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 difficult flipside: the off season. Seasonal businesses face a unique challenge of making most of their money during a very short period of time, and it can often feel like a desperate race to outlast the dormant months ahead. Some people shut down their business entirely during the slow season, but others stay open to try and turn a small profit where they can. You can keep your doors open—and even turn a profit—during the off-season; here’s how.
1: Minimize Expenses
This is obvious, but bears mentioning. Get a good idea of what your expenses are during the slow months, and make cuts to your bills as much as possible. This may include reducing business hours, laying off some of your staff (even temporarily), and reworking some of your vendor contracts. It’s fairly simple math, but always a good first step.
2: Stay in Touch
Your customers don’t go into hibernation when you do; they’re busy living their lives! It is vitally important that they remember you and your business, so don’t wait around hoping that they’ll come back next year; be proactive and keep that line of communication open. While things are busy, build out your database of email newsletter recipients, and then send out regular announcements or special email-only coupons during the off season so that you stay fresh in your customers’ minds. If you provide value with every email and include calls to action and interesting announcements, your customers will help spread the word.
3: Keep Marketing
While you may cut your advertising budget a little, you should absolutely keep marketing to your customers during the off season. Ask for reviews from your customers so that your Yelp and TripAdvisor pages are full of good testimonials, sowing the seed for new customers who will trust those opinions. Make use of social media to market yourself throughout the year; reach out to customers and new fans alike through Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and other networks. Don’t just parrot the same things every day; spend some of your off time creating fresh, dynamic content that is relevant to both your industry and the current season. If you’re a tour company, talk about some of the fabulous winter sights around your location. Think outside the box and provide interesting content and updates that will keep your customers engaged.
4: Offer initiatives for off-season purchasing
This method can and should begin during your busy season, by giving out coupons that are only usable during the slower months. You can offer discounted seasonal prices across the board during the slow months to encourage customers to book with you. Holiday-related businesses can offer preseason discounts to bring in early bird customers (and ameliorate the regular rush). You may also want to woo the locals with sales and discounts that are large enough to encourage business but will still be profitable for you.
5: Team up with Another Business
Businesses don’t always have to be in competition; sometimes a team-up can mean profits and increased customer flow. You can boost sales during the slow season by working with another business that is busy when you aren’t. This could be as simple as offering coupons to each others’ businesses, incentivizing customers to visit back and forth; for instance, a snowmobile rental company could give out coupons for a local jet ski place, and vice versa. It stands to reason that customers renting a snowmobile would be interested in jet skiing, after all. You may also find that you can provide consulting services to other businesses in your industry, turning your experience and expertise into a viable—and profitable—product.
6: Switch Up Your Product Line
Entrepreneurs are good at thinking outside the box, and sometimes surviving the slow season means making use of that creativity when it comes to your products. Take a look at what you offer and brainstorm alternate sales avenues. One option is to see who can rent or use your services or products for a short period of time during the slow season; a vacation rental company, for instance, may open its doors to corporate retreats or professional conferences, bringing in visitors during the slow months of the year. Scuba rental companies could provide consultation services or even certification lessons during the winter, training a whole new batch of customers.
With a little market research and creative thinking, you may want to try diversifying a little to offer new products during your slow times. A canoe and kayak rental shop could offer ice fishing supplies during the winter, for instance. You could try to create a winter version of your outdoor tour, showing customers the beauty of freshly fallen snow in the wilderness. This option should involve a lot of research and planning before launch, but can really help to bring in a more steady income.
7: Plan Ahead
It’s highly tempting to kick back and relax a little during the off season, when you don’t have regular business hours or a steady customer flow. However, your slow months are the perfect opportunity to analyze your business and see what’s working and what could be changed. 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 your customer base to ask for feedback about what could be improved, and then take that advice to heart.
Finally, the off season is the perfect time to implement a helpful change to your business model, like a booking system. Far too many of our customers come to us just as their yearly rush begins, and it’s too hectic to try and alter your entire inventory system while customers are coming through the door. Use your downtime wisely, plan ahead, and make your next busy season your most profitable one yet.