Stu MacDonald of FreshBooksSome seasonal businesses heat up during the summer months, but for most, the peak of summer signals a slow-down in the business calendar. Clients take last minute vacations, review cycles slow to a grinding halt, and new projects are put on hold until everyone returns from their assorted holidays. In short, it seems that everyone’s focus is anywhere but work.

While the slow pace can be a disconcerting for the freelancer, it can also be a great opportunity to revisit your business toolbox – including your skills, capabilities, technology, and marketing. Savvy small business owners know they can use the downtime to make their business more successful when things get rolling again. Here are eight easy ways to make the most of your summer:

1. Learn something new
Have you been wondering about how to boost your company’s Google ranking? Not sure if your business should be on Pinterest or Tumblr? Curious about how an email campaign might improve lead-gen? There’s no shortage of things to learn these days, and the summer slow-down is the perfect time to add to your business arsenal.

Set a goal to explore one new area, whether it’s search-engine optimization or building new sources of business. Then set the time to attend a seminar, take an online course, or learn on your own. For example, the Practical Social Media University is currently offering a monthly membership for $29.99/month (no contract required) where you get access to online training webinars such as Small Business Marketing With Pinterest or
Twitter’s Killer Prospecting Tool.

2. Revisit prior inspirations
All too often, our best business ideas come to us when we have absolutely no time to put them into practice. When the pace of work slows down, go back to those brilliant inspirations and give them the thought they deserve. You never know: that inkling you had for a potential new revenue stream may be just the thing to catapult your business to a whole new level.

If you don’t already have one, create some method for squirreling away your ideas and inspirations for a rainy day. Use whatever method works for you: a paper journal, a simple Word or Google Doc, or an app like Evernote or Springpad.

3. Brush up your social profiles
Is your LinkedIn page up-to-date? It might be time for a profile facelift. If you use Facebook for marketing and contacting potential clients and business partners, this is the time to make sure your information is current and accurate. Go through the pile of business cards from the past months of events and conferences, and add folks you’ve stayed in touch with.

4. Get ahead on your blog
Many small business owners are also editor-in-chief, community manager, and head writer for their company blog. We all know that feeding the blog beast can be a real chore, particularly when you’re stacked to the eyebrows with paying work. A 2011 survey from HiveFire found that nearly three-quarters of marketers struggle to produce enough original content, and about the same number can’t find the time to do so.

Slow periods can be the best time to get organized with an upcoming editorial calendar for your blog. Create a list of blog topics and prepare a handful of posts you can use throughout the year. Of course, the key here is to avoid writing about recent events or anything time-sensitive. After all, your thoughts about the Facebook IPO will seem awfully dated by October.

5. Stretch your comfort zone
It’s hard to find new inspiration when you stick to the same old script. Summer is the season of festivals, so why not break out of the routine and explore something brand new? If you’re a diehard R&B fan, try taking in a jazz festival. Switch up Roller Derby for Shakespeare in the Park (or vice versa). You might not necessarily love it, but immersing yourself in new experiences will stimulate your senses, get you thinking, and you’ll be energized for new business challenges too.

6. Do your summer reading
If you’re like many curious entrepreneurs, you’ve got a stack of business books you purchased ages ago but haven’t had a chance to read. Now’s the time to catch up on your reading. What’s to stop you from grabbing a coffee and kicking back with a good book or trade journal?

If you’re looking for something new to read, Gadi Ben-Yehuda, Social Media Director at the IBM Center for The Business of Government, offers six summer reading suggestions for social media types, including Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains, Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, and Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.

7. Audit a summer class
It may be summer, but that doesn’t mean your brain needs to take vacation. Keep your mind sharp by attending a lecture or extended learning course. Explore upcoming schedules at a local community college, museum, community center, library, or local organization. Choose whatever strikes your interest – whether it’s “Roman Ruins in Carthage” or “An Introduction to Landscape Photography.” It doesn’t need to be practical, productive, or related to your business. This is the time to stretch your mind.

8. Get ready for tax season
During the summer months, taxes are probably the furthest thing from your mind. Yet this can be a great time to get organized so you can breeze through the next tax season.

If you’re not sure where to begin, consider what the toughest aspects were of filing your recent tax forms. Did you have trouble tracking down receipts when completing your Schedule C? Did you forget to track your mileage for client meetings? Maybe you were too lax in sending in your Estimated Tax Payments? Your biggest headaches offer the best opportunities to improve your execution the next time around. And there’s no shortage of digital tools to help you stay organized, such as Outright, Shoeboxed, or Expensify.

In addition, why wait until the busy tax season to meet with your tax advisor or CPA? Consider scheduling an appointment this summer, when you’ll both have more time to discuss your financials and long-term strategy, rather than racing to meet a tax deadline.

Stuart MacDonald is chief marketing and revenue officer at FreshBooks, an online invoicing and bookkeeping service for small businesses, with over 4.5 million users worldwide.