Adjusting Business Plan for Seasonal Changes

Jennifer McCluskey

Many businesses, especially here in Canton and Potsdam which have large college student populations, struggle with slower summer months.  Others in more touristy areas, such as near Higley or out in Clayton or Alex Bay, have the opposite seasonal changes.  A survey from Wells Fargo reported that 45 percent of business owners say they reliably have several times of the year that are faster and slower than others.  But no matter when your business’s slow season is there are many strategies for dealing with slower seasonal sales. 

    One strategy is to close up shop during the slow months. You’ll keep having to pay rent, but utilities, employees, and other costs will be gone or minimal.  This is the strategy that is often employed in some predominantly tourist areas.  However, if your product can serve locals as well, possibly staying open when everyone else is closed might lead to some small profits, or possibly large ones if there is an ice fishing derby or some other event. The Wells Fargo survey mentioned previously also reported that 62 percent of small business owners said they reduce their capital expenditures during slow seasons, and 43 percent said they reduce hours for their employees.

    Another strategy is to set money aside during the high sales months.  This is hard for many business owners.  Forty-one percent of business owners surveyed said seasonal differences make it more difficult to manage cash flow.  Planning can be difficult when you don’t know what’s right around the bend, or if you’re just barely making it during the better parts of the year.  If this is the case for your business, you may want to use your slow season to take a hard look at your financials and see if there are ways you can trim costs during the rest of the year so that you can be better prepared for next year’s downturns, or create a financial budget if you’re just winging it.  Make sure you are realistic with your cash flow projections for the future by having a good idea of past trends and sales in both slow and peak times. Update your forecasts regularly to make sure you are on top of any changes in trends.  Your SBDC advisor can help create and analyze projected budgets. 

    You may be able to delay some expenses until different times of year.  Talk to some of your vendors, for example your insurance company, to see if you could pay at a different time of year.  Even if they say no, I’m sure they won’t mind if you pay your bill ahead of time in the spring so that you’re all set when it’s due in the summer.  Another idea to improve cash flow during slow months is to collect a deposit from customers, for example half down and half on delivery.  This works especially well when there is a substantial gap between booking your service and service delivery. 

    Also, develop a positive relationship with your bank.  There are possibilities of obtaining a seasonal line of credit to get equipment and other items you need to get ready for your high season and then pay it off when the sales start coming in.  This could work well for something like a lawn care business which will need new equipment in the spring but won’t have money to pay for it until the summer. During slower times of the year, one in five business owners (21 percent) reported increasing their use of business lines of credit or business credit cards to bridge cash flow gaps. During busier times, two-thirds (64 percent) said they pay down debt or reduce their use of credit.   

    If you would like assistance planning for seasonal changes in your business cash flow, you can get in touch with your local Small Business Development Center office.  You can contact the SUNY Canton SBDC at (315) 386-7312, SUNY Canton SBDC at Clinton Community College at (518) 324-7232, or the Watertown SBDC at JCC (315) 782-9262 for free business counseling.  The Wells Fargo survey referenced can be viewed at https://wellsfargoworks.com/small-business-optimism-reaches-highest-point-in-a-decade.