If you have a seasonal business, you probably dread those periods when you aren’t making any money. What do you do when your business is closed? Instead of hibernating in Winter or spending the Summer on the beach, get busy inspiring people. Help them look forward to next year through a connected digital media off-season marketing campaign.
Many of us dream of having a seasonal business because it allows us to do things like travel or work on other projects when it is off-season, but you can’t let things slide. This is the time to work on your marketing for next season. If you own a Summer resort and you don’t offer Winter activities, you are now in your down time. While people will be checking out your website and social media just before the season starts, no one is thinking of sunbathing next to a frozen lake. When people are at your resort this Summer they probably aren’t planning their Winter ski trip. Or are they? Here are five ways to build anticipation and keep your business in your customers’ minds when you are closed for the season.
Relax and Regroup
You are exhausted after a busy season. Take a break and renew your passion for your business. If you operate a Summer resort in the Northern U.S. or Canada, now is the time to take a trip to the Caribbean. While you are sipping fresh coconut water and eating pineapple at a welcoming family-owned resort such as the Aparthotel Vista Pacifico in Jaco, Costa Rica, you can think about what they are doing right that would translate to your business.
Do you have the same level of customer service? Is your resort sparkling clean and comfortable? Are you serving local produce at breakfast? The Vista Pacifico gets a lot of referrals because people are happy with their experience, but they also encourage guests to write reviews on Trip Advisor. The response put the small but lovely resort on Trip Advisor’s Travelers’ Choice 2013 Top 25 Bargain Hotels in Costa Rica. Do you wonder why you aren’t getting the same number of referrals? Network and build relationships with owners of resorts in other regions. Cross promote each other’s business during the off-seasons.
Strengthen your Online Presence
Does your website or social media need a makeover? If your digital media is stale, now is the time to create something vibrant and interesting. Are the photos on your site from three years ago? Add some new ones. Do you have a blog? This is the time to start one. If you think it isn’t worth blogging when nothing is happening in your business, you are wrong. People like to dream. In the middle of a snowstorm, consumers who can’t afford a trip or take time off work right now may start planning their summer vacation. We just talked about online reviews. If your business is hospitality, have you asked customers for reviews or testimonials? Happy customers are willing to share their experience.
Atwood Lake Campground in Wolcottville, Indiana has the right idea. They have this sign posted on their website, along with news about new activities for next season:
Build your Customer Database
Have you kept a list of all of your customers from previous seasons? Add them to your database. If you don’t have a database, make one. It doesn’t cost anything except time to put one together in Excel, and you probably have lots of time. Add names to your database through your digital media by encouraging inquiries and comments.
Build a Bond with Your Community
If you run a bed and breakfast that sees little action in winter or vice versa, offer discounts to locals who may have guests that they can’t accommodate in their homes. Plan events such as date night specials for couples who want to have a romantic evening away from the kids and spend one night being pampered. Hold an open house or an event such as a local art exhibit to engage the community. Many locals haven’t been inside of your B & B, but if you invite them in they’ll recommend your place to out of town guests, or hold their wedding receptions in your beautiful gardens. These events are all fodder for off-season marketing on your social media pages.
There are some businesses that have no choice but to be seasonal and there are others that can come up with new ways to extend the season, even if it will be less busy. First you have to determine if it is worth keeping your business open during down times. In 2011, President Obama signed a bill into law called the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act, which allows the 121 ski resorts operating on public land to open during the summer for various activities such as mountain biking, zip lining, or special events. Can you come up with a way to do the same thing with your business?
If you sell a product that is seasonal and you don’t have an online shop, now is the time to start one. People may not be buying bikinis in New York, but they will be buying them in Florida. Your online shop allows you to reach outside your usual market.
And if you think your product is seasonal, you may need to think again. More ice cream shops are staying open in the winter because kids like ice cream all year round and it doesn’t melt in winter. Let people know you are open for business through email and social media. Add hot chocolate to your menu or provide special winter discounts or new flavors. Think outside the box to get business outside your usual season.
Keep in Touch
A drip email campaign helps you keep your business in your customers’ minds all year. Don’t pester people with constant reminders, but every month you can send out an email newsletter with a different theme. After the season ends, send a secure email thanking customers for their business and asking for stories about their experiences. Gently ask for reviews and tell people how much you appreciate them and their business. You can send another newsletter later in the off-season where you outline your plans for next season, highlighting any new services or features. Before the new season starts, send out an email offering discounts for loyal customers or people who make early reservations or sign up by a certain date.
Things could always be worse — you could be a Christmas tree farmer. In a few weeks, evergreen tree farmers will be selling their product. That season only lasts a few weeks. Not only have industry sales declined due to the increase in artificial tree sales, but there is a short window of opportunity to sell trees for the holidays. Farmers grow trees all year round, so they are busy in the off-season. To take advantage of the short window of opportunity, many farms offer cut-your-own tree programs and hold events such as sleigh rides in order to attract customers.
That’s the cycle of life in the tree business. If you understand and accept your business life cycle and use every opportunity to extend your services over the off-season, or build a strong customer base who wants to come back year after year, you’ll be able to enjoy your time off taking advantage of someone else’s seasonal business.