The cold, dark months that creep up on us after the bright lights of the holiday season have all burned out can be a slow time for some companies. But don’t let a dry spell get you down and unproductive. When business is slow, it’s the perfect time to work on your own business. Throughout the rest of the year, you are too busy and you don’t have time to focus on branding and all those time-consuming marketing efforts. So if you have some time now, then NOW is the time!

But it’s so overwhelming! you say

Well, of course, it’s overwhelming. You have a lot to do and you’re not an expert in branding or marketing. You’re an expert in whatever field it is you’re an expert in. No one expects you to do this all by yourself. Here are four manageable steps to get you started. I promise, it’s pretty painless.

1. Evaluate your current marketing materials and strategy.

What tools do you have in your marketing belt? This might include your logo, website, business cards, email newsletter, direct mailings, brochure, the sign outside your door, the whole shebang. Are they in need of only a slight refresh? Or do they scream 1997 and need a complete makeover? Do they work well together, or do they look like 17 unrelated people worked on them over the course of a dozen years? Did you design any of these pieces yourself? Have you implemented a social media aspect into your marketing plan yet? What was the ROI on those 5,000 postcards you sent out? Was it worth the trouble? Is your website optimized for search engines? Are you employing pay-per-click ads to target qualified leads?

It’s time to be honest and real. Your marketing materials are representing your business. Your bread and butter. Your baby. If you’re embarrassed to take your folder and one-pagers to a meeting with your biggest client, then they certainly aren’t good enough to use for prospective clients.

Perhaps you don’t need to redo everything, so prioritize what needs the most work.

2. Determine your budget.

Once you know how much you’re working with, you’ll be able to determine just how many items on that priority list from #1 you’ll be able to accomplish. It might only be the first thing on a very long list, but that’s better than nothing. And then, if money is freed up later on in the year, you’ll already know exactly how you want to spend it.

Be sure you are allocating a decent amount to marketing efforts. Sometimes it’s hard to measure just how much money your website is bringing in (especially if it’s not a commerce site), but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a pretty penny.

3. Hire a freelancer.

You could hire a freelancer, you could enlist the services of an agency, you could pay minimum wage to a design student, or you could barter with your 5-year-old nephew who likes to draw on the iPad. But here’s why I think you should hire a freelancer.

Freelancers are like mini agencies; they often work with other freelancers so they have the combined talent and skill sets of several individuals just like agency employees working together do. The only difference? They do it without the overhead costs. This means their prices are often a lot lower than agencies for the exact same work. And when I say “the exact same work,” I truly mean just that. Who do you think freelancers are? People who used to work for agencies who realized they could make more money and their own rules if they became freelancers, that’s who. Not sure what to look for in a freelancer?

I won’t bother going into why you shouldn’t hire the student or your kindergartner nephew; if either of those options work for you, carry on.

Once you have a professional working for you, she will provide a project plan for each item you are working on together, and she’ll lead the way, step by step.

4. Set realistic goals and stick to them.

Maybe you have the budget to get your whole list done right now. Congrats, that’s a pretty lofty goal! Now, if you’re actually going to achieve said goal, you’re going to have to break the project(s) down into parts, and set deadlines for each one. Treat these deadlines as if they were your clients’ (seriously, that is the only way this works.).

Remember when you were overwhelmed before you started reading this list? You might feel this way again, even after you get a professional on board. Your work is not done just because you’ve outsourced the technical aspects. You are still needed for brainstorming, concepting, mock-up reviews and approvals, interviewing, copywriting/reviewing… The list goes on and you’re an important player in this game. So don’t drop off the face of the earth a month after you start working with someone on improving your brand.