Many businesses find the Christmas period a most wonderful time of the year, but when it comes to cashflow in the New Year seasonal cheer can turn into a nasty hangover if they are not prepared.
MYOB has five simple tips for avoiding the cashflow crash that will help mitigate the impacts of business seasonality.
1. Make hay while the sun shines
“During peak times, we see countless businesses crammed full of customers and people lined out the door waiting to be served. A lot of small businesses get very busy during the high season and miss sales opportunities because they haven’t catered well enough for the bump; meaning people end up going elsewhere,” says MYOB Head of Small Business Ingrid Cronin-Knight.
“Make every sales opportunity count. This is a time of year when customers are willing to spend money, so be ready to cater for that increase in traffic. Gear up in advance with staff and stock so you can keep the cash registers ringing.”
2. Stash the cash
To help your business during low cashflow periods, make sure you build up a reserve of cash when cashflow is good. It is easier to build a decent cash reserve for the down times if you have taken advantage of every customer dollar while the register is running hot.
“Setting money aside will tide you over the quite periods when foot traffic dries up and the phones stop ringing,” says Ms Cronin-Knight.
“Put some money aside for paying business taxes when they fall due. Don’t fall into the trap of spending all your cash during the peak times, only to leave the cupboard bare during those lean months when the taxman comes knocking.”
3. Look ahead
Like a ship’s captain on the deck peering through a telescope, business owners should be able to spot storms on the horizon when sales start to drop and cashflow is tight. Good owners, especially if they have been in business for more than a year, should plan drops in sales and delays in getting paid.
“Talk to your customers and try to pick where business confidence is going,” says Ms Cronin-Knight.
“The summer period is a great time to do some study and get a read on trends in your industry. There is some great business writing out there and it’s worth having a look at what the Reserve Bank is saying about where the economy, inflation and interest rates are heading.
“Understanding your own business patterns alongside the wider economy will help you spot the peaks and troughs to come – and provide for them in advance.”
4. Keep a few promotional aces up your sleeve
Smart promotional discounts during the slower months can help boost flat sales. Create some targeted marketing campaigns in advance that you can quickly promote to your customer base if needed.
Smart and quick sales campaigns can give your business a vital boost in cashflow when all your competitors are struggling. Being proactive can start cash flowing again in your business – and digital marketing campaigns can reach your customers no matter if they’re on the beach or around the BBQ.
5. Hire a flexible work force
For most businesses, labour cost is their largest expense. If you are in an industry with big swings in customer demand, it makes sense to get your rostering right. Make sure you have a labour model that allows you to be flexible with your staff during peak periods as well as during the lull.
“It also means being upfront and transparent with staff about what will be required of them through the summer months. Your employment contracts should accurately reflect the demands of your workplace,” says Ms Cronin-Knight.
Dealing with seasonality
It is easy to see why most business people think about seasonality in terms of weather.
Restaurant and tourist-based businesses typically do well during the summer months when the streets are lined with visitors and the beaches are packed with holiday crowds.
Retailers do well during the festive months of Christmas, Easter and Mother’s Day, but may struggle in between these shopping seasons.
However, MYOB points out seasonality can come in other forms, and each should be considered by business owners planning the year ahead:
- Economic seasonality: when an economy is growing and vibrant, people have money to spend and your business cashflow can be great. However, drops in economic confidence at home or dramas in markets abroad can hammer local businesses.
- Interest rate seasonality: when mortgage interest rates are on the rise and credit gets tight, people tend to cut back on discretionary spending and luxuries.
- Business confidence seasonality: confidence is a huge indicator of overall spending in the economy. When confidence is flat, money and cashflow dry up as businesses cut back on reinvestment and expansion. If your customer base deals in mainly the business-to-business space (B2B), then a drop in business confidence can impact on your cashflow. The major banks issue both economy-wide and industry-specific confidence indices, while MYOB releases a comprehensive Business Monitor report into small to medium enterprises, which are worth looking into.
Likewise, new government incentives for small business tend to drive up business confidence and spending activity, which can ultimately increase your cashflow. We're heading into election season, so it is worth keeping an eye on the promises of our political parties.
“As a business owner, you need to consider all forms of seasonality that can impact on your business cashflow. Just because you may not run a restaurant or retail shop doesn’t mean seasonality will not affect you,” says Ms Cronin-Knight.
“Every business, no matter what the industry, is impacted by the economic cycle. This time of year is good for taking a step back to understand where things might head in the next 12 months.