Surviving Seasonal Sales Slumps

In addition to a carefully balanced bankbook, a seasonal business will also require some master time-juggling. With part of the year appropriate for 25-hour workweeks and another part calling for double or triple that, seasonal businesses prosper only under the most organized of planners.

"Because it gets so busy in the summertime, our administrative and marketing [tasks] go by the wayside so we can concentrate on actually serving our customers. [In the slow winter months,] we do a lot of catch-up work," says Tonya Poole, who runs her real estate documentation and communication business, ink.spinners, out of her home in Reno, Nevada. When the real estate market is slow in the winter, Poole takes in non-real-estate assignments and offers incentives to current clients like special discounts or increased services. During her heavy season, she hires college interns to help her and her part-time assistant, a homebased independent contractor.

In her early years of business, McKeone marketed heavily to try to drum up business during her slow season. "After about four years, I decided it just wasn't worth the time, effort and expense to try to schedule something when people are not predisposed to take the training," says McKeone, who started her business 15 years ago. "Once I accepted that this is a seasonal business and took steps to better prepare for the slow times financially, I was able to be more relaxed about the one off-season and spent much of it doing things with my family. I also use the time for my own personal development--taking classes, reading, preparing new materials and rejuvenating myself physically and mentally so I'm better able to face the busy times around the corner."

During her busy times, she takes pains to not overbook herself. "Stress and burnout are a distinct danger when [I'm] overbooked. What I'm doing now is taking a hard look at all the different things I can do and then trying to focus on what I do best, enjoy the most and find to be the most profitable," says McKeone. "I'm gradually working out of those things that take too much time or add little to the bottom line."

Mike Marchev has no trouble keeping himself busy during his slow times. Here are some of the activities he advocates:

  • Strengthen client relationships. "Call people you already know, arrange a meeting with them, and brainstorm," says Marchev. "It re-energizes your batteries."
  • Play catch-up--or don't. "That can be anything from straightening up your desk or [organizing] your files to reading or remembering why you went into business in the first place--and that is to enjoy a Thursday afternoon. Now, that doesn't mean go play golf every day. [But if] there's a slow time, don't beat yourself up. Enjoy the afternoon."
  • Call associates in a similar situation. "[When they say,] 'Boy, I hope you're busier than I am because I'm really dead,' then you can say, 'Gee, I'm dead, too. I feel better already.'"
  • Write a book. "If you're a homebased entrepreneur, regardless of your [industry,] you want to be known as the expert in what you do," says Marchev. "Every entrepreneur should have a goal to put their knowledge into a book. Because once you become an author, it puts you into a different category. You must know what you're talking about--you wrote the book. So that's a perfect downtime activity."
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