Anticipating and addressing obstacles for your seasonal business

Friendly woman tending an organic vegetable stall at a farmer's market and selling fresh vegetables from the rooftop garden.

Seasonal businesses such as ski resorts, Christmas tree farms, pumpkin patches, lawn care, fireworks retailers, and outdoor farmers’ markets typically operate for a dedicated amount of time before their services fall back out of season.

To be successful during a short period of the year, your seasonal business must anticipate and address the obstacles you’ll face throughout the season. This is especially true when you’re just starting out. According to Fundera’s analysis of data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 20 percent of businesses fail in their first year, and 50 percent of small businesses fail after five years. And that’s with year-round cash flow.

To run a successful seasonal business, know the obstacles working against you in advance and begin now to overcome them.

Obstacles for seasonal businesses

Seasonal businesses face a wide range of unique challenges, the most common are maintaining year-round cash flow, finding strong employees, and marketing.

Maintaining cash flow

Extreme peaks and valleys define the business cycle for seasonal business. Fortunately, there are ways to help minimize the shock to your bottom line. Small business loans are designed to help brands like yours ensure cash flow year-round.

Most banks and credit unions offer tailored loan options. To start the process, meet with a banker or representative from your local financial institution to discuss your needs and determine what type of loan is most appropriate for you.

You can then discuss the process of applying for a loan, including what documentation you will need to supply. Once you are approved for a loan, you can use it for the off-season, then pay it off during your peak season.

Hiring quality employees

Quality employees you can rely on play a major role in determining the success of your peak season once it finally rolls around. While many seasonal companies can use the same employees year after year, some cannot. Assessing your labor force to match the company workload can be difficult.

You should have the hiring process in place well before peak season begins. This way you can have plenty of employee onboarding and training time.

There are also unique obstacles to hiring quality employees. These hurdles may arise because you only need most employees temporarily. You may have a high workforce turnover rate because people find full-time work during your slow periods. If your company closes down entirely for certain times of the year due to the nature of your business, applicants may be wary about committing.

Your company should make its recruiting and hiring processes as accessible as possible — casting a wide net to find high-quality individuals. To advertise your open positions, post on social media and numerous job-board websites. Your postings should be live well before you need to fill the position so you can determine a candidate’s job fit. Additionally, your business can stay on top of the hiring process by providing mobile document management and e-signing capabilities to applicants.

Generating demand

Just as with hiring, the marketing strategy for your seasonal business should begin well in advance of go-time.

There are a number of ways to approach demand generation depending on your type of seasonal business. For example, you can use strategies such as discounts and promotions to generate interest during off-peak seasons. This is particularly useful when your product is technically available all year round, although interest may wax and wane with the season, such as with ice cream shops or Poinsettia (Christmas plant) growers.

One marketing strategy every seasonal business can employ is sharing testimonials from happy customers. Word-of-mouth marketing and referrals from existing customers are highly effective for attracting new customers, as contributor David Wagoner detailed for Entrepreneur magazine.

How to overcome seasonal business obstacles

You can overcome many barriers that may arise for your seasonal business by anticipating common problems, staying organized, and assessing your business and customers.

Plan for the off-season

It’s essential to plan for the off-season as early as possible. The earlier you anticipate and prepare for any potential problems, the less likely they will derail your success.

When it comes to communication with partners and vendors, it’s important not to neglect them even when you’re not at the height of activity. Keep in touch with your suppliers and stay up to date on product improvements that may be pertinent to your company. It is also critical that you communicate with your customers, keeping in contact with them even in downtimes will help you stay connected and in-the-loop year-round.

Stay organized

Maintaining operations during the slow season can be difficult. The most effective way to stay organized is setting aside specific times of the year for certain tasks.

It’s also essential to stick to a marketing schedule to generate demand and keep your customers in-the-know. Remember to continue recruiting quality employees and make efforts to maintain your year-round cash flow.

Maximize your selling window

A selling window is the peak period in which a seasonal business can make a profit. There are many ways to maximize your selling window, such as promoting discounts on specific items, creating new products, and considering potential new markets for goods and services.

Your selling window is also the time to kick your marketing strategy into high gear.. Doing so will help generate and maintain demand for your products and let current and potential customers know that you are open for business.

Distributing flyers, creating targeted digital ad campaigns, and using social media platforms to promote your company are all cost-effective avenues of building awareness and excitement.

Be sure to estimate the demand for labor and hire a staff to facilitate transactions during this selling window. This is critical if you want to avoid losing customers to long lines or lengthy interactions with your employees.

Finally, tool up. Time is money. Save it with software that will streamline your workflow and organize all your documents — allowing them to be easily shared, edited, and signed digitally.

Stay in touch with your customers

Stay top-of-mind all year by communicating with customers about what’s going on with your business, including new products and promotions. You can also send out a survey or email asking for feedback. While you’re at it, find out if they would like to sign up for a product newsletter.

If you have customer email addresses, create an email marketing campaign. Ask them to follow your business on social media. You don’t just want to push advertising messages on them but engage with them on the platforms to develop personal connections.

Email marketing campaigns, newsletters, and social media are critical ways to inform customers of the current state of your business, let them know when you will be open, tell them about off-season sales, and talk about other relevant business operations during peak and off-seasons.

A seasonal business comes with a unique set of challenges. That said, there are ways to strategically prepare for the ups and downs… While you won’t be able to anticipate every obstacle, you can stay organized and connected with your customers and key partners, and give your business the best chance for success — all year long.