By Matt Doyle, vice president and co-founder of Excel Builders.
Most businesses exist on some sort of cycle, but businesses like mine live and die by them. Staying out of the red can be a real challenge when the cash flow from a single season (or two) has to support your budget for the rest of the year. I've gone through some tough years, but they've taught me a lot. Surviving in a seasonal market is a lot easier when you have the right strategies. Here are the ones that I picked up in my career that could benefit your seasonal business as well:
Use Data to Learn as Much as Possible About Your Seasonal Cycle
You don't need expensive or cutting-edge tools to gather this data. I've been using an Excel spreadsheet to informally track the following information for the last few years so I could use it to adjust my plans for the coming seasons:
- The week orders/interest in your product first start up for the year
- The difference in orders you receive from week to week during your season
- The week orders peaked or reached their highest point
- The week when a steady decline in orders begins
- The week when generating new business becomes less viable for the rest of the year
If you're using an Excel document, set up a column for each year, and a row for each of these items. At the very least, organize this data by year so you can make necessary improvements as you go. Once you have this information, you can use it to determine exactly when you should open/begin targeting clients.
Develop Services That Can Draw Income All Year Long
One of the best ways to improve a seasonal business is to draw interest or income during your off-season. Look for opportunities that exist on either side of your current season. For example, if you run a pool cleaning business, you could begin offering a special "closing cleaning" at the end of the season and into the next one for people sealing their home pools for the year. For more advanced services, consulting is a great way to stay busy. Make yourself available for a fee to those who want to discuss and plan their projects during the remainder of the year.
Prime Your Market by Advertising Early
Even if you aren't opening up your locations or taking anything out of storage, you can still begin advertising and responding to inbound inquiries. Get a head start on the competition by marketing just before you really need to do so (or just before others in your industry have started advertising). This prepares your customers for your launch for the year and puts you first in their minds.
You don't even need to open a location or order stock to take customer calls and schedule out their future services. If you aren't open all year long, you should at least try to stay visible all year long. Keep your contact options active so that potential customers and past clients can get answers when they need them.
Make sure that your website and social media accounts offer weekly updates to inspire confidence as customers visit your page and search for your services. I've learned that you have to take every advantage you can when you operate seasonally. It's tough to survive in businesses like these, but with a little bit of ingenuity, you'll be able to thrive in-season and off-season.
Matt Doyle is the vice president and co-founder of Excel Builders, a revolutionary home builder that builds next-generation custom homes.