Every business undergoes natural cycles—the good ones know how to use them.
Some cycles are obvious. Tropical locales get more tourist traffic during winter vacations than during the first blush of spring. Others are less obvious—like that contractors often make most of their hay during early-quarter content pushes. If you spend long enough in any given industry, you’ll learn the natural ebbs and flows of that business.
It may seem like the goal would be to make the ebbs more like the flows—to try and make every time of the year a fertile business season.
But in reality, there’s often little you can do about an ebb…other than take advantage of it.
I’ve been at the helm of Hydros long enough to know that summer is a much stronger sales season than winter. Hydration products are much more necessary when the weather actively dehydrates people. Knowing that, we anticipate it, and orient our strategic priorities accordingly.
How to make the most of “dry spells” in your business cycle
- Learn to anticipate them. Especially for newer founders, don’t be discouraged if you find yourself with lumpy month-to-month revenue. In the first couple of years, treat it as data on your business’s natural cadences.
Over time, this will train you to anticipate the times of year when making big marketing pushes shouldn’t be your top priority (more on that in a moment). Seasonal ebbs are inevitable; learn to embrace them.
- Cut the expenses that apply in more fertile periods. The last thing you want to do is launch a product into a known dry spell. My company reserves the lion’s share of our marketing budget for the warmer months and cuts it down considerably during the cold months.
- Identify products that have evergreen sales potential. Having identified your natural business cycles and the factors driving them, consider investing in products or services that don’t depend on the same environmental factors that your flagship offerings do.
For example, Hydros has filters that are relevant to customers all year round—it’s just a matter of when the old filters wear out. We also have double-walled glass products that can keep liquid either cold or warm. Both of these are useful revenue streams for us in slower months.
Similarly, we use slower months to pursue partnerships that will materialize once the weather warms up. That could be a corporate co-branding opportunity, or that could be planning for back-to-school purchases that will happen in late summer.
- Use downturns for strategic planning. The busy season tends to throw everyone into the weeds and test their ability to keep up with demand. In less busy times, you’ll find yourself with fewer weeds to whack—a perfect opportunity to take a macro-view of your company.
For example, less busy times are good opportunities to handle personnel-related matters. Do employee reviews, conduct team-building exercises, identify whether teams need restructuring—even shift people out if that’s what’s right for the business. It’s much easier to perform these reviews and absorb these changes when you’re not under major sales pressure.
- Get some physical distance. A lot of type-A CEOs have a hard time seeing the value of time off. We’re wired to work, we feel most alive when captaining the ship, and time away from the wheel feels counterproductive.
But there’s a reason people like Bill Gates take “think weeks” in forest cabins, away from the hubbub. Knowing how and when to rest your mind is as much a part of productivity as knowing how and when to use it. The importance of physical distance, ideally in an environment that looks nothing like your primary work environment, can’t be overstated.
The more you plan around these natural cycles, the more you’ll be able to ride them like waves, year in and year out. Slowdowns will read less like catastrophes, and you’ll understand that busy times are finite. Allocating your resources according to these natural flows is the mark of higher-level thinking.