Being a business owner is stressful, and it can be even more stressful if you’re profitable for only part of the year. However, running a seasonal business doesn’t mean you’re doomed to zero cash flow in the offseason. With careful planning and the right strategy, your business can remain profitable long after the peak season is over.
Whether you’re gearing up for the holiday season or slowing down after your summertime rush, here’s how to keep your business afloat throughout the year.
As a business owner, you always need to understand and manage your cash flow and expenses, but this is especially important for seasonal businesses. Once you understand your offseason costs, look for ways to minimize or cut business expenses.
“Every dollar that leaves your bank account is money that can help you better weather the offseason,” said Russ Jundt, founder of Conserva Irrigation. “Dedicate yourself to minimizing necessary expenses and eliminating unnecessary costs.”
It would help if you also looked for ways to expand your sales into slow periods. Gary Fouts, owner of Christmas Decor, said he offers monthly payment plans to help with offseason expenses. “Offering monthly payment plans can be a great way to help a client afford your services while also helping your business have a consistent source of cash throughout the year.”
Fouts promotes seasonal services and incentivizes people to sign up during the off-season.
“The biggest thing to help with this, though, is to have a budget and stick to it throughout the entire year.”
Just because it’s your offseason doesn’t mean you can’t accomplish tasks and improve your business. Use this slow period to strategize, plan, and train employees.
“The offseason is a great chance to study what worked successfully and what did not,” Jundt said. “We call this our ‘start, stop or continue’ exercise. What should we start doing differently due to last season’s performance? What should we stop doing? And what should we continue doing?”
Brandon Stephens, president of Christmas Decor, also uses the offseason to think about the business’s needs and set goals and profit targets for the next season. “This might include calculating the ideal number of clients to retain, adjusting the training process, ordering new equipment, conducting pricing evaluations, updating marketing materials, etc.”
Stephens and Fouts believe the best way to stay profitable year-round is to find another business to offset the busy season.
“When you identify those endeavors, you want to choose the ones that you can pursue using the same people and equipment you have for your core business,” Stephens said. “This will help to reduce overhead costs and make it easier for you to market your new business to your current client base.”
Fouts tries to find services with similar equipment and materials. For example, his Christmas decor business has purposes outside of the holiday season, such as other holidays and special events like weddings.
“Additionally, we look for businesses that also have offsetting offseasons and build upon our current offering to better serve our clients,” he said.
“Diversifying services of a seasonal business can create annual stability,” Stephens said. “If I have an employee that can perform various tasks for all seasons, that person creates more value to the company and can be shifted as the need arrives.”
Toffer Grant, founder and CEO of prepaid business Visa provider PEX Card, recommends looking through your inventory at the end of your peak season to see if you can sell off anything.
“A business has to determine [if] it is worth keeping money tied up in gear and supplies that sit around until the following season,” he said. “Recoup some of the money by selling materials for what was paid, or even at a small loss, [to] cash out those items.”
Fouts said his objective is to get the inventory as close to zero as possible before the end of the season. “We’ll run a special on whatever color or type of lights we have in excess, sell off inventory to franchisees in the network or other companies. If, at the end of the season, there is still an excess of a certain color or type of lights, we’ll store them during the offseason.”
Your business may be in the offseason in your current location, but there could be a demand in other areas. These opportunities aren’t limited to the U.S.; you may find significant demand in other parts of the world.
For instance, if your business sells products that are in demand during the spring and summer months, you may see a dip in sales during the fall and winter seasons. But summer is just beginning once December hits in countries like Australia and New Zealand. There could be a significant opportunity to sell your products in those countries.
If inventory is left over at the end of the season, it doesn’t have to sit in a warehouse for the next six months. In addition to selling some of this inventory to other businesses, you could offer it to your customers at a steep discount.
For instance, if you sell Christmas-themed items, you can continue to offer these items to your customers at a lower price. Many customers specifically look to take advantage of deep discounts after the holidays.
You may not maintain the same volume of sales you see during the peak season, but this can be a great way to keep some additional revenue coming in throughout the year.
Credit card fees for seasonal businesses are often larger than for traditional companies, so it’s important to shop around and find the right provider.
The peak season may be over, but your customer relationship isn’t. It’s essential to stay in touch throughout the year and continue building that relationship to retain your customers.
Being proactive is a great way to keep your customers. Continue publishing blog posts and posting on social media regularly. Keep sending your customers weekly emails so that they’re used to hearing from you consistently. To automate the process, consider finding an email marketing service to create professional-looking emails and keep your contact lists up to date.
Other email marketing strategies that can keep you on your customers’ radar include tailoring your messages by audience through customer segmentation and using a call to action to increase engagement.
There are multiple benefits to keeping your relationship with your customers intact. First, it establishes your business as a thought leader in your industry. When people think of your industry, they’ll automatically think of your business and will be more likely to refer you to friends and family.
Plus, staying in touch with your customers throughout the year can help your business be more successful during the next peak season. For instance, if you run a Christmas-themed business, you can start building anticipation for the upcoming season in September or October.
Jamie Johnson, Nicole Fallon and Jennifer Post contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.