It’s natural for most businesses to go through seasonal slumps in sales. That might be because of the weather, cultural factors like holidays, government related issues, or any other reason. The cash flow disruptions that these slumps often cause can put enormous pressure on businesses, and can be especially difficult for startups and SMEs since they’re less likely to be able to absorb the cost.
Making it through a slow season requires good planning, and a pragmatic approach. Let’s take a closer look at how you can help your business survive when budgets get tight.
Not every slump in sales is going to be a seasonal issue. If you’ve been in business for some time you’ll become familiar with regular seasonal cycles, but if you’re just starting out it can be difficult to determine exactly what the problem is. The simplest way to know for sure is to get input from more experienced people in your industry, so that you can react appropriately right from the outset. It can be difficult to get helpful information from someone who may be in competition with you, but you can and should use connections with experienced people who aren’t. Those, for example, might be suppliers or contractors that you already work with, and who would have direct experience with these kinds of cycles.
Understand the bigger financial picture
When entering a down season, you’ll need to work out exactly what your business’ financial needs will be, and what your financing options are. That means determining what level of revenue you’ll need to sustain to keep employees paid, lights on, and operations running.
To deal with any shortfalls, you’ll need to speak with your financial representative about what your best options might be in any given scenario, whether that’s a business loan, invoice financing, a stock loan, or something else. From that solid theoretical footing you’ll be able to work out a strategy to help you keep your operations safely in order in the first place.
Don’t try to market your way out
Many less experienced entrepreneurs try to deal with seasonal slumps by ramping up spending on marketing and sales. Unless you’ve found a new way to specifically make your product relevant during a slow season, this is like trying to sell dry crackers in a desert. If you’re already dealing with cash flow issues, it could very well make the problem worse.
Marketing campaigns can take months to generate any leads at all, and longer to really start producing profitable results. Trying to resolve a relatively short-term seasonal problem in this way isn’t likely to be effective, even if the campaign is well executed. Worse, launching a marketing campaign while revenues are slumping is dangerous, because you may well be unable to fund it properly. That, in turn, will further interfere with its effectiveness.
Nurture your existing business
One critical thing you can do to keep revenues up is to focus your efforts on your existing customers. Encourage customer loyalty and client retention by connecting with them, launching loyalty programs, and generally ensuring that they’re well taken care of. This extra attention will not only make it easier keep revenues as stable as possible, it’ll also give you the opportunity to collect data from customers and to make improvements to your products and services.
With business slowing, your employees will have more time to devote to individual customers, which is something you can take advantage of. Work on getting clients to engage with your brand, and to help you advocate for your business with their peers. While regular marketing might fail, encouraging loyal customers to refer new clients is much less expensive and far more likely to result in success during a slump.
The most obvious way to keep budgets under control is to cut spending. Cutting costs in a sustainable way that doesn’t impair your business’ ability to function and continue to provide top quality products and services certainly isn’t easy, however that shouldn’t stop you. Regular cuts are an important way to get rid of inefficiencies and redundancies that naturally develop in your organisation over time. When your business is growing, for example, you may need to hire additional staff, experiment with new types of subscription-based softwares, and acquire equipment that won’t have any real purpose a few months or years later.
It’s not practical to continuously audit your entire organisation to keep these issues from developing, but it can be particularly harmful to ignore them when money is tight. A seasonal slowdown is the perfect opportunity to go in and make these types of adjustments.
Don’t view your seasonal slump as a threat so much as a natural phenomenon that marks an opportunity as much as a challenge. You and your business will become stronger and more competitive for it in the long run.