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Making the Best of a Slow Day

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"Slow days are my least productive days," a client once told me. "I know I should be handling a dozen things I never have time for, and yet all I seem to accomplish is playing around on Facebook and hoping that someone will call with new work."
In the summer, when many clients are on vacation and the demand for specialized services drops off, many small business owners find themselves in the same situation. Why is it that a slow day, a perfect opportunity to finally clean up, balance the books, and write marketing messages, goes by mostly unused?

Here are some thoughts about making more constructive use of these last slow days of summer before business picks up again and we all wish we had one more slow day:

1. Start with an easy task to get moving
The sluggishness you feel on a slow day may be caused by a mix of worry and the sudden absence of strict demands on your time. Since it probably does little good to dwell on existential threats ("I'll never get work again"), pick one clearly defined task that you commonly don't have time for. That can be something as easy as dusting off your computer equipment and cleaning crumbs out of the keyboard. Avoid settling down at your desk to turn your attention to other tasks you've been meaning to get to. Here is a Slow Day List (PDF) with a few ideas.

If a single slow day or week leads to money worries, it may be necessary to take a hard look at your books and pricing practices.

2. Arrange to meet someone for coffee or lunch
The truth is, you probably spend too much time sitting in your office, and there is always one more order or one more project to complete. Now that it's finally quiet, use the chance to share new ideas, catch up, or discuss new projects. Call a colleague or past client and plan to meet them later that day. Having a fixed event scheduled in the middle of a slow day will create the necessary momentum to avoid getting bogged down in mindless Internet use.

3. Review your marketing materials
When things are busy, there is never enough time to look at your marketing strategy as a whole. That makes a slow day a good opportunity to update your website, online profiles, or the marketing brief you typically send in response to new inquiries. Do they accurately reflect your pricing and specialization? Can you list any recently completed projects as references, and did you receive particularly positive feedback that should be included in your marketing materials?

4. Think strategically

If a single slow day or week leads to money worries, it may also be necessary to take a hard look at your books and pricing practices. Running a successful freelance business should not mean living hand to mouth.

"Unfortunately, because clients don’t usually come with their own pricing menu, it can be hard to know exactly what’s fair to charge freelance work. And, often, that lack of clarity results in dramatic, unfair underpayment. The good news, and the bad news, is that the solution relies entirely on you," wrote Hanna Brooks Olsen on the Creative Live blog this year.

Looking at your accounts and money needs for the remainder of the year can be a constructive start for strategic planning. Are there new specializations you can pick up, or is it time to plan a price increase?

Here are a few slow-day lessons I've learned over the years:

- The next project is sure to come in. There is no need to check your email every 10 minutes or to accept work at lower rates.
- A single day's marketing and strategy work can significantly affect your business and income for the following months and years.
- It's OK to get some rest.

Here's to you.

What's your best "slow day" advice?

More practical time management tips can be found in my newsletter.

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