Small Business and Startups: Seasonal Peaks and Valleys

Summer is drawing to a close and with it the August doldrums. After 5+ years in business, if we have learned anything it is about the seasonality of our own business and the cyclical demand for creative services. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that many businesses launch projects in September when everyone is back from vacation, the holiday season is a scant three months away, and there is money to be spent before the quarter close. Historically we have seen our business peaks in the months of September-October and again in February-March. Our business is not unique in this regard: may companies that offer services will see similar patterns, depending, of course, on that they are selling.

Marketing around seasonal peaks and valleys is a challenge, but there are a few simple steps to take that will preserve marketing resources while maximizing the effect of your campaigns. Here are 5 thoughts on seasonal marketing that you might consider in your own planning:

1. Preserve your resources. One smart strategy is to limit your marketing spends during down-times and increase them dramatically just in time for the busy season. Be sure to budget carefully for the the upswings; it is better to spend a larger percent of your overall marketing budget at the time of your when you will see the greatest ROI. This may be difficult for new businesses and startups that simply don’t have enough data to understand their own seasonal sales effects, but even these businesses can test some basic assumptions about demand and sales cycles.

2. Leverage the down-times. Slow season is the time to tap into your existing customer base and offer your steepest discounting. I wrote a few weeks back about leveraging existing customers, and summertime is the perfect time to take a deep dive into the data to determine what might tempt your customer to come back. Look hard at their previous orders and determine exactly what they might need now and how big a discount you’ll need to offer to get them back.

3. Diversify. Consider what products and services might be attractive during the slow part of your cycles. A very broad example might be a retail store that sells Christmas and holiday decorations. A smart owner might also offer Halloween costumes in September and October, and (state laws permitting, of course) fireworks in May and June. For companies that are service providers, this might mean considering offerings that counter your customer’s own business cycles. For instance an accounting firms could take advantage of their client’s slow summers by offering a specially priced, mid-year evaluation designed to help smooth the tax crunch months of January through March.

4. Act fast and plan ahead. Planning is critical to a seasonal strategy; if you know, for instance, that you are going to see increased demand in the 6 weeks before the holidays, that is the time for you to launch your campaigns and you should be ready to pull the trigger at the best moment. Many marketing departments plan using a master calendar for campaigns and tactics, and seasonal imperatives can be reflected clearly.

5. Keep folks busy. Slow times also present many businesses with the opportunity to engage in their own back-burner projects. When business is slow, your human capacity may be at it’s peak and you should look for ways to leverage that. If your marketing department has extra time on their hands, perhaps August would be a good month to develop some new collateral or redesign your website. If your customer service team finds itself with not enough requests to stay busy, use the time to update your training documentation or freshen up the FAQs in your Help Center. Mom always said that idle hands were the devil’s playthings (Mom? Is that what you meant?), so get those hands working to create a different kind of value.

Image: Moraine LakeWikimedia