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7 must-know tips for seasonal businesses

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These tips could help you better manage busy periods while getting more from the quiet times.

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Running a business isn't easy. Running a seasonal business is something else.

On top of all the standard responsibilities of a business owner, those in seasonal industries face a number of unique challenges ranging from retaining seasonal employees to forecasting for the quiet periods.

But, as with anything in life, there are plenty of insider tips and tricks that can help seasonal business owners thrive in both the busy and the quiet times.

Look for flexibility

Flexibility is key when operating a seasonal business, and owners may want to avoid lock-in contracts that require a year-round (or longer) commitment.

For example, paying for long-term phone contracts for your 10-person team might not be the best value if they're only using them for 8 months of the year.

This is an issue that some telco providers are trying to address, including Optus. The company is currently offering increased flexibility to its customers via Optus Business Mobile Plus, which lets business owners choose their own number of sims, contract length and data plan.

Mitch Jaffray, a business specialist for Optus, told Finder that month-to-month plans are particularly helpful for seasonal businesses as they can reduce and increase the number of services as required.

"With lots of tourist businesses, staff numbers fluctuate all the time," said Gold Coast-based Jaffray. "We have one customer who has 55 mobile broadband SIMs during peak periods but then will pause and restart them throughout the year."

Optus Business Mobile Plus also provides data sharing between eligible plans on the same account and doesn't charge for excess data. Instead, speeds are limited to a maximum of 1.5Mbps when the plan hits its cap.

Happy young woman using smartphone in a small gardening shop

Hire smart

Reducing the size of your workforce can help some seasonal businesses, but it's not the only option. Basil Vlachou, CEO and co-founder of All The Dresses, opts for a different route.

"Whilst some businesses can ramp staffing up or down, we've found that it can result in you losing great people who move on to other pastures by the time things get busy again," he said.

"We prefer to redeploy them into other areas, so knowing they have alternate skills, or the ability or desire to be trained in other areas, is an important consideration when hiring."

During quiet times, staff are commonly redeployed to areas such as PR, website functionality, attracting new partners or content marketing. There's even an established backlog of tasks so team members know exactly what to start working on when things get quiet.

Not only does this help the business make the most of quiet times, but it also keeps staff engaged by offering a varied job with the opportunity for lateral skills development.

A photo of Basil Vlachou leaning on a chair.

Establish strong relationships

No business is an island and life will be far easier if you have the support of others around you.

"When the chips are down and you need to rely on your partners to get you through, you may need your suppliers to extend some goodwill," says Stephen Hunt, founder of Hunt Hospitality.

"Longer trading terms, deferred payment plans or faster turnaround of invoices could be the difference between success and failure."

Naturally, convincing other business owners to do you a favour will be far easier when you've already put in the hard work to nourish strong relationships.

"Make sure you build those relationships before you need them so that when you need to call on their goodwill, they won't hesitate to back you," says Hunt.

A photo of Stephen Hunt behind a bar

Increase customer spend

Seasonal businesses only have a certain percentage of the year to make the majority of their money. So increasing customer spend during the busy times is paramount. Plus, it'll make life in the quiet times much more comfortable.

However, getting customers to spend more isn't as easy as increasing prices. Often, it takes a bit more creativity.

"If you have a lot of competitors, such as an ice cream shop in Bondi, you may want to consider a special offer that is a bigger ticket item," said Gerry Incollingo, managing partner at business consultancy LCI Partners.

"People typically turn away if you are charging more than everyone else for the same product so brainstorm ways to differentiate your product from your competitors."

A photo of Gerry Incollingo

Reimagine your space

Incollingo also encourages seasonal businesses to be flexible and strategic with their space. Foot traffic might die during certain months, but that doesn't mean your space has to languish unused.

"If you only require the space for a few months, are you able to rent it only for the months you need it? Can you sublease it in the off season? Or can you do something else?" he asks.

"Using the ice cream shop example again, would hot chocolate and cookies work in the space in winter?"

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Embrace work-life balance

Seasonal business owners also face the extra challenge of maintaining a healthy personal life amid a chaotic and wildly varying work schedule. But getting the balance right is essential to long-term success at home and on the job. So what's the secret?

Renae Kunda and her husband Roy seem to have cracked it. For more than 30 years, they've operated Cape York Motorcycles, a seasonal tourism business that sees Roy leading off-road motorcycle tours for 250 days of the year. When he comes home, they face the challenge of working in the same space.

"Create a work and a home space that is clearly defined," says Renae, when asked what she's learned. "Don't work in the home space, and don't bring home issues into the workspace."

Renea also encouraged business owners and their partners to maintain their own identity and hobbies as they can provide support during both stressful periods and quiet times.

A photo of Renae and Roy Kunda

Consider a pop-up

If your business is seasonal-based, you might benefit from having multiple sales locations during peak times.

While it might not be feasible to open an entire new bricks and mortar store, sporadic market stalls and pop-ups can be an effective way to increase sales. Not only that, but if you venture into a new location, you could build brand awareness and find yourself a whole new customer demographic.

Judith Treanor, who owns 2 seasonal ecommerce stores, does this twice a year every year. She runs pop-ups close to Christmas to bolster sales of her gift store Temples and Markets and does the same in summer to increase sales for her kaftan store, Beach Kaftans.

"Every year, I seek out a pop-up retail space for at least those 6 weeks to supplement the online sales," she told Finder. "Doing this each year has sustained my business."

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