How to keep your seasonal business strong all year long
Put downtime to good use by staying connected with your customers
A successful seasonal business takes year-round effort. Whether you run a Christmas-tree farm where most sales take place in December, a popular summertime resort, or a tax-consultancy that’s swamped every spring, smart planning and the right tools can keep your customers engaged in your off-season – and make you feel less stressed about your bottom line.
“Your downtime is when you should be developing your processes, making sure your inventory is in shape, making sure your financials are up to date, finding new customers and building relationships with existing customers – all things entrepreneurs have a problem doing when they’re very busy,” says Karen Fischer, partner at the Ontario-based business coaching-and-consultancy firm RK Fischer & Associates. She’s worked with small- and medium-sized enterprises in multiple sectors, and suggests a number of strategies to help seasonal businesses stay strong all year long.
Use periods when your core product or service is not available to strengthen your relationship with existing and potential customers – and tantalize them about the next purchase opportunity. Use social-media channels to broadcast where you are in your production process, share changes customers will see in the future or just remind your followers how great things have been. Build loyalty by providing advice or behind-the-scenes content through an enewsletter or blog, or (depending on your industry) demonstrate your company’s expertise with a downloadable white paper on an issue of interest to your customers. Going mobile-friendly can help you reach your customers where they are, and can also improve your business’s search-engine rankings, says Fischer.
Develop new payment possibilities
Cash flow can be a challenge for seasonal businesses. Offering an installment-payment plan can balance things out and, as a happy side effect, make big-ticket purchases less daunting for customers. A subscription plan that breaks a product or service into components that can be delivered at different times may also be a way to spread workload and revenue through the year. Take advantage of the array of cloud-based services for invoicing and payments, which make it as easy to bill monthly or weekly as just once.
Look beyond your core business
You and your team have probably developed skills and capacities that extend beyond your company’s raison d’être, so tap into that. A catering company may have a knack for producing cultural events, while a landscaping company might have equipment perfect for snow removal. Fischer says that looking at your resources and adding new products or services, can also help with a perennial challenge of seasonal businesses: keeping staff productive during quiet times. Or the opposite problem – constantly rebuilding the team after end-of-season layoffs.
Look beyond your core customers
These days, thanks to technology, there’s no reason to define your market by your town, province or even country. Many services can be provided online through email, chat or videoconferencing to anywhere in the world, while ecommerce platforms can take much of the risk and hassle out of selling products abroad. You might not be able to sell Christmas trees in July, but if you’re a clothing retailer you could sell summer fashion to the southern hemisphere during the depths of the Canadian winter.
Plan your spending
“If you ask small-business owners how they decided to spend the money they spent, most will say they looked in their bank account to see what they had,” says Fischer. Owners of seasonal businesses need to manage their money more carefully than that. Consider setting up a monthly budget – and sticking to it. This can offer many benefits: you’ll have money to spend when the prices of supplies are low, often in the off-season, and financial institutions will be more eager to make loans to help you grow your company rather than help bail you out of a cash-crunch emergency. And remember to rein in your spending during peak months – you need to keep cash on hand to reinvest in your business (regardless of the season), and enough funds available to ensure your business can weather slower sales periods.