Keeping cash flow steady and the wheels greased is a challenge for any business owner, but this is especially true for seasonal business owners. A seasonal business is any business that earns the majority of income in a short period of time, such as a few months of the year.
Some seasonal businesses are closed during their low season, while others just see fewer customers. Navigating the seasonality of a small business can be a challenge, so we asked the experts for their tips to boost your low-season sales.
Reduce Off-Season Expenses
When it comes to business, there are two critical numbers: inflow and outflow. If your business is seasonal, then it experiences a period of the year where it has less or even no income. When your inflow goes down, so must your outflow.
Maria Juvakka, founder of Chic Pursuit, suggests minimizing expenses year-round, especially during the off-season. “Focus on eliminating unnecessary costs and minimizing all other expenses. Any money saved should be put into savings for the off-season when cash flow is limited.”
Use Downtime for Business Growth
While your off-season may be a time where your business isn’t as busy, that doesn’t mean that you’re not busy. “Seasonal businesses offer advantages in allowing opportunities for growth during the off-season times,” says Kirsha Campbell, CPA/CMA and founder of The Boutique Accounting. “The CEO, team and owners can use the slower times for personal and business growth by attending seminars, reading or even listening to podcasts.”
Campbell also suggests that the off-season is a great time to review how the year went and take a look at all of your business processes. During the downtime, you can make changes that will make your business even better the next year.
Brainstorm Similar Businesses and Diversify
For most businesses that have an off-season, it’s because the product they offer is seasonal. For example, customers really only want snow cones in the summer. And, ski slopes are only operational when there’s snow on the ground in the winter.
If you’re looking to increase the inflow into your business, it’s a good idea to think of what other products or services your business can offer with minimal additional overhead. Shel Horowitz, founder of Going Beyond Sustainability, suggests asking yourself: “What else can I offer that taps the same skills, equipment and interests that I use during my peak season?”
He goes on to give an example: “In my area of New England with its four-season climate, many lawn-care and landscaping businesses offer snow removal in the winter, leaf removal and general yard cleanup in the late fall. And ski instructors might lead hiking trips in the warmer months.”
Consider Ecommerce Sales
As a business, your online presence can be the extra marketing and sales you need for success. Ecommerce sales can be a great way to sell your product or service during your slow season. If you can’t sell your product online, you can use ecommerce as a way to sell a similar or tangential product.
Your online presence is also a great way to market your business. You can create a website, start a blog and craft social media posts that position your company as an expert. This is a way to get more customers during your off-season.
Promote Off-Season Incentives
Once you’ve limited your expenses during the off-season, then you can start to think about a few ways to supplement your income during the slow months. You can create cash flow in your off-season by promoting incentives and payment plans to your current and potential customers.
“For example, if someone has a seasonal roofing business, they can offer discounts if people order in advance or during the off-season,” says Juvakka. “Similarly, a business can offer payments to be broken up and extended so that some cash is coming in during the off-season.”
Get to Know Your Numbers
When you’re a seasonal business, a “key thing to ensure profitability and cash flow is understanding your business numbers and key metrics,” says Campbell. “Reviewing performance at least monthly also positions the business for greater success.”
While accounting is often not many business owners’ favorite part of operating a business, it’s critical to success. During your off-season when you’re less busy, take some time to learn about business accounting, do some reading and ask questions of experts. Then, when you’re back in the swing of your busy season, you can make even better decisions for your business and be positioned to grow.
Flesh Out Your Marketing Strategy and Campaigns
During your off-season, you likely have more time to focus on and plan out your marketing strategy. When you're less busy, you can write blogs and social media posts that you’ll then use during your busy season. This is a great way to pre-work and plan ahead so your busy season is more organized and less chaotic.
Create an Affiliate Marketing Program
During the slow part of your season, you can plan out and put into action an affiliate marketing program, which is a great way to increase sales year-round. With an affiliate marketing program, “you get people to promote your products or services to their audience and you pay them a commission on any sales they refer,” says Ashley Howe, strategist at Tapfiliate. “This can be used to highlight those promotions to a wider audience and gain more traction in those seasons where you are not making sales.”
Whether you’re honing your marketing plan, building out a side hustle that uses similar equipment and skills as your current business or just spending your off-season time learning about your business, it’s important to know that your slow season isn’t a waste. It’s time to think, learn and plan — all of which can make your business better than it is today.
Page is a freelance content marketing writer with experience writing about small business, the future of the workplace and health. She also operates a weekly email newsletter where she shares advice on living an authentic, intentional life. When not writing, you can find Page traveling, fostering older cats and working as a sexual assault advocate.