It’s autumn and that means warm-weather seasonal businesses are winding down and many will close or slow down operations for the winter. If your business is among these, do you know how to ensure your business financials are well-managed during the off-season and how to make a strong start next year?
These five tips from the Excelsior Growth Fund (EGF) Business Advisory Services team can help you make the most of year-end down time, manage seasonal cash flow with ease and be better positioned for next year’s busy season.
1. Automate year-round bill payments
While the off-season may mean a temporary halt to expenses like payroll or inventory for seasonal businesses, many bills must be paid year-round including rent, utilities and insurances. Put these on automated payments and you won’t forget about them while you’re taking advantage of some much-needed off-season rest.
To help you keep track of transactions, use a bookkeeping program like QuickBooks®. In addition to tracking payments, you’ll have better records for your year-end financials, which can help decrease your taxable income. This will also better position your business for an influx of working capital (through loans and lines of credit) when you need them.
2. Review the past season’s financial projections to find missed opportunities or errors
It’s never too soon to start planning for next season and by reviewing your past financial projections now, you’ll be better positioned to leverage more opportunities for revenue and growth next year. Start by conducting a thorough and honest review of your previous busy season:
Were you well-prepared for the start of the busy season – with cash in-hand for updated marketing and advertising pieces, bulk inventory purchases and well-trained staff? If not, was it because of a lack of working capital? Lack of planning? Now’s the time to address these issues and others that you identify.
When the income started flowing again, were you able to invest it into growing your business and taking on new opportunities, or did you have to use it to catch up on past expenses? If you find that much of your in-season revenue is spent catching up on off-season expenses, then you’re not planning strategically and your business’s growth will stagnate. If that’s the case – and it often is for small businesses – it’s time to find help. For example, EGF offers educational and training opportunities that are specifically designed to help small business owners overcome these barriers to success.
3. Open a line of credit or secure a loan to increase working capital
Don’t wait until cash is too tight and you fall behind on bills in the off-season (or find that you’re not ready to ramp-up for the next busy season, which comes quickly!) because of a lack of working capital.
Now’s the time to meet with your banker or a certified alternative lender, like EGF, for guidance on securing a working capital loan or line of credit. Doing so now means that you won’t be in panic mode later, which makes you more vulnerable to falling prey to predatory lenders. With proper planning and ample lead time, you may be able to secure a loan or line of credit with lower interest rates and reasonable terms.
Some businesses may even find it beneficial to negotiate for interest-only payments during slow months and make full monthly payments (interest and principal) during busy seasons. Your accountant can advise you on how to best negotiate this type of arrangement.
Whatever you choose to do, just be sure you thoroughly understand the terms of the loan or line of credit and any prepayment penalties or fees that you could incur. Getting this information before you have a working capital issue will allow you to shop around for the best terms.
4. Adjust staffing appropriately
Staffing is a major expense for small businesses and when money’s tight, it’s critical to optimize your staffing level. If you’ve let your seasonal help go but find that you need help managing the day-to-day administrative work, hiring someone on a part-time and temporary basis can be a wise move.
If you’re considering staying open but limiting hours throughout the off-season, have you done a cost-benefit analysis to figure out whether it’s smarter to close? If you have staff through the winter, can they work on a commission-only basis? What are your competitors doing? Consider all your options to save on this significant expense.
5. Come up with low-cost, low-overhead ideas to generate off-season revenue
Even if your crab shack, surf shop or ice cream stand closes for six months of the year, there are easy ways to create income throughout the off-season. For example, if your business’s brand is popular (and you should be working to make it so), offer items that you can sell online as holiday gifts like branded t-shirts, mugs or Christmas tree ornaments. These sales can help cover off-season costs, build brand loyalty and keep your business front-of-mind, even when it’s closed for months at a time.
It’s easy and inexpensive to set up online stores through plug-ins on your website or via sites like Shopify®. If you already work with vendors on souvenir-type items (or have some left over from last season), this is a great way to generate sales and stay in touch with customers who have fond memories of their great experiences with your business.
Seasonal business owners who approach slower months as a time to evaluate their work and prepare for the next busy season greatly improve their odds of success. Set yourself on the right track by using this time to organize, plan and learn as much as you can about ways to grow your business next year.
Excelsior Growth Fund (EGF) helps small businesses in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania grow by providing streamlined access to business loans and advisory services. EGF’s signature product, the EGF SmartLoan™, provides up to $100,000 in fast, transparent, and affordable financing through a secure online platform. Larger loans up to $500,000 are also available. EGF is a nonprofit organization and is certified by U.S. Department of Treasury as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI). Learn more at www.excelsiorgrowthfund.org.
As an affiliate of New York Business Development Corporation (www.nybdc.com) and The 504 Company (www.the504company.com), EGF can also facilitate access to a full suite of alternative financing products.