Oh, for the ability to hibernate! Aren’t bears lucky? At the first crisp bite of autumn they feed themselves full, find a nice warm cave and as winter chills approach, they curl up for a cosy four month nap until spring comes around.
If only running a business was so easy. I have often heard business owners cry about that time of the year, but in terms of actual seasons, it might not necessarily be winter. It could be the winter of their business cycle.
As an entrepreneur you need to understand your business’ patterns. Identify and anticipate the quiet times in your business. I had a restaurant in a seaside resort many years ago. During our busy season we didn’t have enough chairs and tables to accommodate all our potential customers, but once the busy period was over, we could accommodate anyone who came by. Restaurants and holiday flats stood empty and business owners had to start eking out not just a living but an existence until the next school holidays came around.
The question is whether you have to accept these quiet times, or is there something that can be done about them? I have often heard traders shrug and say, with audible resignation that it is just “that time of the year again”. But maybe, with a bit of creative thinking, it doesn’t have to be.
Think out of the box, be innovative and look around you. Are you the only one that is quiet, or have a few of your competitors worked out a way to survive the quiet times? What can you do to be inventive and ground-breaking to survive this cycle?
1. Be ready for it
Anticipate the likelihood and put plans in place to limit costs, unnecessary spending and manage your cash flow (collect early, pay late). Maybe use this as time to shut down for the season, do maintenance or staff leave.
2. Don’t panic!
It happens. Live with it but try to change it if you can. If you can’t, don’t over-stress.
3. Use the quiet time wisely
Suddenly you have time to do all those things that you never normally have space on your calendar for. Visiting old clients, looking for new customers, and networking. Scatter business cards like confetti at meetings and functions you don’t routinely have time for.
Business owner, Lerato Kgaswane of African Trade Marks, knows this feeling all too well. She used this quiet time to reach out to her old, but existing database of clients to promote a special she was running during her quiet time. She was blown away by the results!
“I was stuck in a comfort zone waiting for my regular customers. The ‘comfort zone’ mindset convinced me that it is winter and that they will come back in summer. But then I remembered that I keep a customer database file which I have used just once. Immediately I bought R12 airtime and made that call to my customers.
The response was shocking! They came through as if a community leader climbed on top of building and blew a horn and the community came to listen to the news thereof,” she explains.
4. This could be you-time
Take time off, go on leave and plan that your holiday coincides with your quiet patch. I know a guest house owner who budgets everything for ten and a half months of the year. He goes on holiday three times a year for two weeks – a no stress vacation when he knows all his costs are covered.
5. Use this time to plan for the rest of the year
Sit down with your staff and brainstorm what can be done differently in future. Decide if there is anything you can do to prevent quiet times or are they endemic to your business or area. Let this quiet time herald the re-birth of your business cycle and don’t see it as a negative, but rather as a re-grouping. Because winter, or whatever you may call it, will surely be back.
About the author:
Simon Kerr is Fetola Mentor that has worked with the Fetola and SAB Tholoana teams for over three years. His skill set is suited to the hospitality and tourism sector because he is a qualified and accredited chef and he has also successfully run restaurants and guest houses in South Africa.
He has won multiple awards ranging from being voted as one of SA’s Top Restaurants for Chef Simon & The Phatt Chef Restaurant to GETAWAY Magazine’s TOP 25 Breakfasts in South Africa.