Do you own a seasonal business, such as a summer camp, sailing school or ski manufacturing company? Maybe you sell patio furniture or own a car wash. Any business where sales rise and fall drastically based on the seasons can benefit from these ideas for season-proofing.
Expand geographically. Can you sell your products or services to parts of the country (or world) with similar seasons? For instance, a patio furniture company in New Jersey could season-proof the business by selling to customers in California or Florida. It could even expand internationally to a country that’s warm during New Jersey’s fall and winter, like Australia.
Expand your product or service line. Think of things you could sell during the off-season that make sense with your business model. For example, could that ski manufacturing company retool its equipment to manufacture surfboards? In a mountain community near me, a lodge that does most of its business during snow season built a giant waterslide to attract families who stay at the nearby lake in the summer.
Expand demographically. Investigate whether there’s a demographic market you aren’t serving that needs your products or services during your slow time of year. For instance, when sales at your ice cream store decline during the colder months, make up for it by marketing catering services to event and party planners and setting up ice cream sundae bars at their events.
Manage cash flow and working capital carefully. When you own a seasonal business, it’s vital to keep a close eye on your cash flow. You need to keep on top of both short-term and long-term cash needs. Monitor your cash flow weekly and set aside cash reserves for the slow season to ensure you have enough working capital.
Open a business line of credit before you need it. This way, you’ll be prepared with a source you can draw upon for working capital during slow times. Build up your credit rating by borrowing small amounts from the line of credit and paying it back on time. Eventually, you’ll be able to get a bigger line of credit, which will give you more flexibility to manage seasonal ups and downs.
Plan ahead for seasonal staffing. Determine whether using a temporary staffing agency, reducing permanent employees to part-time status during the slow season, or hiring seasonal employees each year makes sense for your business. Make sure you train employees before the busy season hits so you don't waste time getting them up to speed while a line of customers snakes out the door. Pulling from the same pool of seasonal employees every year can help you cut the time it takes to train employees. When you find a good seasonal employee, keep their information on file for next year.
Sell more during your busy season. Some entrepreneurs wish their seasonal businesses could operate year-round, while others love having downtime. If you’re in the latter camp, boost your cash flow by selling even more to customers during your busy season. Could your surf school start selling surfboards, wetsuits and other surf gear in addition to giving lessons? Could you charge more by providing surf students a boxed lunch during their midday break so they don't have to bring food from home?
Market early. When you only have a short season to make the most of your sales, it’s important to keep last year’s customers coming back. Stay in touch with your customers all year long via email or direct mail so they don’t forget about you. Send them special offers before the season starts, such as discounts if they book your summer camp early or buy a new snowboard “before the rush.” Emphasize the benefits of purchasing before the season starts, such as better selection and prices. This helps you get cash flowing before the busy season starts.
It’s normal for seasonal businesses to experience ebb and flow, however, it’s still important to remain lucrative. To succeed at a seasonal business, you must prepare for your busy season year-round.
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About Rieva Lesonsky
Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and Co-founder of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog SmallBizDaily.com. A nationally known speaker and authority on entrepreneurship, Rieva has been covering America’s entrepreneurs for more than 30 years.
Before co-founding GrowBiz Media, Lesonsky was the long-time Editorial Director of Entrepreneur Magazine. Lesonsky has appeared on hundreds of radio shows and numerous
local and national television programs, including the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN,The Martha Stewart Show and Oprah.Lesonsky regularly writes about small business for numerous websites and for corporations targeting entrepreneurs. Many organizations have recognized Lesonsky for her tireless devotion to helping entrepreneurs. She served on the Small Business Administration’s National Advisory Council for six years, was honored by the SBA as a Small Business Media Advocate and a Woman in Business Advocate, and received the prestigious Lou Campanelli award from SCORE. She is a long-time member of the Business Journalists Hall of Fame.
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