Running a seasonal business isn’t easy.
Entrepreneurs with seasonal businesses put in just as much work as a year-round enterprise with the majority of revenue compressed into a few, short (and crazy-busy!) months.
Seasonal businesses bring their own unique challenges.
Here are a few tips to change your business from something as unpredictable as the weather into something as predictable as the changing of the seasons.
Make the Most of Peak Season
Every seasonal business owner tries to pack their peak season with high-earning potential.
When every dollar counts, here are some ways to get more from your busy months:
Engage the community: build a loyal customer base, even if your business thrives on tourist activity. Plan community events, special “locals-only” promotions, and collaborate with local charities to build lasting relationships with the people in your own backyard.
Create packages: offer customers more ways to spend money with you. Don’t stop at selling ski equipment - offer packages that include lessons and lift tickets, as well.
Check out the competition: what’s the other guy doing well (or not so well)? Check out their digital presence, marketing, online reviews, products, and packages. You may find some inspiration or a niche that’s waiting to be filled.
Partner with other businesses: open your parking lot to the hot new food truck everyone loves. Create space for a hot cocoa and coffee bar. Create a gallery wall showcasing art and photographs from local artists. Find creative ways to partner with other businesses that will benefit you both.
Talk to your customers: poll your customers and find out what they love about your business and what you’re lacking. Sometimes a prospective customer who didn’t make a purchase from you can offer you even more valuable information than one who did. Take their feedback seriously.
Expand Your Season
No, you can’t control the weather. And you can’t make it snow in August.
But you can expand your business by adding a complimentary seasonal business.
If your ski/ snowboard business dies off when the snow melts, adding a mountain bike component could help you keep customers coming into your shop during the summer months.
If your focus is on providing kayaking and stand-up paddle boards and lessons to summer tourists, add winter activities such as snowshoeing, ice skating, or snowmobile tours into the mix.
All-season indoor activities like indoor rock climbing offer even more reasons for customers to return – no matter what the season. If you’ve got the space for it, there are plenty of indoor adventure activities that could draw a crowd, from indoor climbing walls to archery and ropes courses.
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Be Financially Disciplined
In the peak season, it’s easy to rake in the money - and even easier to spend it. For a seasonal business to survive, however, entrepreneurs need to have a higher level of financial discipline than a year-round business.
When the money is pouring in during peak season, spend wisely and save as much as possible. During the off-season, be strategic about dipping into your cash flow.
Labor is one of the biggest expenses for a business, so look for ways to invest wisely in the people who help your business thrive.
Workers’ comp insurance is required in nearly every state when you have employees. If you want to keep workers’ comp costs low, keep a small team of dedicated and loyal full-time employees year round. Add temporary seasonal employees when you’ll need them.
Consider partnering with independent contractors rather than bringing on employees for things like equipment repair work, guides and tours, and even marketing activities. Independent contractors aren’t subject to overtime laws and don’t require workers’ comp or health insurance benefits.
Falsely misclassifying an employee as an independent contractor can land you in hot water, costing you major fines.
Another way to save on workers’ compensation is to ask your insurance broker about pay-as-you-go options where premiums are based on your actual payroll, and not a projected amount. Simply put, you’ll pay less for workers’ comp in the off-season when you have fewer employees and more during peak season when you’ve staffed up.
When other people imagine the life of a seasonal entrepreneur, they have a vision of you working hard for part of the year while relaxing the rest of the time.
But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Successful seasonal entrepreneurs know that off-season is just as busy. The tasks just look a little different.
Use your off-season to plan ahead for the upcoming year. Come up with new concepts, build strategic partnerships with other businesses, and put together a marketing plan that you can implement during peak season.
Off-season is also the perfect time to negotiate costs that impact your business year-round.
- Negotiate with your vendors to make sure you’re getting the best deal.
- Check in with your insurance broker and see if you can save on any of your business policies. Many insurers will offer you a discount for bundling multiple policies together, or you may be able to save with a specialty adventure sports insurance package designed for your specific business.
- Line up back-up financing so an unexpected event doesn’t put you out of business.
- Sell off unneeded inventory or equipment.
When the snow falls late or the summer ends early, you don’t have to panic. No matter what type of seasonal business you own, it's possible to be profitable all year round if you're disciplined, creative, and look for ways to diversify your offerings.