Every sports fan knows there’s one day every year that’s just heartbreaking — the day after the championship. If you’re a college football fan, it’s the second Tuesday in January; if baseball is more your speed, it’s right around the first of November, after a World Series champion is crowned.
From that day, the months just stretch out in front of you, with nothing to do but dream about waking up on the first day of spring practice, or the morning pitchers and catchers report to spring training, the most glorious day of the year, when the possibilities for the new season are endless.
But for the teams, the work doesn’t stop. There might be a little vacation, a few days or even a couple weeks to regroup and reset, but then the work begins to prep for the new season. Imagine if Tom Brady didn’t lift a single weight or spend a minute on the treadmill from February 5 until mid-July…think he’d be playing in any Super Bowls?
Point being: if you aren’t spending your offseason getting ready for the next season, you probably just played your last season. It’s true in sports, and it’s true in business. For contractors, that might not involve a football — deflated or not — but it’s still incredibly important. As someone much smarter once said: championships are won in the offseason.
So what can you do to contend for a crown when the phone isn’t ringing off the hook? Here are four ideas:
Work on Yourself
If the phone isn’t ringing, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do. You and your team can use the time to do some personal development.
Develop a little library of great books to help edify your employees: leadership, customer service, business strategies, and more. Between calls, your receptionist can be reading about Disney’s strategies for providing great service; if he’s not spending all morning loading material onto trucks, your shop manager can read up on a Fortune 500 company’s leadership team. It beats watching them scroll through Instagrams of the local humane society’s cats on company hours, right?
When you have a few relatively uninterrupted days, schedule some time to meet with your leadership team and have a good come-to-Jesus with a SWOT analysis of the business. That stands for Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats, and it’s good to have a thorough checkup of each of these categories on a regular basis.
Strengths and weaknesses are internal to your company — things that YOU do well or could improve — and opportunities and threats are external — things that the market dictates or allows. Don’t be afraid to be very honest in this exercise; it’s a waste of time if you aren’t willing to give and receive constructive criticism. But this can also help you unearth some space to make next year your best year yet.
Find an Offseason Opportunity
Your SWOT analysis can help point you toward an area you can focus on, externally, in the offseason. Finding a service the community needs that you can provide can help keep the phone ringing and give you a chance to get to know the folks who can easily become your future “previous” customers.
For example, at White Castle Roofing, we found that, while roof replacement companies are all over the place in our area, there were very few roof repair companies. Roof replacements are quite seasonal in nature, but repairs are a year-round business. It may not be the most profitable thing in the world, but by investing in a few repair specialists and making sure they’re well-trained, personable, and trustworthy, we have a walking advertisement for our company that meets a need in the community AND keeps us top-of-mind in the winter months when we aren’t out doing a full replacement. Down the road, when the homeowners who called us for a repair need a full replacement, in many cases we’re now their first phone call.
Ours is just one example. Maybe it’s getting into gutters or siding, if you’re a home exterior company. If you sell heaters or air conditioners, can you do more with servicing your products, or get into other home maintenance services, like appliance repairs? If you do landscaping, can you also do snow removal? Be creative, be honest about what you can and cannot do (and what you are willing to invest in doing it), and you might find a new service you can provide to expand your customer base and keep busy.
Focus on Your Online Presence
This is an area contractors often overlook, but it might be the most important thing you do all year. Have you Googled yourself lately? Is your website optimized for local search and mobile viewing? Do you have a social media strategy? How do your listings look?
Is this Mandarin to you?
The offseason is a great time to dedicate some very valuable hours to making sure you have a solid online presence. Spend some time looking up other businesses in your field online and in social media, and get some ideas for your own strategies. If you need to do a web redesign or total overhaul of your social media pages, find a pro to help you, and use the less-busy time to make sure any bugs on your site are ironed out before you have all the hits of the regular season.
Then take a look at your listings. If you haven’t claimed your major listings pages yet (Google My Business, Yelp, Bing, and Facebook), do so immediately, and start developing those profiles. Those will help your business show up higher in Google listings, and give your potential customers searching for a contractor a better idea of who you are. If those are well-developed by the time the busy season hits, you won’t need to spend as much time maintaining them to stay relevant. Again, if you need a pro to help with this, it can be pricey but in the end is a really worthwhile investment.
Then get yourself familiar with your social media platforms and analytics, so posting becomes second nature and doesn’t take as much time in your busy days. The last thing you want to do is be super active during the offseason, then disappear in your busy season — but becoming a pro on how to post good content can help you practice so it’s easier to do once you’re busier in a few months.
Get Out in The Community
Dedicate your slow time to getting back in touch with your community. One great use of your free hours is to visit several tips and networking groups! Check with your local chamber of commerce for opportunities, and look at unaffiliated groups, like a regional CenterSphere branch, independent business association, or professional network.
Also, consider service-oriented groups like Kiwanis or Rotary clubs. Try out as many as you like, as their rules allow — and then select a few to stay with year-round. These are great ways to keep your name relevant and generate some good referrals. Make sure you track where your customers come from — odds are you’ll start seeing these pay dividends!
Beyond the business, when your year-round employees have a little more free time during the day, take the opportunity to build up your company morale AND your community by getting out for some service together. Pick up litter along a park trail, serve a meal together at a homeless shelter, volunteer for a Habitat for Humanity build project, spend an afternoon hanging out with the residents at a nursing home… The possibilities are endless! Wear company apparel, and document your adventures. It’s a great way to invest in the health of your community while doing something memorable with your team.
Just because the phone is quiet doesn’t mean the work is over. Use your offseason to develop your employees, your business, your online presence, and your community — and you’ll have a winning setup when your Super Bowl season comes around again.