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Running a Seasonal Business: The Rules of Engagement

So – your business has seasonal highs and lows. How do you deal with it and keep your sanity?

There are some basic Rules of Engagement that can help you.

At its simplest of course, you must generate enough profit during your busiest times to operate in your slowest times. But the nine rules below show you that there is a little more to it than that.

Don’t assume that just because you have a seasonal business flow that you don’t have the same challenges as other businesses. You do – and you also face unique challenges.

Take these “Rules of Engagement” under advisement in understanding how to successfully sustain a seasonal business.


Rule One: You must KNOW your market.

Like the back of your hand – know your market. This is important so that you are sure that there is enough demand for your products or services to sustain the business. This information can be obtained through some simple market research. Be sure to ask potential customers whether they would buy from you at the prices you’re thinking of charging. If they answer yes to that, then ask more questions to find out what they buy, how much would they buy and when they would prefer to buy it. Understand your competition well. If you don’t, you can’t set yourself apart. You can also learn a lot from your competitors – just don’t assume everything they do is right or smart. Also stay current with your knowledge or you will miss the boat somewhere.

Rule Two: Announce your presence.

As a seasonal businesses, you must work harder to promote yourself – often simply to remind customers that you’re still there. When you ramp up for a season or do your between season marketing, remember that you must time your publicity and advertising so there is time for a decision process to take place.

Remember that with marketing, planning is important. If you don’t plan, you can’t budget and if you don’t budget you will never have “enough” money to reach your prospects through all of the channels that could bring you sales.

Rule Three: Don’t run out of cash.

Because your cash flow isn’t consistent, you may have challenges in managing your income over the entire year. Cash is king and if you don’t have it to operate during your slower season, it will be a royal pain. You need to know the set period of your highest income and how much you must take in a reserve during that time to sustain yourself. It is also important to know what must be paid out during slow season so that amount can be set aside when income is plentiful. This not only requires a plan and management but self-control. There will be many temptations to spend money you have in hand instead of reserving it.

Rule Four: Only buy what you need.

This is directly related to Rule 3 because it takes self-control to do this. Over-spending can cost you dearly in forcing cutbacks or borrowing during slow season. You must accurately estimate the demand that you must budget for during slow season by using your market knowledge/research. Spend every dollar of your money as if it were your last. That also means that it is critical for you to operate your facility efficiently and shop around for the best deals and values in the products and services you need.

Rule Five: Employ enough of the right people.

One of the worst things you can do is understaff. Make sure that you have enough help to serve your customers with quality. This also requires that you hire wisely. Failure to do either of these things will cost you customers. Temporary employees are a cost-effective solution for busy seasons, but leave yourself enough time to recruit the right people before you need them.

Rule Six: Make sure you’re legal.

Ignorance of the law doesn’t stand up in court. Seasonal businesses don’t get a break. License requirements, health and safety requirements, payroll and tax requirements – they all apply to seasonal businesses too. Don’t operate with insufficient legal knowledge – the consequences are much more expensive than the professional help.

Rule Seven: Seek reliable tax advice.

The same applies to taxes. You don’t get a tax break so make sure that you are following the tax laws that apply to the type of legal structure of your business, its turnover and your total personal income. Seek professional help from an accountant or CPA with this one to make sure that you are operating with the maximum possible tax-efficiency and taking all of the deductions you qualify for.

Rule Eight: Last longer by diversifying.

If offering packages or special seasonal services don’t help you to maintain your desired revenue levels  during slow season maybe you could modify your offer to give it wider (and more long-lasting) appeal. The changes might only need to be subtle (and therefore inexpensive). Existing customers are often your best source for additional revenue so be sure to consider other services that you offer that would appeal to them and target your marketing to reflect this.

Rule Nine: Use quiet times to improve what you offer.

Slower times are the best opportunities that you have to make changes or additions to what you offer. You an even try testing new services with a limited group to see if your new ideas “have legs”.

Use your slow season to consider new ways to market or improve your business during your busiest times and to create detailed marketing plans and budgets to guide you that can help you to be more efficient in the way you market all year long.

It’s no surprise that many who are successful at operating and growing seasonal businesses are sticklers for maintaining a regimen that focuses on cash flow. This is what keeps their spending in check and helps them to operate comfortably – regardless of which season it is.


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