8 ways to keep a seasonal business profitable year-round

By Checkfront Marketing

Marketing StrategiesMarketing Strategies

Ripening grapes on the vine

Seasonal businesses can be a great avenue for entrepreneurs; they offer a highly-coveted service or product during a few very busy months. However, there’s a challenging flipside: the off-season. As a seasonal business owner, you face the unique challenge of making most of your money during a short period of time. It can often feel like a desperate race to outlast the dormant months ahead. While some operators shut down their business entirely during the slow season, others stay open to try and turn a small profit where they can. If you’re looking to keep your doors open—and even turn a profit—during the off-season, we’ve got eight ways to help:

1. Minimize expenses

This is obvious but bears mentioning. As an experience provider, you know how powerful a compelling story can be to your guests. But did you know your businesses’ numbers tell a powerful story too? Getting a strong grasp of your year-round expenses will help illuminate where you can scale back during the slow months. This could include reducing business hours, laying off some of your staff (even temporarily), and reworking some of your vendor contracts. 

Our handy Tour Operator Costing Sheet is the perfect tool for budgeting seasonal businesses. Not only will it help you zero in on cost savings, but it can also support you in planning for peak season.

Bonus Tip: Your Operator Cost Sheet is a living document. Whether it’s an economic shift, a change in vendor(s), or inflation, staying on top of your expenses will ensure you aren’t taken by surprise.

2. Stay in touch

Your customers don’t go into hibernation when you do; they’re busy living their lives! Be proactive and keep the lines of communication open. 

Your peak months are the perfect time to build out your database of email newsletter recipients. Then, once your shoulder season rolls around, you can stay top of mind by sending out regular announcements or special email-only coupons to entice return bookings. If you provide value with every email, include calls to action, and exciting announcements, your customers will help spread the word.

Looking for some inspiration? Learn how to write a great customer newsletter.

3. Keep marketing

While you may pull your advertising budget back a little, you should absolutely keep marketing to your customers during the off-season. 

The off-season is the perfect time to ask for reviews from your past customers. By building up testimonials on your Yelp, Google, and Tripadvisor pages, you’ll be sowing seeds for future bookings. 

Use social media for marketing throughout the year; reach out to customers and new fans through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other networks. Equip yourself with our 8-step Tourism Marketing Strategy workbook and spend some of your off time creating fresh, dynamic content relevant to your industry and the current season. 

Bonus tip: If you’re a tour company, use this time to do some customer research. Send out a survey or poll to gauge their interest in any novel off-season business ideas you have in mind.

4. Offer initiatives to drive off-season revenue

There are a few ways you can bolster your balance sheet during your slower quarters. One initiative is to give out coupons during your busiest months that are only redeemable during non-peak times. (Then remind your customers of those coupons using what you’ve learned in tips 2 & 3!)

Another option is to offer discounted seasonal prices. This feature comes built-in with your Checkfront account, so you can set it once, forget it and see bookings roll in as customers take advantage of seasonal price reductions. 

Or, capitalize on the fact that more and more holiday and birthday shoppers are looking to gift experiences over things. With Checkfront, it’s quick and easy to set up gift certificates directly on your website. A bonus? Sometimes you’ll make extra money: when your guest buys a gift card, you get paid instantly, but that doesn’t mean the recipient will end up using the total amount — $1 billion in gift cards go unused every year.

5. Team up with another business

If our first four tips still have you wondering how to get more bookings in low season, this next tip might be just what you need. 

Businesses don’t always have to compete. Sometimes, a team-up can mean increased profits and customer flow. You can boost bookings during the slow season by working with another seasonal business that is busy when you aren’t. For example, a distillery that books up with tours and tastings in the summer could partner with a company offering ski/snowboarding lessons in the cooler months to host a post-slope tasting — a perfect pairing if we’ve ever heard of one.

A partnership could be as simple as offering coupons to each others’ businesses, incentivizing customers to visit back and forth. Or, with Checkfront, you can set up Partner Accounts which allow third-party agents to make bookings on behalf of your business. There’s even an option to create a custom booking widget for your partner’s website.

Four friends on a ski trip enjoying post-slope drinks together

6. Switch up your product line

Entrepreneurs are good at thinking outside the box and sometimes surviving the slow season means using that creativity when it comes to your products. Take a look at what you offer and brainstorm alternate sales avenues.

During the slow season, a vacation rental company could open its doors to corporate retreats or professional conferences. Better yet, a scuba rental company could provide consultation services or certification lessons in the winter, training a whole new batch of customers to market to when warm weather rolls around.

Bonus tip: Something that’s recently been gaining more traction in the travel industry is: multi-day tours. With some market research and creative thinking, you can dream up what a two or four-day experience could look like where your business offering is one of multiple experiences.

7. Plan ahead

It’s highly tempting to kick back and relax when you don’t have regular business hours or a steady customer flow. Don’t get us wrong; some R&R is well-deserved after your peak business months! However, these months are also the perfect time to optimize your business.

Don’t wait until opening day to make improvements or do renovations; use the off-season to spruce up your accommodations, research new tour routes, or order new items for rental. Use this time to engage with your customer base, ask for feedback about what could be improved, and take that advice to heart.

Your slow period can also be seen as social media season! Carve out time for competitive research and make practical improvements to your strategic social media efforts

Finally, it can also be a perfect time to implement a helpful change to your business, like a booking system. Avoid trying to set up and learn a new system while customers come through the door. Instead, use the quieter days to set up your new Checkfront account so that you’re ready to take your business to the next level when bookings start pouring in. 

Already a Checkfront user? Spend this time exploring and taking advantage of features you may be neglecting, like email personalization or automated SMS notifications!

8. Ask for help

No matter what your needs are, our team of experts is here to support you as you explore ways to be more profitable in the off-season. Checkfront’s world-class team is regularly on call to help clients reach their business goals. 

They are often found helping clients: 

  • Set up gift certificates,
  • Make pricing or product adjustments designed to keep bookings flowing in the off-season,
  • Explore new revenue opportunities, like using partner accounts and commissions to expand your network,
  • Make Checkfront work for your business.

We all know the story about the tortoise and the hare. So, this slow season, steadily make use of your downtime, plan ahead, and make next season your most profitable yet.

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