I recently participated in a panel discussion at Muskoka Small Business Centre's annual Bridges to Better Business Conference. My topic was "Managing Your Seasonal Business."
I named my presentation "The Good, The Bad & The February" which garnered a few laughs as so many Muskoka-based businesses can relate to the dark days of winter.
I once had a friend say that business owners in Muskoka only sleep well one night a year. When peak season ends and bank accounts are flush the other 364 days you are either losing sleep from being too busy or losing sleep because winter operations tend to run red numbers for a few months. Nothing interrupts sleep more than red numbers.
I created this outline for the conference participants but I also thought it would be relevant to the blog. So check it out as well as the notes below.
1. Finance & Reports You may find it impossible to keep up with cash flow, forecasting and planning when the tide is high but utilize the quite to get up close and friendly with the Quickbooks reports. - Explore Variable payment schedules and options for utilities, rent and loans why not align your payment amounts with your high and low revenue months. - Set targets, review year-over-year and use data to determine if a closure is not only good restoratively but also makes sense financially. - For the keeners, allocate 15-20% of your high season earnings for the colder months.
2. Compare your Options Are you committed to year round because it makes financial sense? Or are you open for the sake of being open? With a seasonal business, you have an opportunity to look at your operations and decide how you would like to use your winter months. Perhaps it is reduced hours or a one or two-month shutdown - Use data and financial forecasting and take your management style into consideration - Think in terms of each month with strengths, weaknesses, opportunities & threats playing out each operating option - Get Creative - Are there co-operative sharing, resource sharing, seasonal partner opportunities, do you need as much space in the winter as you do in the summer? - If you choose a winter hiatus, remember you need to keep your marketing & client relations top of mind. Business operations never stop but how you operate can change by season.
3. Staffing & Retention What does your staff really want? Ask them is it job security, steady income and opportunities for growth? If these align with most team members values then all of the above can be accomplished regardless of how you choose to operate.
Considering seasonal closure can be daunting for employees but employment programs exist for staff to acquire funded education and training and return to the same employer.
What if your payroll remained similar but the staff only worked when needed?
4. Get To Work - Phone a Friend - Swap services, hold each other accountable and compare notes on business admin - Exhaust your Business Resources - Muskoka Small Business Centre, Muskoka Chambers of Commerce & Muskoka Futures - Stay Current- podcasts, blogs, articles and social media channels all offer so many perspectives and tips to grow your business - Get the Facts - Compare how your business is performing by pulling data from Industry Canada, Business Development Bank of Canada and RTO 12. - Learn Something - New software that streamlines operations, self-assessments allowing you to gain a customer first opinion and online courses to keep working on your
5. Growth Mindset - Banish Winter Blues - Seek balance, stop putting in hours and start putting in effort, Never has self care been a more popular topic - take the yoga class, hit the gym and visit the friends you have not seen in forever - Question "I Can't" - Do not be insane! If you do not change or grow, your results will remain the same. When you find yourself saying "I can't because", question the why.
- Plan for Growth - Set priorities and be clear on how you will commit to succeeding - Do not let time slip away - Beware of the Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda's that another year can bring
I wish I had some miracle cure for making your business less adverse to seasonality. But the truth is that hard work, determination and focus are the keys. Entrepreneurs are problem solvers, emergency responders and must be willing to grow and change for survival.
Of all the points, I truly believe mindset is the most powerful. As we start to see the first signs of spring (that is maple syrup I smell!), review your past few months.
- Are you feeling on top of your game? Restored and rejuvenated?
- Is your administration on point? - Do you have your marketing campaigns aligned? - Is your storefront/office clean and organized?
This where I become the Mom. If you are feeling like you need to go make your bed and tidy your room, maybe it's time to rethink your perspective on seasonality. There may be more opportunity to optimize your operations if you use the "downtime" of seasonal to your best advantage.