Running a business is like going on a road trip. Every entrepreneur would love to reach their desired destination as quickly as possible, but they also value efficiency so they don’t increase their burn rate and understand the importance of following a carefully thought-out road map (i.e., business plan).
And, of course, they’ll pass landmarks such as year-over-year growth along the way—encouraging signs that, when passed, assure everyone taking this ride that it’s going in the right direction.
However, the road can be a bit bumpier if you own a seasonal or holiday-based business. Such a trek is fraught with greater uncertainty and involves more hills and valleys. It sometimes feels like getting stuck in traffic for long spells and then finding yourself on a stretch of open highway rushing to make up time, hoping you don’t arrive at your destination late.
That said, leading a season-based business can also be exhilarating and rewarding. As long as you understand and accept the unique challenges going in and are savvy and strategic with your business decisions, it can turn into the ride of your life.
As is the case with any business venture, you’re going to face both headwinds and tailwinds. However, a seasonal business entrepreneur that can anticipate and manage the former well is bound to find success.
having to work at it seemingly 24/7 during peak periods—is real. This aspect of such a business model can be daunting, so you need to have the stomach for it, along with a solid plan that will get you through the down times.
Inconsistent cash flow and revenue
It’s typically easier to run a business when somewhat predictable parameters are part of the equation. This isn’t the norm, however, for seasonal businesses, which can fluctuate between booms and busts throughout the year. As a result, you must be spot-on with forecasting factors like cash flow and revenue, especially for the peak season.
Since the weather is out of your control, your fortunes are often at the mercy of Mother Nature. For example, farmers and landscapers can face droughts, and ski resorts can have seasons ruined by little snow. “The weather can be your best friend or worst enemy,” says Brent Christensen, founder of the winter-based business Ice Castles. “One year, we had to close a location because wind chills were negative 40 degrees. Then, within about a week, we shut down that same location because it was too warm.”
Upsides to embrace
At times, it may seem like the wins are few and far between for a seasonal business—or at least confined to certain times of the year. In reality, the upsides arguably outnumber the challenges.
Yes, this is a double-edged sword. Most business owners wish they had more time in a day, a week, a quarter, and a year to do everything necessary to run a successful company: manage cash flow, evaluate processes, make forecasts, set goals, etc. One distinct advantage of being seasonal is that you have ample time to strategize and be intentional with every decision about your business. Christensen notes that his teams start assembling their structures in October, but the planning of them, from logistics to brainstorming how to top their previous year’s offerings, is year-round.
Hiring seasonal employees is usually a win-win for all involved. Temporary workers brought in to handle the crush can make more money when they need it the most: during the holidays or summertime. And establishing relationships with these team members helps to ensure they come back each year, removing the burden of having to find reliable workers during your busiest times.
Targeted client communication
A great aspect of being a season-based business is that you can market to current and prospective customers ahead of time. Say, for example, that your landscaping company typically starts prepping clients’ lawns in March. You could begin marketing in February with a post-football mailing, which would allow for multiple follow-ups and thus a better chance of closing deals.
Strategies for success
Winning at seasonality is eminently achievable with the right mindset and tactics. However, you know your business, your team, and your clients best, so you make sure to customize the methods that follow as necessary.
Offer monthly options
Want to make your season-based business’s cash flow somewhat more traditional? Consider offering monthly payment plans for your services. If you own a landscaping service, for instance, you can charge $300 for the entire season of lawn care or $50 a month over six months. The latter option can be a win for you and the customer, as you both can spread out your exchange of money.
The period of time after the season closes can seem like a windfall—think of holiday profits tabulated in January—but you need to be wise about how you approach it. If you met or exceeded projections for your busy season, ask yourself how that extra revenue could be best used over the next several months, whether toward infrastructure, marketing, or staffing increases. Much like farmers have long done, you need to reap your harvest so it can last until the next one.
Manage your stock wisely
Much of your focus will likely be on trying to pinpoint how much product you’ll need to satisfy demand during peak season—having high demand with not enough to sell is a business owner’s ultimate nightmare, especially a seasonal one. But this mindset also holds true after the season is done. You should also have a forecast and a plan for any inventory left over once the season is done; for example, for winter-based businesses, there’s always the postholiday shopping blitz to take advantage of.
It’s not necessarily wise to put all your eggs in one seasonal basket, so consider ways you could extend your outreach beyond what you’re known for. For example, business certainly picks up for fruitcake manufacturers around the holiday season, but many offer other food items besides their signature treats to keep interest—and sales—higher throughout the year. Similarly, if you run a landscaping business in a four-season climate, you could put your equipment to use during the off-season by offering snow-removal services.
Stay top of mind
See your slower months as an opportunity to foster your relationships with customers. Send a weekly or monthly newsletter providing industry-specific tips along with direct mail or emails during the months leading up to your busy seasons. This will remind customers and potential customers that you’re the one to turn to and push them to act now before the rush hits. You could also consider offering early-bird discount mailers they’ll want to hold on to.
Find a mentor
Perhaps the simplest path to seasonal business success is by learning from someone who has already done it. If you’re just starting out, try to speak to someone in your industry (preferably outside your service area to avoid competitors) or your parent company to glean advice. You could also join an online group of your peers to discuss the ups and downs that come with owning this type of company. You’ll not only gain sage advice but also feel like you’re part of a community of like-minded people with the same goal—providing the best business possible.
Running a seasonal business is not for the faint of heart, but it can also be an exciting challenge for any entrepreneur. So if your true passion is for a season-based industry, don’t hesitate to go for it. You can be wildly successful if you’re willing to take the ride.
Determine what steps can you take to help ensure that your seasonable business thrives year-round.