For Gerrie van Biljon, executive director of Business Partners Limited (BUSINESS/PARTNERS), the main cause of dead-season anxiety is a lack of preparation. Too many owners of seasonal businesses don’t plan enough, he says, but simply hold onto the hope that the next quiet season won’t be as bad as the last.
With the right preparation and approach to the off season, business owners can turn it into a fertile time in which the business grows stronger. He recommends ten ways in which entrepreneurs can put the quiet season to good use:
Inject some life into the dead season by offering special packages that may bring in a different kind of client than those you serve in the busy season, for example locals instead of tourists, or business people instead of holiday makers.
Start sidelines that perhaps have little to do with your core business, but allows you to put your assets to productive use during the quiet season. Tour operators can use their vehicles to transport commuters in the quiet months with the right permissions, for example. A lodge on a farm could capitalize on the latest trends by offering trail running or mountain biking experiences to attract a completely different crowd during winter. Having a sideline that has nothing to do with your main business is also a valid strategy to tide over the quiet season, especially if the sideline’s peak happens during the quietest months of the main business.
A major challenge for the owners of seasonal businesses is to manage costs. The problem is that the business’s fixed costs, by definition, stay the same even though the turnover plummets over the quiet season. One important solution is to “unfix” the costs that would normally be fixed, such as wages and salaries. Employing seasonal workers on short-term contracts is an important way of doing this, even though it is not ideal from a team-building point of view.
Another crucial element of financial management in a seasonal business is to squirrel away some of the money earned during the peak season to tide the business over the quiet months. Good financial planning is essential to make sure that you don’t run out of money in the off season. Fortunately, the quiet months afford a business owner enough time to do proper planning for the whole year ahead.
Usually owner managers are so busy that they seldom have a chance to look further than their immediate business. In contrast, entrepreneurs who run seasonal businesses have the advantage of being able, during the off-season, to look further afield, reach out to other businesses and work on joint projects. Tourism businesses can use the time to work on local tourism initiatives in collaboration with other businesses, for example starting a local festival, a marathon or an adventure race.
Another way of putting the quiet months to good use is to do the kind of high-level, big-picture thinking that other business owners who are caught up in their operations all year round get so little chance for. This includes reviewing your product offering, doing costing exercises and market research, and thinking about your marketing strategies.
Surviving seasonal fluctuations is not only about being productive in the quiet season, but also about maximising revenues during the busy season. It takes a lot of planning and preparation, which is what the quiet season is for. Make sure you order stocks early, before shortages and price rises kick in as the busy season gets under way.
The quiet season is a great time to train and develop your staff, which can go some way towards off-setting the disadvantages of having to work with many seasonal contract workers. It is hard keeping seasonal workers from one year to the next, so you are probably going to have to train at least some of them from scratch every year. It is crucial that they know what is expected of them so that they don’t cause problems in the busy season. Make sure you are knowledgeable about the labour laws regulating seasonal workers.
The quiet months are a time for maintenance and fixing. Adjustments can be made to the premises; infrastructure can be upgraded and machines can be serviced to make sure that everything runs smoothly when the business needs them most.