Clear blue skies, warm sunshine and long days—sure signs that summer, and Alberta’s tourism season, have arrived. The tourism season brings opportunities for Alberta small businesses, with $8.4 billion from tourism visitors contributing to Alberta’s GDP in 2019.
Preparing your seasonal small business for success involves some strategy and understanding how work in the off-season will contribute to your success.
Make a plan
Running a successful business relies on preparation. Seasonal or not, having a business plan gives you direction, highlighting who your target audience will be, key metrics for success, investment needs and opportunities for marketing and promotion. For tourism businesses, pick your opening or launch date for the season and work backwards to determine the timeline for staff hiring and training. For example, if your business works exclusively at farmers markets or festivals, you may already know your season launch and end dates. If you’re waiting for the spring thaw on Cold Lake to be able to launch, that date may be harder to determine.
If you’re returning for another year, review the plan you made at the end of the previous season. What operational changes need to be made for this season to be successful, if any? Let the time between seasons provide a new perspective while you review your analysis and outline for the upcoming season.
Consider your inventory and the materials needed to start the season right. What do you need to stock or restock your business for opening? Whether it’s cups and plates or marketing materials, make a list and identify how long it will take to procure. The earlier you plan ahead, the more likely you are to avoid shipping delays or supply chain concerns. Focus on your raw material needs, anything that has a lengthy delivery process or can’t be purchased from local suppliers.
Here’s what this could look like:
Identify the duties and tasks you need to execute day-to-day operations. How many cashiers will you need? How many program staff? How many behind-the-scenes personnel? Determine their responsibilities, and how and where you as a business owner will fit with the rest of the team. If possible, consider where you as an owner may be able to redistribute some tasks to other staff. Could you hire a manager, or could your staff take on tasks so you can focus on business operations?
Once identified, you may decide to contact your previous year’s staff to determine if there’s an opportunity to have them return to their role, or upskill into a new one. Building a core summer workforce that can return for additional seasons creates reliability in your business. Returning individuals already know what to expect and how to execute your operational needs, and could help to train new hires and provide a great customer experience.
Draft an employment contract with your lawyer outlining the term dates of employment, and consider developing an employee handbook to assist you in onboarding new hires that can be used year-over-year with minimal revision.
How many staff you’ll hire may be determined by your projected cash flow. Use previous year’s cash flow to forecast revenues and highlight days/times of significance to inform your staffing needs—for example, long weekends.
If you’re launching for your first season, try creating a cash flow projection based on your business plan, and leverage market research to help determine staffing needs. Consider grants such as the Canada Summer Jobs program, which could provide you with wage subsidies if you meet the criteria, or Tourism Investment Programs for assistance funding larger projects delivered by Travel Alberta.
Execute the plan
Build excitement for your launch by announcing your opening date for the season through social media, email marketing and other channels. Generating early enthusiasm before opening for the season will be important to making the most of your compressed operational timeline. Consider where the majority of tourists will come from to visit your business. Are they being referred to you by a local hotel or vacation home rental? Build partnerships with other tourism businesses to create a referral network within your location to support one another.
The more opportunities you can create for customers to share what you’re doing, the higher your growth potential. Encourage visiting customers to share their experience with people around them, whether by word of mouth or on social media—remind them to tag you so you can see their feedback and share, too. You may want to ask your visitors to leave you a review on your Google business profile, Trip Advisor or other social network sites to help spread the word about your business.
During the season, identify areas you can optimize to encourage growth or increase productivity. For example, you recognize your food truck order line and pick up line often get confused, leaving potential customers frustrated. You decide to invest in a few cue barriers to help guide traffic, creating a better flow and resulting in faster delivery of orders as staff are focused on delivery of product—ultimately creating a better customer experience. If you can’t shift on the fly, make notes to highlight these opportunities for next season.
Winding down for another year
With another season completed, analyze your operations top to bottom.
- What worked well this year? What could be improved upon?
- How did your staff feel about the onboarding process? Did they have enough training and feel prepared for launch day?
- How do you feel about staffing? Do you need more, less or the same number of employees for next season?
- Did your business take advantage of opportunities for increased operating hours? For example, partnering with a local nonprofit for an after-hours event.
- Did your business make new partnerships that can be leveraged next season?
- What stock (if any) do you have leftover? Is there opportunity to distribute during the off-season? Identify what raw materials you’ll need to purchase and when, and mark that date on your calendar for the following season.
- Analyze your cash flow. Based on your sales, how much preparation will you need to do for next season?
Once you’ve reviewed your analysis, make an outline to inform your operations plan for the next season.
Complete any financial requirements based on your business structure. This can include:
- Remitting GST/HST per your schedule with CRA (quarterly or annually)
- Returning any merchant payment terminals to your financial institution, if applicable
- Completing and delivering final payroll
- Generating T4s and Records of Employment
- Remitting any payroll Source Deductions (EI/CPP contributions)
If your business is a corporation, talk about tying your fiscal year end to a date close to your season end with your lawyer or accountant. Aligning your corporate responsibilities with the seasonality of your business can keep financials cleaner year-over-year, so any preparation you do for the next season can be directly aligned with that season’s corporate fiscal year.
The success of tourism businesses is influenced by the support of those around them—their community, local business network and annual visitors. Connect with an Entrepreneur Strategist to review your plan and get you ready for a strong season, or visit the ATB Entrepreneur Centre to get connected to tools and resources to set up your entrepreneur journey for success.