Article Summary: "Prepare now for the end of your busy season," is good advice. Here are five things I learned from my Grandfather as a boy while sitting on the fender of an old tractor.
- Make hay while the sun shines—take advantage of every minute of your busy season to maximize your business' profitability
- Put up for a rainy day—because every busy season eventually ends, don't forget to set aside some profits for the future
- Repair, maintain, and regroup during the off season—take advantage of the slack times to prepare for the next busy season
- Don't wait for a crisis to borrow—think ahead and anticipate your financial needs before your in the thick of a crisis
- Think strategically—A 12-month strategic plan will help you anticipate and accommodate for your needs in the slack seasons as well as the busy seasons
Keep reading to learn more.
After spending over 25 years in a very seasonal business, I always tried to remember that the busy season would eventually end, and when it did, my financial fortunes would rise or fall depending upon how I acted when business was booming and the till was full.
For a new business, it might take a season or two to get a feel for the ebb and flow of your business and just how much you need to financially accommodate for bridging from one season to the next, so be conservative with your spending and the financial obligations you take on those first couple of years. Nevertheless, over the years I noticed that even friends who were seasoned business owners, would sometimes ignore the fact that their busy season would come to an end and fail to prepare—making things a little tighter than they needed to be in the bridge seasons.
With that in mind, here are five things you should consider now, even though you might be in the thick of your busy season:
Make hay while the sun shines: As a boy I often spent a few weeks every summer on my grandparent’s farm in Eastern Utah. Most days I wound up sitting on the fender of my Grandpa’s tractor, doing whatever he was doing. Because of the season I would normally visit, it was often cutting and bailing hay or harvesting wheat with the combine. As I got older and big enough to reach the controls myself, I would drive the old tractor as my Grandpa and three or four of his neighbors would toss the bails up onto a flatbed trailer. Like most small business owners’ I’ve known, farmers work pretty darn hard.
Those were days that started early and went late. We would normally stop for a big lunch midday before going back out again—sometimes I would spend the afternoon exploring the farm instead of joining him on the tractor (I was a little kid, after all), but on those days when I joined him, we were out until dark. He felt like he needed to make hay while the sun shined. Most small business owners feel the same way about their busy season.
In other words, the only real way to set your business up for the slow season is to have the best busy season you can have by maximizing your cash flow when business is booming—but you already know that.
Put up for a rainy day: While we were out on the tractor, my Grandma was in the kitchen, or in the garden. Although some of the fruits and vegetables she would harvest would make it to the kitchen table, most of the harvest would go into bottles in the cellar so they could continue to enjoy them throughout the winter. The cellar shelves were packed with bottles and the freezer was filled with beef raised for the summer and slaughtered in the fall.
When the coffers were full during a busy season, it was easy to spend a little more than I should, but I knew that if I wasn’t putting up a little extra for the slow season, there wouldn’t be anything in the cellar when the temperature dropped. An annual budget can be a powerful tool to keep you on track and ensure you are accommodating for a few months down the road.
Repair, maintain, and regroup during the off season: If you’ve planned properly, the off season is a good time to make repairs, maintain business-critical equipment, or keep your employees busy doing something productive. With only a handful of employees, they knew we would be working extra during the busy season so they could continue to get paid during the off season, so that worked for me.
Some businesses shut down completely during the off season or hire temporary employees during the busy season—those are decisions you’ll need to make for yourself. My Grandpa spent the winter months in the shop making sure the equipment he relied on when it was “time to make hay” was ready.
Don’t wait until you have a crisis to borrow: A lot of businesses rely on borrowed capital to bridge from one busy season to the next. The time to apply for a loan or line of credit is not the month after your busy season ends. Part of the idea of strategic borrowing involves anticipating when you’ll need additional capital and applying for credit when it makes the most sense. Most lenders today want to see the last three or four months of bank statements to determine if you have the available cash flow to meet the periodic payment obligations—so make your application before the slow season starts.
With that said, you want to make certain you’re going to have the cash flow to make each and every periodic payment during your bridge season—regardless of whether the payments are daily, weekly, or monthly. Don’t let the need to get out of a cash flow bind today create bigger problems two or three months from now.
Think strategically: I don’t think my Grandfather though he was being strategic, but there was a method and reason to what he planted in the spring, the fields he didn’t plant, and the fields he did. Without getting into a discussion of crop rotation, it’s a good example of thinking strategically.
A lot of small business owners are in the middle of their busiest time of the year right now, but if they started this year thinking strategically, with a 12-month plan, they are prepared to capture extra profits today so they can keep their businesses going tomorrow.
As a business owner, I often thought of my Grandfather and the lessons I learned (and some I should have learned), from him sitting on the fender of an old green tractor. Feel free to share any insight you might have in the comments.