If your business makes most of its revenue doing seasonal jobs, it’s important to cover as much ground as possible in the busy season. However, strategically speaking, what you do in your off season could actually matter more to your success. We’ve rounded up the most important work you can do when the proverbial sun isn’t shining—plus some extra tips on what to tuck away in the busy season to galvanize your off season efforts.
It’s tricky to see the big picture when you’re busy with the business of the day to day. As a seasonal business owner, you have a unique opportunity for at least a few months of the year to devote your complete attention to the future of your company. This is the time to consider the direction you’d like your business to go in and what kind of trajectory is possible to get there. By penning a proper business plan, you’ll also discover if you’re eligible for government grants or other funding. Here’s a great place to get started.
If you haven’t already set up Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn or Pinterest accounts, do it when you’re not overrun with work. Pick your favourite platform and post short, visual (think vibrant photos or videos from the busy season) at least a couple of times a week—even during the off-season. You’ll stay top-of-mind when homeowners start to think about your type of service as the season approaches. You might even sign for a free service like Hootsuite to pre-plan your social media for the months ahead so you don’t have to think about it while you’re busy doing your thing.
Is one of your pieces of equipment glitchy? Is your invoicing or client tracking system time-consuming? When you’re super busy it’s hard to address the small challenges that get in the way of providing stellar service. That’s why it’s important to keep track so you can revisit them during the off season. In a notebook or a note-taking app on your phone, keep brief notes of your pet peeves. When you’re not out in the field as much, you can review all the challenges that kept you from being your best and figure out solutions to upgrade your equipment or systems and avoid similar problems in the next season.
Businesses that thrive during tourist season and all but die on the off seasons are often forced to consider alternate streams of income. For example, some bakeries that work overtime selling fluffy summer confections to tourists focus on the health market when their customers have all gone home, selling specialty products like gluten-free and wholesome baked goods. If you do mild weather work like groundskeeping or pool maintenance, you may consider branching out into areas like seasonal landscape preparation, snow and ice removal, putting up holiday lights and design consultations. While your core business remains what you set out to do, you’ve got income coming in when you need it most.
When you’re run ragged during the busy season, it’s common to take a while to get back to prospective customers. If you don’t have time to take on the job it can seem fruitless. But experts recommend making time for those appointments even if you can’t do the job right away. And if you absolutely can’t find the time to meet, tell the homeowner you’re booked for the season but would be happy to come when it’s less hectic if their project isn’t urgent. If you’ve received a great word-of-mouth referral they may be willing to wait and you’ve got your first customer lined up for next season.
You probably have a pile of emails and voice mails of prospective clients that made initial contact and then faded away or for whom you provided an estimate but never heard back. Those sales opportunities haven’t been pronounced dead yet. A lot of sales take place months or even a year after the initial meeting. Maybe the homeowner did find someone but they don’t love the service or the price and would be willing to take a chance on a competitor. Taking the time to revisit old leads is the perfect off-season occupation—you’ve already got your foot in the door!
While we can’t rush or stop Mother Nature, we can use human tricks to work around her seasons. Start your “on” season early by offering promotions like early bird specials to fill your calendar up before the season has even begun. Got holes in your schedule mid-season? Offer a discount on your services for rest-of-the-season care. And when your season is reaching its end, throw a Black Friday-style sale and offer discounts for final end-of-season work. Use traditional and social media advertising to get the word out—and don’t forget to post your sales on Facebook and other platforms and send out an email blast.
In an ideal world, you’d get every client to provide a testimonial or post a review on places like Houzz, Yelp and other online hotspots homeowners consult. However, when time is short this is one of the first things that slips by the wayside. On the off season, revisit your client list for the entire previous season and follow up with them by email to check in on their satisfaction and get a review or testimonial. You’ll want to include a link to the site where you’d most like to be reviewed and/or ask specific questions about your service so writing a testimonial is easy for them. Make sure you make use of every one of them! Testimonials belong on your website, your LinkedIn page and sometimes even in advertising.
Your off-season is a perfect opportunity to upgrade your skills so you can offer new and better services during your next season. Try to take at least one course each year and if you end up with new accreditations, be sure to add them to your website. They also make great social media posts, i.e. “This landscaping design certificate course I’m taking at Athabasca College is inspiring so many ideas for my current and future clients!” You might include a photo of the syllabus or a project you’ve worked on for good measure.
It makes great practical and business sense to make use of every moment all year long. The clearest path to success is smart—and constant—industry.