Starting out in business for the first time can be a steep learning curve for anybody. It’s near impossible for everything to run smoothly; some things you’ll have to battle against while others will come surprisingly easy.
Working as marketing manager for a luxury doormat company, where I’ve been part of the team for over five years, a large portion of my marketing efforts are built around the seasonality of our product; the facts of seasonality are something that is unavoidable to us, as is the case with many businesses.
I have found through years of honing our company’s sales and marketing efforts to maximize the brand’s capabilities, that working with the seasonality is key. We have been able to prosper year after year by aligning our expectations with seasonal patterns, distributing our budget accordingly throughout the year and by always being on our toes ready to react and adapt.
To help those who find themselves swimming upstream at times, here are some of the key tactics that I have learnt in coping with a seasonal business:
Knowing the Business Cycle
The very nature of seasonality should mean that you will be able to identify times of the year or scenarios which would lead to either a surge or a lull in sales. Having a process in place to prepare yourself and the business for each eventuality will ensure that you’re not caught out with unmanageable tasks. Being armed with this knowledge will also prevent you from wasting valuable resources trying to target an audience when the demand simply isn’t there because of the time of year.
Timing promotional pushes is a case of knowing when the market wants what you are offering, and maximizing the effects of this. Look at past figures and see whether you can identify where you did well and think about why this was so you can plan for future activities.
Even when you’ve done your best to analyse when the most orders are likely to come in, it’s possible that you will get caught out by a sudden surge for reasons unknown – so how do you cope with this one?
Managing customer expectations at this time is important. Communication between the business and customer is vital and customers should be notified of any delays or waiting lists, so they are not left unsatisfied with a lack of service. If you are aware that these surges are likely, at Christmas time for example, a pre-warning that your order list could lead to a slight delay should be given. It’s always better leaving the customer pleasantly surprised than disappointed!
Keeping Momentum In The Low Seasons
With peak seasons bringing in a surge of custom, there is likely to be a low season where your product isn’t going to perform so well. This is the time that your marketing activities need to be given a boost; keeping your business and product fresh in the customers mind throughout the low seasons will pay dividends when the peak comes back round.
Communication with your customers could via regular blog articles on your website, interaction on social media or through email newsletters. During the low seasons I also attend a number of trade shows and events talking to customers face to face; I find that this is a great way to get feedback on products ahead of peak season.
After the busy season has begun to trail off and a little of your time has been freed up is the perfect time to begin talking to the customers you’ve had that season. Ask them for their opinion, get them to share testimonials and leave detailed feedback. This will be useful collateral to entice prospective customers if you’re still trading in the low season and help to position you as a credible option when the peak season come back around.
If you sell a product online then registering your business with an online review platform can be a great way to automate this; past customers will be emailed shortly after receiving their items and can leave feedback whilst it’s still fresh in their mind. The feedback will be out there for potential customers to see to, showing that you are proud of the business you’re doing and have nothing to hide. As an added bonus, some platforms allow for reviews to be integrated into your product pages where the endorsements might turn new visitors to your website into customers.
Being Flexible And Adapting
For the product that I work with the main seasonality aspect that affects us is the weather, which as much as newspaper headlines can point to the UK’s hottest summer on record coming up or Arctic weather being around the corner, is ultimately quite unpredictable!
Being prepared to pounce on the opportunity of whether that works in our favour (for doormats, of course, we love rainy weather!) is vital – and part of the reason that having ongoing customer communication and relationships is key, so we know how to get our message out there at the right time. Likewise being able to focus efforts on other beneficial activities when sales are slower can free up your time to concentrate on the orders in peak times.
Being Smart And Economical
Leverage seasonality to work for your business as opposed to fighting it. Consider the long-term plan and how to reach your goal at the end of the year, rather than expecting all months or quarters to be equal. Your budget needs to be directed into the most effective paths for each time of the year and keeping return on investment in mind as a yearly calculation will play an important role in your business coping with seasonality, as well as helping you to decide what the focus should be when planning marketing and promotional strategies.
I hope that this advice can help in directing your business towards success, though keep in mind that it can take time to fully understand how your business naturally ebbs and flows. No single business model works universally for every business and product, so learn from making your own mistakes and you will be able to tailor the perfect seasonal plan for your own business.