How to Handle Down Time for a Seasonal Business

by Townes Haas
8/12/2016 9:54:16 AM

How to manage the ebbs and flows that can lead to business-damaging downtime

Does your small business suffer under the rush of the holiday season, yet employees feel like they’re in the doldrums during the dog days of summer? Running a seasonal business can be a little tough if you don't have a game plan for the offseason. As a business owner, you must take a global view of your business year and figure out how to make the most of your slow season. 


1. Maintain Financial Vigilance

When you have lots of extra cash or other funds available during the busy season, it can be all too tempting to give raises, expand the business, or otherwise burn through those funds before the year is really over. Be very conscious and mindful of your small business’s long term needs and don’t spend more than you should just because you have the cash on hand. Defer spending and instead try saving those extra funds for a rainy (or sunny) day.

2. Manage Your Time

It’s hard to juggle your personal time during fluctuations in activity and it’s even harder to keep part-time employees motivated and engaged during a seasonal slump for your small business. Seasonal small businesses can really only succeed by being very organized and efficient about everyone’s time, including employees as well as customers. Try to shift program reviews, strategy sessions and other extraneous applications to less busy seasons, so you can better avoid stress and burnout when the busy season starts. Take less-than-busy seasons to look into new workflows and efficiencies to help your small business handle increased volumes later in the year. You can also consider a model used by the publishing industry, which is to reduce employee hours in the summertime when there are less books being published.

3. Plan Ahead

It’s important for small businesses to plan ahead for at least six months. After one year in business, a small business owner should have at least an elementary understanding of the cycles in their industry and be basing projections of sales data on seasonality. If your small business hasn’t been around for a year, then research peers and industry sources to get an idea on how to project sales based on seasonality.

4. Diversify

One way nimble and ambitious small business owners can handle down time in a seasonal business is to branch out during the slow season. Who else can your small business reach out to? What untapped market might your small business target? By setting up alternative revenue streams, your small business may be able to fill in the gaps caused by the seasonal nature of your primary business.

5. Acknowledge Your Advantages

Any small business grows as an owner and his team gain insight, ideas, and experience. One major advantage you have as a small business owner is that seasonality of sales is a completely predictable situation. Unlike natural disasters, fluctuations in the stock market or the unreliability of the economy at any given time, you can totally plan for seasonal ebbs and flows and use those cycles to your advantage.

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