Hard Times in the Service Industry – What to Do While Your Clients Are Away

There is a lot of advice out there for entrepreneurs hit hard by the current economic crisis. Much of it has to do with growing one’s business and most of it is solid advice that should, by all means, be heeded. Still, at least for those in the service industry, the truth is that there are simply fewer clients to go around. It’s also true that former clients probably won’t be coming back until the overall economy is well on the road to improvement. New clients, that is, people who have always gotten along without the service you provide, may take even longer to attract. It seems that this recession has created an entire do-it-yourself generation, so that the demand for every service short of open-heart surgery has temporarily dried up to one degree or another.

How do you, as the proprietor of a small service business, cope with the drastic changes in your client base, your cash flow, and thus your life?

Although a certain amount of dismay is a natural reaction to economic upheaval, dwelling too much on the negative can have a debilitating effect making you less able to serve your core clients, and delaying recovery for your business harder when opportunities begin to return, as surely they will.

It is essential, then, that you make a conscious effort to keep yourself and your business moving forward even when you’re running on empty. Here are some strategies for doing just that:

Get the Work That You Do Have Done

Ironically, when there’s less to do, we have a tendency to lose our sense of urgency and to put things off. In good times, when we have more work than we think we can handle, we ratchet up our work habits so as not to miss deadlines or lose the confidence of our clients. Then, when our workload is suddenly cut in half, or worse, we tell ourselves that there will be plenty of time tomorrow to do that jobs that are in the pipeline today. That may mean completing work for clients, or keeping up with the filing or the bookkeeping. Considering how low you’re feeling today, putting work off until tomorrow can be pretty tempting.

Don’t do it.

Instead of letting this happen, go in exactly the other direction. As your first act each morning update your To-Do list. For the first time in your career, you may find it possible to check off every item on that list in a day or less. That is bad news and good news. While less work obviously means less income, there can be real benefits for you if you handle your extra time well. That means putting your business first so that your free time is really yours to do with as you choose.

Choose to Use Your Free Time Wisely

Now is the time to examine your priorities. If you were happy with what you were doing before the recession hit, then devote some of the extra time you have to building your personal and on-line networking activities. It takes very little time and no money to set business up on networking sites such as Linkedin.com and Twitter. Do it. Read the tutorials on the sites and the articles available on line to find new ways to make connections and build your name recognition. While you may not see results right away, you will have made it easier and more likely that potential customers will find you when the time is right for them.

If, on the other hand, you were just too busy in the past to work on a career change, then recognize this a chance to do some soul-searching and some opportunity-scouting. Write letters and follow up on leads. Take classes if you like. Pretend the career change is already in the works. You can stop any time something better comes along even if that something better turns out to be a ringing phone and the return of the good old days.

Finally, recognize that while you may not have all the cash you need to improve your standard of living, you do have the time. By all means roll up your sleeves and take on some of the projects that will make daily life better for you and your family. In this way, you will end each day with a sense of accomplishment.