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Have a question about a small business topic? Let our resident expert Chris Griffiths take a run at it. E-mail your questions to smallbusiness@globeandmail.com. Confidentiality ensured.

I recently heard a host of bad retail results on my favourite financial news station. These were big, multinational, publicly traded retailers complaining about poor sales in December and January due to cold weather, rain and snow.

While big companies might have trouble figuring out what to do when the weather works against them, you and your small business have plenty of options. Your business is nimble and it has no excuse to wait until the weather improves to add value when there are interruptions. You can start the day with a blank page, and that's a great way to look at it.

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If bad weather is keeping customers away, use it to your advantage. Whether it's a slow day or a full-on snow day, you can use the down time – normally spent answering phones, e-mails and dealing with walk-in traffic – to your advantage.

Ironically, one thing you and your staff can do is make phone calls, write e-mails and generate interest that will translate into walk-in traffic and sales. There is one big distinction from the routine: Be proactive in these efforts, not reactive.

When you initiate the communications, you drive the topics and the agendas and your customers need to react to you. It's usually the other way around. You can follow up on sales leads you have in the pipeline. You can reach out to regular customers with an update on your products and service offerings. You can schedule meetings, offer VIP promotions or check up on a recent purchases to insure the customers are satisfied.

These actions re-ignite top-of-mind awareness and separate your business from the pack. These customers are probably at home, assuming you are closed or tough to access, and surfing the web for their next purchase.

Consumers buy from companies that pay the most attention to them. Great service and above-average communications should set you apart from weekly online specials delivered regularly to your customers' inboxes and the flyers that get dropped in their mailboxes.

If you have a store front, a stint of bad weather can create an opportunity to re-merchandise your showroom, spot-check inventory, clean and reorganize. Even catching up on paperwork or reporting is better than feeling helpless. A quiet day at the office, as we all know, can make it easier to be productive, easier to concentrate, and open up a future time slot for more revenue-generating work.

You can't control the weather – and if you can, call me, I have a market for that – but you can control what you do with the time that normally feels interrupted or unproductive. You and your business are not victims of the weather, you are the keepers of a war chest of other value-added work.

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Break open that chest and control what you can. It will help you focus and your business will end its snow day better off than the way it began.

Chris Griffiths is the Toronto-based director of fine tune consulting, a boutique management consulting practice. Over the past 20 years, he has started or acquired and exited seven businesses.

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