Many handmade businesses sell seasonal products, and even those that don’t are affected by the seasonality of craft fairs, art shows, farmers markets, and the like. Most of the advice on setting up your seasonal business to survive year-round comes down to socking enough cash away during the fat times to survive the lean ones. That’s good advice, but your seasonal business should do more than simply survive. Here are four ways to not only survive, but thrive for all twelve months of the year.
Here’s a question to consider: do you really have a seasonal business?
All of you who sell things like Christmas Wreaths or Yard Games or Beach Sandals are probably saying: “Yes! Obviously!” And when you look at your current product line, you’re probably right. But let’s take a closer look at our Christmas Wreath maker.
Seasonal Survival Secret #1: Your Seasonal Business Doesn’t Have to be Seasonal
What is a Christmas Wreath, anyway? If you had to describe it to someone who had never seen one, you’d probably say that it’s a bunch of evergreen boughs woven into a circle, with ribbons and other decorations added to make it a reminder of the sunny summertime in the depths of Winter.
So our Wreath Maker isn’t just making Christmas Wreaths, she’s making decorative hangings out of materials from nature that evoke a specific place or time. Now is that seasonal at all? Even if we limit ourselves to wreaths, you could sell Easter Wreaths, St. Patricks’ Day Wreaths, Valentine’s Day Wreaths, Halloween Wreaths…you get the idea.
Think about your own Seasonal Business: is the appeal of your products truly limited to one time of the year? Or can you make one or two small changes that will give your products year-round appeal? Yard Games can be miniaturized to make them fun inside during the cold indoor months—or they can be transformed into something new that’s perfect for a snowy or icy back yard. And a Beach Sandal is just a warm cover-layer away from being a slipper. You get the idea.
“But Jeff”, you might say, “Are people really going to buy these things you just made up?” To which I respond “Absolutely! They just don’t know it yet.”
Seasonal Survival Secret #2: Create Year-Round Demand
Here’s a story you might have heard before. In the late 1900s British mining companies discovered enormous deposits of diamonds in southern Africa. Diamonds went from being rare and precious to commonplace practically overnight.
This caused an obvious problem to the jewelry business. The mining companies’ monopoly over the mines themselves made limiting supply easy. But the diamond mining companies went one step further: they undertook to increase demand for their own products by transforming them from a luxury to a necessity.
A combination of advertising, celebrity product placements, and aspirational marketing created the “tradition” of the diamond engagement ring out of thin air (more on this fascinating story here). A plain ring with a small diamond was no longer sufficient for professing your love to your fiancée—a true gentleman had to present a stone worth several weeks’ salary if he wanted to hear “yes”. The ad campaign the diamond mining companies launched almost a century ago totally transformed a cultural norm and cemented lasting demand for large diamonds.
Since I assume that nobody reading this owns (or has the resources of) an international diamond mining cartel I can’t promise results of that magnitude, but the same strategy can be applied by any business. A customer base that buys hand made, high quality seasonal products won’t take that much encouragement to buy similar products that can be used during other times of the year. This assumes, of course, that you have a way to reach them once peak season ends.
Seasonal Survival Secret #3: Keep in Touch with Your Customers
When your seasonal business reaches the end of its busy season I’m sure that all you want to do is turn off the computer and never look at social media or email newsletters ever again (or at least for another 9 or 10 months). I absolutely agree that you’ve earned a break. Still, your business can’t just fall off the face of the earth, especially if you’re working to build year-round demand.
There are plenty of reasons for a seasonal business to keep reaching out to customers all year. There are the “Christmas in July” type off-season sales, of course, which many customers will expect (and be disappointed if they don’t get one). But there’s much more you can do.
Here’s how you create demand for your expanded, year-round product line.
- First, give your social media audience and your newsletter subscribers a heads-up that something new, and special, is coming soon. For your first off-season product you will want to choose something that already has some demand, and isn’t too far removed from your existing products.
- Give your customers a peek behind the scenes as you design and develop your new product line. Share the story of what inspired you to take your work beyond its traditional, seasonal niche.
- Set a schedule for releasing new work throughout the year, and share that schedule with your audience to keep them coming back for updates. Your email subscribers will get the first look and the opportunity to pre-order, or course!
- As your traditional high season approaches, use the same strategies to get people excited about the arrival of new designs and the return of old favorites. Again, people who subscribe to your email list (or like your page on Facebook, or join whatever audience you are focusing on) will get previews, special, limited-edition items, and early access to ordering hot items that will be in demand come high season.
Together, these strategies will help get your customers used to the idea that you have something to offer for every season, and keep you and your business in the front of their minds all year round.
Seasonal Survival Secret #4: Keep your Branding Consistent
When you expand your seasonal business beyond your traditional season, it’s really important that you keep your same branding and company “voice”. Differentiating your new offerings from your existing ones doesn’t mean that you need to start from scratch and build a whole new brand.
This might seem obvious, but it’s common for seasonal business owners to feel some subconscious desire to “protect” the products that form the core of their original business, and a fear that de-emphasizing seasonality will dilute the image and niche of their business. There’s nothing wrong with those feelings—as long as you don’t allow them to hold you back.
You built your seasonal business’s customer base by allowing your business to be itself and grow on the strength of its products and its brand story. Your customer base, and your brand story, are what will make expansion possible. Don’t think that you need to leave them behind and start from scratch in order to keep your business running all year round.
You Get to Decide How Seasonal Your Business Is
No, really. You do. You can create year-round demand for your seasonal business by applying your craft and unique artistic style to new products with year-round appeal. Keep in touch with your existing customers even after your original busy season ends, and reach out to new customers with the same branding and appeal that got your business to where it is today.
Of course if you earn enough during the high season that you can put your feet up for the rest of the year, then go ahead can keep your business seasonal! On the other hand, if the off season is something to survive rather than enjoy, try taking a close look at your seasonal business and asking yourself: which season do you want to grow into next?