Clearly for consumer-facing businesses December is often the busiest time of the year as demand for their products and services skyrockets. However, things are different for B2B firms, December can be a worryingly slow month. Their workload gets lighter, the phone rings less often – all of which can be especially hard to bear as retailers’ tills ring.
Many suffer from bailing clients – those who put their ‘escape plans’ into effect and pull the plug at the end of the year. Lots of small business owners are painfully aware of this habit, and spend much of their festive period waiting for the storm to hit.
Businesses that provide professional services seen as ‘discretionary’ may also find that some of their clients will suddenly want to take an unscheduled ‘holiday’ from their services in December. This can be very frustrating for any firm that has spent a year over-servicing their clients.
If this applies to you, you’ll need to figure out a way to keep your revenue rolling in when most of your clients will be more interested in splurging on festive food and drink than giving that cash to you.
So the big question is, how can you protect yourself from the much-feared December drop-off? If you can’t prevent it, you can mitigate its impact by making good use of the downtime.
Some things to bear in mind:
· MAKE SURE IT’S ALL IN PRINT. Your contract should clearly state your position during the Christmas period – the holidays may slow things down for a few days, but this doesn’t mean clients have the right to put everything on hold. People are enjoying themselves more in December, fair enough, but that doesn’t mean that everyone should stop working. So, to avoid doubt include a clause about December in your contracts, especially if you offer discretionary services. However, not all clients will be in contract, so if one of those who isn’t asks to take a break in December, just let them know how you feel. If they have been overserviced during the year, you have some moral leverage to keep their foot on the gas in December. Honesty is the best policy; so don’t be afraid to say you are unhappy with their suggestion.
· EVERYBODY LOVES A GOOD DEAL. The holidays are all about being generous so why not make a goodwill gesture to your clients? The truth is that you want your clients’ money before Christmas but they don’t really want to hand it over. With this in mind you could offer a seasonal discount for those who are willing to settle their invoices early in the month. Your clients will appreciate this gesture, and you will be making sure your cash-flow remains intact right up to the end of the year. Long-standing clients should are likely to say yes if you broach the topic diplomatically.
· LAY DOWN YOUR GAMEPLAN EARLY. You are likely to know in advance if your business is susceptible to the December drop-off – either through client desertion or falling revenue. A great way to deal with it is to assess your overall financial position, and to make sure that you have the funds to cover the “downtime” – you could even think about it over summer. Imagining the worst-case scenario forces you to prepare a sufficient buffer to carry you through until the New Year, when everything should fall back into place.
Some sectors are quieter than others; so if this applies to you, make use of the relative calm. The winter slowdown is a period to be taken advantage of – a moment where you can turn your attention to aspects of your business that may go unnoticed during the year’s busier months.
Mid-December is the perfect time for future target setting, intelligent strategic planning and staff reviews. Any other admin continually gets knocked down the list when everything is hectic, so order is much needed.
Conclusion: if there is a drop-off, be sure to make it a positive rather than a negative.