How to run a seasonal business
Australia is perfectly positioned as a place for seasonal businesses to flourish within. Surrounded by some of the world’s most beautiful ocean beaches, traditional whaling towns and sleepy villages are increasingly viewed as holiday hotspots for swelling city populations. This has always been the case but is only showing signs of growing as Australia’s population grows and a greater appreciation for the hidden gems drives numbers during the peak months of the year. For coastal areas, this comes in the summertime and for alpine areas, the winter is when the majority of a business’ income will come in.
Running a seasonal business has always come with the same challenges, the largest of which is how to survive in off-peak periods. Some things will never change, especially the role of communities in supporting themselves to survive. However, technology improvements expand the opportunities businesses now have to diversify and expand their incomes during those quieter months.
Some things to consider when running a seasonal business
Build a local customer base. Seasonal businesses have traditionally been able to survive by relying on the strength of their existing local communities to see them through the quieter off-season period. Successfully building your local customer base means prioritising them throughout the year, even when you are seeing tourist dollars flow into your business. Locals will not support you if they feel you see them simply as a buffer during the quiet months (i.e. a fair weather friend). Your peak season tourist dollars will be the thing that keeps you afloat as a business, but you shouldn’t run your business with this mentality.
Diversify your business. Sometimes, opportunities come your way. Those running businesses in alpine areas are increasingly benefitting from a levelling of season peaks, where summer sports (hiking, camping, bike riding) are increasingly popular and balance the income businesses get from winter sports dollars. This is not quite the same in coastal areas, which is where technology can play a large role in a business diversifying its services/products.
Brainstorm ways in which your business can benefit from new platforms and technologies that can see you grow your income through quieter periods, or look at ways you can market yourself in quieter periods to build momentum for the busy period.
Perform when it matters most. While you need to maintain your community connections to see you through the entire year, you need to provide the ultimate service when it comes to those peak periods. Competition is high and you cannot afford to be earning less than you could. This includes becoming a prudent planner, hiring and training staff effectively and efficiently (at the right time of year) and being clear what lessons you have learned from previous years that you can implement to improve your business when the tourists begin to arrive.
Create returning customers. Look at ways you can maintain conversations with your customers through the year so that they consider you again once the peak season comes along. These can come in the form of printed materials, email messaging, social media management and other marketing campaigns that both target returning customers and new customers.
Plan for the off season. Regardless of your efforts to diversify and build a strong foundation to see you through quieter months, a seasonal business is still a seasonal business and requires significant financial and business management skills to sustain itself. Evaluate your stock levels and overheads according to these months and develop a clear strategy and a visualisation of the various ways in which you can save money.
Manage staff properly. As with any business, your staff are the most important asset you have, not your customers. This can be a hard lesson to learn for managers. A manager or business owner who manages staff is most successful when they view their role as one that helps staff help customers. CEOs and managers often respond to the question, “What is your number one priority as a CEO?” with the answer “Our customers”. But a CEO or business owner’s priority is their staff, as without quality staff their customer numbers will drop. This extends to a small seasonal business with 3-4 staff to large companies of 100+ staff. Prioritising the happiness of your staff will result in two things: 1. They will provide the kind of service that will see customers return both during the peak season and over many years and, 2. Your staff themselves will return to work for you when you need them, reducing your need to train new employees.