For many retail and hospitality businesses, the Christmas period is the busiest time of the year.
Yet, for others it is often the quietest. Small to medium businesses are particularly vulnerable at this time – revenue can come to a sudden halt when staff leave the office in the days leading up to Christmas and debts can build up quickly. It has been dubbed the ‘blackout period’ and can last well into February, leaving businesses struggling to pay staff and bills for weeks and even months. So how can you help the business survive the quiet season?
It’s important to note that the start of December marks the beginning of the wind down for many SME’s so you need to be prepared for this at the end of November. Have a plan in place to navigate this tumultuous time.
Assess your cash flow
Cash flow is a crucial part of business and one of the main reasons that small businesses fail. Be prepared to chase clients who don’t pay invoices on time and for revenue to decrease. Past performance is a good indicator, so examine how the business traded over the Christmas/New Year period in the year or two previously. It helps you forecast and assess your cash flow.
If you’re a new business, it’s a little harder as you won’t have an idea of business performance over the Christmas/New Year break. Try to have a reserve cash fund to cover at least six weeks of business expenses and speak with suppliers in early December about possibly extending payment terms until January or having a payment plan set-up so large bills can be paid in increments. This will help you better manage cash flow. Alternatively, offer discounts to clients who pay early. If you haven’t been paid by mid-December, chances are that you won’t see the money until late January.
Be prepared for staff absences
The end of the year is usually the time when most of your staff want to enjoy their holidays. For some businesses that have a ‘shut down’ period, it’s a win-win outcome. For others who continue to trade, it can leave you with skeleton staff or no staff at all for weeks at a time. Employees are entitled to take their annual leave, but it’s important for employers to set deadlines for holiday requests so you’re not inundated with conflicting vacation requests. Always ensure that other staff can cover for key employees when they’re absent to minimise disruptions to the performance of the business. Be flexible and open to compromises with your workers, and if your business requires extra staff during the Christmas period, start looking for contractors a month in advance.
Sheree Mutton is a freelance journalist and the Founder and Managing Director of media agency, Reeton Media, which specialises in content creation, communications; and copywriting. She has written for The Australian Women’s Weekly, The Sydney Morning Herald, news.com.au and more.