Summer poses many different types of obstacles for small businesses. Industries that are busy won't have time to deal with new salespeople, and industries that are slow may not have the money to buy now. In some cases the industry is irrelevant. It is simply that the principals are on vacation and no decisions can be made about new business.

We all know that planning is the best solution to avoiding slow sales, but in the absence of a predesigned strategy, we need to increase sales, now! Don't panic. You can still take steps to minimize the effects of the summer sales doldrums, if you know where to look.

At Home

"Watch your mindset," advises Gretchen Sunderland, founder of Life Coaching, in Queensbury, N.Y. "If you are already telling yourself that it is a summer slump you are in trouble. Eighty percent of sales is attitude."

Take control of your sales instead of being dictated by the season. "Try a summer sale. Think about what you can promote for just the summer. If you are truly slower then usual then you can either deliver products more quickly or spend more service time with your customers," says Sunderland.

Another idea from Sunderland is to "create a sense of urgency." Let your customers know that summer is the best time to buy because when September comes, and their businesses get back in gear, they won't have the time to focus on purchases, yet that is when they will need your products, or services, the most.

Your Own Backyard

"Focus on your current customer base instead of trying to obtain new customers," suggests Gregg L. Matteson, owner of Custom Program Solutions, in South Bend, Ind. As a soloist since 1998, Matteson's client base is manageable at this point, so he's less interested in finding more clients, and more interested in sustaining his current business. "I look at what has changed in their locations to see if I can make it easier for them. We are all presented with new problems every day. If I am there to suggest a solution then I create a sale even in a typically slow sales period," he says.

Sunderland suggests summertime also is a good time to get referrals. "During the height of your season you usually don't ask for referrals. Get them now and follow-up on them," she says. "A referral is golden."

Rosanna Tussey, owner of OfficeSupportNow.com, a virtual assistant service based in Albuquerque, N.M., takes the referral process one step further by offering her clients incentives. "Last summer was slow, and it caught me by surprise," Tussey says. "I had to do something to increase sales, so I created a referral program, and I offer something of value to the referrer -- one-hour of service credit off the next invoice." Tussey explains that this has a dual sales effect. "It encourages my clients to use me again as well as spread the word," she says. "It has taken my business to a whole new level and has turned my clients into my sales force and repeat clientele!"

Down the Road

Even if cash flow is starting to get tight, planning for the next season will help you secure increased sales so that you can make up for the slower summer. Jason Bordeaux, business development manager at Wind River Financial, a merchant electronic transaction processing service located in Appleton, Wis., plans for a "strong year-end finish." His solution is to "create campaigns that start during your slow time and ramp up so your target customers are familiar with who you are when it is time to contact them." Marketing during the summer is crucial as it keeps your name and brand in front of your customers even if they are not in a position to buy right now. Then, in the fall, when you start making phone calls and site visits, it will be an easier sale since you have forged your brand recognition.

Alternatively, Sunderland suggests taking some time to work on yourself and infrastructure -- renewing or refreshing your energy so that you are at your best when your busy season returns. "Learn more about your product or other products in the line to increase your skills and knowledge," she suggests. The prospect of being a better salesperson can be very motivating and allow you to get through a slow time and look forward to future sales.

Ellen DePasquale is a freelance writer based in Queens, N.Y.