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5 Cash Flow Tips for Seasonal Businesses

From farms to food trucks and hotels to holiday retailers, seasonal businesses are a vibrant and vital part of the economy.

Seasonal businesses have a unique opportunity to capitalize on timely demand and harness pricing power to generate substantial revenue over a relatively short period. The downside? Small-business owners have to make ends meet 12 months a year; too often, revenue gets spread too thin.

You need a solid cash management strategy to maintain sufficient cash flow for year-round stability and growth. In this article, we’ll share five practical tips for optimizing your seasonal business’s finances all year.

1. Forecast Your Cash Flow
Developing realistic projections of your income and expenses is crucial to maintaining sufficient working capital throughout the year.

One key to forecasting is a careful analysis of your monthly cash flow statements. A cash flow statement is a financial report that breaks down the sources of your business’s revenue and how you spent that cash. Start generating these reports and check for seasonal patterns.

You can augment these internal records with industry trends, broader market indicators, and individualized “what-if” scenarios to improve forecast accuracy and prepare for multiple eventualities.

Look into digital forecasting tools that can help you turn raw data into actionable insights and stay current with market changes.

2. Manage Inventory and Expenses Effectively
By implementing a suitable inventory process and cutting costs wherever possible, you’ll be better positioned to weather the lean times.

Start by analyzing sales data and projections to identify demand patterns. Then, plan your ordering and service capacity to avoid the costs of overstocking and overstaffing. For businesses with physical inventory, this is known as a just-in-time (JIT) system, and this term is increasingly being used in the service sector as well.

While pinpoint forecasting can be challenging for small businesses, software solutions like enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems can integrate accounting, HR, sales, and other functions to streamline inventory and staffing processes.

To further reduce costs, regularly audit your finances to identify unproductive assets or underutilized services and negotiate with suppliers for quantity discounts or extended payment periods.

3. Build a Cash Reserve
Your savings can be a safety net when your business encounters prolonged slow periods or unforeseen expenses.

As a general rule of thumb, many experts recommend that small businesses keep enough cash on hand to cover three to six months of operating expenses. For seasonal businesses, a more nuanced approach is needed. If you need to stock up or staff up in preparation for your busy season, you’ll need more in reserve than if your cash outlay is minimal during slow times.

There are two highly effective ways to build up a cash reserve. The first is the “set it and forget it” method, using small, regular automated transfers into a dedicated savings or money market account. The second is the “windfall” method, where you commit to stocking away surplus or unexpected gains throughout the year.

Ask your banker about cash management tools that can help you maximize your savings and speak to your accountant about the tax implications of carrying reserves from one year to the next.

4. Use Financing Wisely
While you don’t want to become overreliant on debt to bridge cash flow gaps, well-considered lending products can be part of a sound financial plan.

Discuss your needs and goals with your business banker, so they can recommend a financing solution that works for you. One such solution might be a revolving line of credit, which offers flexible access to funds on an ongoing basis and serves as a safety net even if you don’t need to borrow from it. Other forms of short-term business financing include:

  • Equipment leasing, which allows you to spread out the cost of big-ticket fixed assets
  • Invoice factoring, which converts outstanding receivables into quick cash
  • Trade credit, which can enable you to delay vendor payments until revenue picks up

In determining whether your business qualifies for financing, your lender may assess multiple factors, including the amount you are seeking, how you intend to use the financing, your ability to repay the debt, and your business and personal credit profile.

5. Diversify Your Revenue Streams
Finally, it’s worth exploring whether your seasonal business could sell complementary products or services during off-peak times.

For example, a landscaping business could offer snow removal, a tax preparer could promote retirement planning services, and an HVAC installer could focus on providing preventive maintenance and upgrades for the systems they’ve installed.

Before launching a new service line, you’ll want to analyze your current offerings to identify potential gaps or opportunities, solicit customer feedback, conduct market research, perform a cost-benefit analysis, and create a detailed marketing and implementation plan. Even if a new initiative would align well with your current brand identity, you need to ensure that your core business model doesn’t suffer due to overreach.

You could also investigate passive income streams like rental property (although being a landlord is never really a passive role) and new platforms or partnerships that could extend your peak season.

Optimize Your Financial Position
For further guidance on managing cash flow and using financing wisely, speak with your business banker.