Many small businesses experience one or more slow seasons each year. For a B2B business, the year-end holidays might be a slack time, while tourist-related businesses might have little to do during the coldest (or hottest) months. Although challenging, a slow season is at least predictable, which means you can make preparations to see your business through the lean months. Here are some suggestions:
Assess your cash needs:
Most businesses have a mixture of fixed and variable costs. You’ll need enough cash to cover your fixed costs and that portion of your variable costs that you can’t avoid. Your monthly and quarterly budgets should give you a good indication of an impending cash crunch and thus how much money you must have on hand.
Husband your cash:
In the months just prior to the slow season, accumulate excess cash, if any, in a bank account. If you have a lot of money tied up in unpaid invoices, consider factoring them for immediate cash. Cut your expenses and purchases during the slow season. If you hire contractors, it’s easy enough to reduce staffing. That’s a little harder to do with employees, but many places do furlough workers or give them unpaid extra vacation time. In the worst case, you can let go of some employees, but that may cause more problems in the long term. A better idea is to hire only the number of employees you need all year round, and then hire seasonal workers during the busy months.
Take a vacation:
If you run a mom and pop store, schedule your vacations for the slow season(s) and shut down the store during those times. For example, if you own a frozen yogurt store in Washington DC, the three coldest winter months might be an excellent time to take an extended holiday. This will cut your variable costs to the bone.
Make credit arrangements:
A short-term loan or line of credit can be just the ticket for smoothing out a choppy selling year. IOU Financial can lend you up to $ 150,000 on short notice and favorable terms, without all the hassles associated with a bank loan. Since the loan is short term – the length of the slow season – the total interest paid will be relatively modest.
Negotiate better terms with suppliers:
If your slow season is well defined, you should be able to work with your suppliers to loosen their terms during the slack period. It’s reasonable to ask for due dates to be extended from 10 to 90 days, especially if your payment record with the vendor is good. A good supplier will understand your business cycles and offer you flexible terms when you need them. It’s important to reach these agreements well in advance of the start of the slow season, so that you can adjust your budget accordingly.
Increase your social presence:
Use your extra time during the slow season to increase your social media footprint. It’s an excellent time to publish articles and send out newsletters or emails containing useful information. Update your entries in LinkedIn, Facebook and other outlets. You can even advertise over the web by buying ads from Google, LinkedIn and other social sites.
Plan sales events:
If you can’t close up shop during the slow season, why not schedule major markdown events for the period? Lower prices, suitably advertised, should draw in customers. You can also plan fun events, like raffles and free donut days, as well as instituting a buyer loyalty program.
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