According to the US Department of Labor, there are more than seven million businesses nationwide that employ approximately 135 million part-time and seasonal workers. In addition to retailers that bulk up on staff during the winter holiday season, many companies in the hospitality, tourism and entertainment industries bring on additional staff for the summer holiday season. Financial planning, staffing and technology management are all unique challenges faced by seasonal businesses. Like many other business pain points, having the right communication solution can make all the difference.
First and foremost is the financial challenge. The planning that goes into surviving the peaks and valleys of incoming revenue does not always come second-nature. Concepts like return on investment, profit margins, break-even points, and fixed overhead can be foreign if you haven’t run a seasonal business before. A common strategy is to live off an equity line during the off-season and then pay it off with the peak season’s revenue. Another way to save money during the off-season is to scale back on your technology costs – more on this later!
If you thought the financial aspects of running a seasonal business were challenging, consider the staffing. Many seasonal business owners complain about how difficult it is to keep high quality employees who are willing and able to work seasonally. When possible they find year-long jobs to sustain their best workers so that the business has some form of continuity for its yearly peak seasons. In addition to continuity, many business owners find it is also cheaper to employ their best workers during the off season versus continually hiring and training new people; and as you’ll see, training is a challenge by itself.
Once you have a full team on board, it’s time to train them so that when your first customer arrives they are prepared. One of the biggest challenges with training is ensuring new staff knows how to use your technology—namely your phone system, computer system, ticketing system, cash register, etc. This is when having a user-friendly communication system is crucial. Seasonal workers don’t have significant ramp-up times; they need to be able to use your phones and computers within a day or so. Look for systems that offer phones with lots of programmable buttons versus menu trees which force users to drill down several times to access common features. Some phones will also enable employees to customize them by programming buttons as frequently-dialed numbers and other often-used features. These might not sound important now, but when the crowds start forming and there’s a long line of customers out the door, time-saving capabilities like these will go a long way in keeping clients happy.
Flexibility is key for any seasonal business that has constant influxes of new staff members. With traditional phone systems it could take hours and require the help of expensive IT consultants to move phones around and install new ones. In contrast, a phone system that is hosted in the cloud lets employees use any phone as if it were theirs. They simply type in their extension and PIN number and instantly that phone has all their saved buttons, their voicemail, their phone number.
Adding phones is just one part of managing a phone system. As new employees are coming on board to help with the busy season, you need to get them set up as users on your system. Again you’ll find that cloud phone systems give you more power, control and flexibility than traditional, hard-wired systems. Most cloud phone systems you can manage easy online without the need for costly IT specialists. A great example is the MyOfficeSuite™ customer website from Broadview Networks. With MyOfficeSuite™, you can set up new employees and give them just the right amount of access and control that they need. And at the end of the season when they should no longer have access to your communications, computer systems, and sensitive customer data, it’s just as easy to delete them.
When you speak to seasonal business owners, you hear phrases such as ‘ramping up’ and ‘winding down’. That’s yet another reason why having cloud-based phone system is so helpful financially– it’s completely scalable. At the end of the season you can delete users and phone lines and scale your monthly costs down for the slower times. This way you’re not overpaying during the off-season. It’s a ‘pay for what you use’ type of setup which is more cost-effective for any type of business, but especially seasonal ones.