“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax,” Abraham Lincoln reportedly said. While the source of the quote is debatable, the wisdom is not. As a small-business owner, your peak season is an opportunity to shine. You can reach a wider audience, attract new customers, and build lasting relationships that will carry you through the slower months of the year. However, there’s little margin for error, and you’re likely contending with an array of unique challenges, including inventory shortages and an influx of temporary employees. Whether you run a warehouse or are in e-commerce, transportation, personal services, or something else entirely, the sooner you start “sharpening your ax,” the smoother your busy season will go and the stronger your business will become. Use this guide to prepare and make the most of the time you’ll have.
Make Alterations to Your Operational Strategies
Preparation is key to success during busy periods. Start by examining your metrics from the previous year and prior peak periods to identify trends and any shortcomings you faced. You can also gather stakeholders for a discovery session to see if they see potential issues. Staffing is a big one that must be carefully weighed with labor expenses. Raw materials, inventory management, and equipment are also common concerns. Can you ramp up for a busy day or accept a large order with ease? If not, adjust your strategy or create contingency plans that will give you the boost you need.
Ensure Temporary Staff Are Properly Trained
Last year, UPS alone had to hire 100,000 temporary workers for the holiday season, according to Transport Topics. As the largest transport company in the U.S. by revenue and third-largest employer of seasonal employees, it certainly knows a thing or two about gearing up temporary help. The company’s gone so far as to install an artificial ice patch in its training facility to give delivery drivers practice walking on slippery surfaces. All drivers undergo extensive training before hitting the road. Those taking on 18-wheelers have three weeks.
Safety isn’t the company’s only concern, though. Customer service remains a priority. “The demands we have this time of year create a spike and, in order for us to do that in a customer-satisfying manner, we have to make sure they know how to do the job,” Stefon Harris, then acting Vice President of Human Resources for U.S. Operations, told Business Insider.
While your team may not need to practice walking on ice, equipping them with the knowledge to perform their jobs well and maintain customer satisfaction is paramount. Not only will it help you win over the new customers you’re seeing and turn them into lifelong fans, but it also gives you a glimpse into who might be an ideal candidate to hold onto once the season concludes.
Most seasonal employees are in place a month before seasonal sales ramp up, with some companies onboarding staff two months or more in advance. That means if your peak season is November and December, your team should be largely in place in October. It takes an average of 23.8 days to fill a position per Glassdoor research. Certain industries take longer. So, working backward, you’ll want to start planning your recruitment and training strategy during the summer and have job postings up by August or September to ensure a smooth process for this type of scenario.
Continue Marketing Your Company to Maximize Exposure
Many small-business owners stop marketing when business ramps up for the season, thinking there’s no benefit because they’re so busy. Nothing could be farther from the truth. First, if you don’t attract the people looking for your product or service while they’re looking for it, your competitors will. And, they will keep them. To build your business during the rest of the year, you must maximize who you can reach during the peak period.
Secondly, consumers in many industries require longer nurturing periods. If you suddenly stop marketing to them because you’re busy, you give the relationship you’ve already built time to cool off.
Lastly, certain marketing techniques grow more effective with time, especially when you’re running digital marketing campaigns. Each share on social media, visit to your site, and even minute spent on your site can build your reputation in the eyes of Google, so it sends you more traffic going forward. Use it to your benefit when people are actively engaging in online shopping and searching for what you do.
While you may want to adjust a marketing campaign here and there to meet your current needs or capitalize on shifts in consumer behavior, you’ll lose ground if you stop altogether.
Don’t Lose Touch with Your Current Customer Base
50 percent of “loyal” customers have left a company for a competitor they felt was more relevant and could better satisfy their needs.33 percent of customers say they’ll consider switching companies after a single instance of poor service.A 5 percent increase in customer retention correlates with at least a 25 percent boost in profit.
These statistics from HubSpot hit home an important point. Your existing customers are valuable, and your relationship with them needs to be maintained. Whether that means offering special perks for your long-time customers, giving them a deal, or simply just checking in to ensure their needs are being met, your gesture will go a long way.
It’s also wise to take stock of what and who has been bringing your business success. Sometimes companies get caught up in trying to capture new markets that they forget who made their business. The McDonald’s Arch Deluxe is a prime example of this. If you don’t remember it, this was McDonald’s attempt to be “sophisticated.” The company reportedly spent $150 million advertising it per Mashed, releasing a series of commercials that included Ronald McDonald with golf clubs and highlighting how it wasn’t intended for kids. It missed two big points. First, people going to the restaurant aren’t visiting for sophistication. Secondly, it alienated its audience by being less kid-friendly. It failed as a high-price menu item and failed when the company tried to revive it at a lower price point. While this clearly didn’t do the company in as a whole, it certainly could have if it was smaller.
Ask for Referrals
Referrals are one of the best ways to bring in new customers. They tend to be easier to sell to because someone has already warmed them up to the idea of doing business with you. Plus, they have a 37 percent greater retention rate, and you can expect at least 16 percent more in profits from them per Extole. Use the busy season when you’re seeing more of your customers and people are looking for your services to ramp up referrals. This can be as simple as asking for referrals, but you may generate more interest with a formal incentivized program.
Stock Up on Inventory & Supplies
Early ordering gives you several advantages. First, you’ll probably have more cash on hand, so you may be able to negotiate volume discounts or other deals with your vendors. Secondly, it can save you from having to pay premium prices when everyone else wants the same thing or, worse, not being able to get shipments you need because your supplier is out or something happened to the supply chain.
Allocate Your Resources Wisely
Periods of growth and surges are always difficult to cope with because you’re trying to meet today’s demands with yesterday’s smaller profits. Work out your budget ahead of time and determine where your cash will be going. Whenever possible, set a little aside for the unexpected too.
Address Cash Flow Issues Required to Get Through the Busy Season
If you’ve balanced your budget and see points where cash will be tight, put an ace in your pocket and set up some kind of cash flow solution ahead of time. Common solutions are bank loans and lines of credit, but if your small business doesn’t qualify for these options because you don’t have strong credit, you already have debt, or you don’t want debt, you can also get set up to factor your invoices. With invoice factoring, you sell your unpaid B2B invoices to a factor at a slight discount. They advance you the cash right away so you can cover payroll, buy supplies, or take care of whatever you need. Although approval and funding are generally quick, you can become established with one now to save time should you want to factor later when you’re busy. To get started, request a rate quote from Charter Capital.
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