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One thing you quickly learn as an entrepreneur running a business with some seasonality to it is that your busy season might not occur in the season you expected. For instance, retail stores are busy through Dec. 24. But if you work in logistics involved in getting those goods to the stores, your busy season is late summer/early fall.
Most people assume that if you run a camping app, for example, your peak time of year is summer. But it’s actually earlier. While summer is peak camping season, the busiest time for The Dyrt team is from January to May. New initiatives all happen before July 1 so they can affect the summer camping season.
Every year, we learn more about how to fine-tune different parts of the cycle and leverage seasonality to our advantage at all times of year.
1. Build momentum early
To ensure a successful year, you need to ramp up key performance indicators — metrics like customer-acquisition cost, retention, annual revenue, booking volume and booking commissions — well in advance of what some might assume is peak season. We try to launch new features in the spring because they need time to build momentum. If a launch doesn’t occur until camping season starts, users will be playing catchup rather than using a feature they already understand when they need it most.
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2. Get creative in the off-season
Look for exceptions to your seasonality, ways you can maintain interest during the off-season. At The Dyrt, we use the quieter season to encourage users to search and save new campgrounds they haven’t been to before or get a head start on booking campgrounds. These tools help to keep traffic coming in even though most people aren’t yet sitting around the fire roasting marshmallows.
With your team, it can also be challenging to sustain energy when the payoff for all your hard work is so far down the road. This year, we set a series of goals for June and then had a contest to name them. The winner was “The June Landing,” followed by runners-up “Junami” and “A Juneful of Sugar.” Almost every team member suggested a name and voted on them. The top three finishers all got gift cards. It was a pretty fun day on Slack.
The idea is to keep the team focused on the big picture and the end goal rather than just their next deadline. When everyone can see how what they’re doing fits into the bigger picture, it helps keep morale high and things running on time.
3. Ride the wave
When you do reach peak season, whenever that may be for your business, most of the work that matters to move the company forward should already be done. You built the boat, time to see if it floats.
Of course, there may be some off-season maintenance, technical issues to solve, customer service and campaign planning to do — those teams may be busier during peak season. But generally, you’ve done the bulk of the work by the time the peak season hits so you can respond to challenges that may arise during the most active time of year for your customers.
4. Don’t forget to take time off
Build rest into your cycle. One advantage to seasonality is a certain amount of predictability in workflow. Use this to your advantage. Encourage staff to relax and take their vacations just after the peak time of year.
At The Dyrt, employees get the last week of the year off without having to use PTO. This means they’re rested and ready for the annual push that starts in January and no one has to compete to get that week off. It’s just a given.
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5. Save some tasks for off-season
When peak season is in the rearview mirror, it’s a good time to spend energy on planning for the next year and administrative tasks, like a hiring push. We do the bulk of our hiring in the winter and spring. We want new hires to have the chance to make an impact right away. By summer, the roster is set. We reassess our needs when the dust settles.
6. Stay alert to change
Pay attention to trends and changes in your seasonality — for example, winter camping is more popular these days than it used to be, partly because of higher demand and partly because of the way people choose to camp (vans over tents, etc.). Similarly, different regions have different peak seasons (summer isn’t high season for camping in Arizona, for example). Your “high season” might shift as your business evolves.
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The beauty of camping is you can go to the same campground in all four seasons and have a completely different experience. You just have to prepare differently each time. Similarly, seasonality in a business can be exhausting or rewarding depending on how in tune with the cycle you are.