It’s inevitable. Seasons change from spring to summer, from fall to winter. Regardless of the nature of your business, whether you sell products or deliver services, the changing seasons may have a significant impact on your short- and long-term business success.
For example, Nevada ski resorts are seasonal businesses, generating revenues when the fluffy powder covers the slopes, but seeing empty parking lots when temperatures rise during the summer months. Cash flow may slow to a trickle as ski lifts sit idle. So ski resort owners plan for the lean times by saving during the times when the business is generating large cash flows.
Other businesses also experience seasonal ups and downs. Realtors don’t sell many homes during the holiday season because people are focused on shopping and travelling to visit relatives. Lawn service companies don’t have much to do during the winter. The months leading up to April 15 are busy times for CPAs as they prepare tax returns for timely filing.
It’s easy to understand that a seasonal drop in business volume can create challenges, but companies that experience an increase in business activity may also experience problems. Deadlines may be missed. More temporary, seasonal employees may have to be trained. The parking lot may be filled to capacity.
Seasonal changes can affect a spectrum of businesses and, if your company is one of them, here are some tips to get you through the business seasons that impact your enterprise, regardless of size.
1. Manage your cash. Use past years’ activities to project your cash needs during slow business periods. For example, if you’ve required $250,000 in cash flow during seasonal downtimes in the past, create a cushion that will enable you to make off-season payments without going into debt. Set aside a pre-determined percentage of earnings during busy seasons (based on the earnings history of past years) to create that cushion instead of spending everything as soon as it comes in.
2. Market year ‘round. Your business may experience seasonal shifts in cash flow, but you can always sell the future at a good price to encourage early sign-ups. As the owner of a summer campground you may be tempted to wait for the spring months to start advertising, but why wait? Market during the holiday season, and offer incentives to book early to give the gift of camping during the holidays. A ski shop may offer coupons, sales, demonstrations and other incentives during the summer.
3. Collaborate with other local businesses. That summer campground might be ideal for cross-country skiing in the winter months, thus bringing back tourists to the local hotels and bed and breakfasts. Work with local economic organizations to develop regional incentives to lure customers back during “off” seasons. That’s one of the best ways to shorten the off season, or eliminate it entirely, creating a business model that can generate cash flow 12 months out of the year.
4. Grow your local market. If you own a seasonal business in a tourist area, cut your prices to locals when business starts to drop off. Low-cost, day-long lift tickets may attract local skiers ready for the last run of the season. Your seasonal restaurant can make up for lost revenues by offering low-cost wedding and event facilities during the off season. Use your physical facilities year ‘round to generate business revenues.
5. Get employees ready. If you know your busy season is just around the corner, make sure you hire and train seasonal staff so your business is ready to conduct business. Start hiring and training several months in advance of your busy times of the year to give seasonal temps time to learn the inventory, shipping procedures, how to ring up a sale and other sales floor activities.
Provide as much notice as possible when seasonal lay-offs are on the horizon to give seasonal employees more time to find another job. That may make it easier to re-hire them during the next busy time.
6. Make the most of your off season. Put “down time” to good use to boost revenues when your business season rolls around again. Visit trade shows. Take business courses at the local community college or online. Spend some time beefing up your website or learning how to use social media to your advantage.
7. Stay in touch with customers all through the year. Use brochures, emails, newsletters, blogs, direct response mailers and other marketing tools to keep your company’s name in front of visitors, prospects, clients and customers. Rent boats for cruising? You may not rent much during the cooler months, but you can still send out newsletters on boat safety, ads for boat sales, and coupons to save 10% on customers’ vacation boat rentals.
Just because you manage a seasonal business doesn’t mean you operate seasonally. You’re always open for business – even when the parking lot is empty. It’s time to get to work – no matter what time of year it is.
The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice.