might get a bit creepy.
Search engine and social media advertising are easy to turn on and off as needed. In my mind, this makes it nearly the perfect advertising medium. If someone is searching for a “septic pumping near me” there is a great chance that they need a pumper right away. We call this purchase intent, and it’s a very good thing.
To capture this potential customer though, you have to be prepared with good, effective ads. Don’t try to slap something together at the last minute and expect the best return on your investment.
When creating these ads, it’s important to understand the basics of internet search marketing. If you don’t have someone on your staff for that, start by educating yourself. For instance, if the search term is purchase-intent related, the corresponding ads should include specific calls to action. Focus on keywords and concepts that are seasonally appropriate and encourage immediate action. Time-bound offers are a great way to get a call immediately. Make it about the customer, keep the language simple, and when possible, use click to call.
I like to have a stash of ads ready to turn on at a moment's notice for slow days. Sometimes you’ve got to spend money to make money.
Post in Online Community Groups and Apps
If you do residential work, this is a surprisingly useful tool. Many small communities and cities have online groups, forums, threads, and neighborhood networking apps. People love supporting local businesses and like the idea of doing business with a neighbor. Many times, they ask for recommendations, giving you an opportunity to make a connection directly.
Just be sure you understand the etiquette of these groups before you jump in. In general, there are some guidelines worth following. Join the community and participate regularly, well before you need to advertise your business. Be sure to check the rules before you post anything so you understand how to contribute appropriately. Many of these groups may allow self-promotional posts, but may also limit the frequency. This may actually be a good thing, because repetitive advertising posts would likely run off many frequent visitors.
Once you’re a regular member of the community try letting these new friends and neighbors know when you’re having a slow day. A simple post that just alerts them of immediate availability may be the motivation they need to scratch that item off their to-do list.
And don’t forget to include your phone number in your post.
Pay for Leads
You know these types of websites, because you probably get sales calls from them regularly. They usually serve residential customers, but are great for a rainy day. For some, these lead-generating sites might be a part of your regular marketing plan.
Others might avoid them like the plague. Either way, they’re an available tool to increase business. A good thing is you typically have control over which jobs you get calls or bid requests from.
If you don’t include these sites and apps in your regular marketing plan, be sure to look for one that doesn’t have a membership fee or contract. You don’t want to pay for something every month that you rarely use.
Regardless of how you feel about these websites and services, think of it as opening and closing a valve. These prospects clearly don’t have a relationship with a pumper, so this is your shot. You might give up some margin on this job, but you can turn an expensive lead into a customer for life. That’s the true opportunity.
It’s Not Always About Revenue
As you know, running a business is about more than just generating revenue. If you absolutely can’t find paying work, there is still plenty to work on in your business. Life may have handed you lemons today, so let’s make some lemonade.
In an ideal world, you’re going on sales calls on a regular basis. In reality, many of you are too busy doing actual pumping work to keep that up regularly. Slow days might be the universe telling you to play catch-up.
This might not lead to business today, but it can future-proof your business against moments of phone silence in the future. It hurts not having revenue coming in, but this is one way to make the most of it.
Take on a Project
How many times have you wished you had time to complete a project, but were swamped with work? Now’s the time. Clean up your shop, organize your truck, research new products or services, fix broken equipment, etc. If you’re being completely honest, there must be at least one thing that you’ve been complaining about not having time to do.
Slow days are stressful and cause us to worry. What if the sky is falling? How are you going to meet your expenses? If the stress makes it difficult to concentrate on that endless to-do list that is usually floating around in your brain, keep a physical list somewhere. An ongoing slow-day task list will help you jump on these projects when time permits, making the most out of the opportunity and hopefully easing the stress of a slow day.
An unexpected slow day is a great opportunity for anyone with employees to work on training. Practice makes perfect, so use this time to drill important concepts into employees’ heads. Maybe you have an apprentice or a helper who needs to learn to solder. Maybe one of your newer employees needs to get certified on large equipment.
If you have employees who are going to be on the clock, turning a slow work day into a training opportunity is an investment. It’s no longer just an expensive truck wash. These employees will appreciate an opportunity to learn something new, hopefully energizing them for busy days to come.
Know Your Seasonality and Plan For the Future
While the odd slow day can happen at any time, the timing isn’t usually a total surprise. You know the seasonality of your business, so plan for it.
This is a great time to encourage employees to take vacations or personal days. Ideally, you’re also planning ahead for the lower cash flow and tailoring your expenses accordingly. Your budget should reflect the expected seasonality of your business. If you don’t have a budget in place, this is a great time to do that too.
Running a septic pumping company can sometimes feel like putting out a series of fires. Unexpectedly quiet days are the perfect time to reflect on long-term strategies, operational efficiencies, and all of the other high-level thinking that you’re usually too mired down in the day-to-day to consider.
I’m not sure that you ever entirely get used to slow days. But once you get beyond the point of panicking and wondering if you’re watching your business crumble before your eyes, take stock. Do what is in your power to do and then make the most of the day as it comes.
About the Author
Anja Smith is managing partner for All Clear Plumbing in Greenville, South Carolina. She can be reached at email@example.com.