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THE QUESTION

I have some great seasonal employees. How can I afford to keep them in the off-season when business is slow?

THE ANSWER

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The first thing you need to master to keep your employees around past your busy season is cash flow. If you are in a business where, six months of the year, you make 80 to 90 per cent of your revenue, you have to ensure that the income lasts throughout the entire year. Budgeting and keeping expenses to a minimum are key.

For many seasonal businesses, it is close to impossible to maintain the same level of staff throughout the whole year, so you need to focus on retaining those roles and individuals who are necessary throughout the year and hire part-time or temporary staff for menial and repetitive jobs.

For example, if you run a hospitality business, focus on keeping permanent staff who are in roles involving finding and retaining guests. So you might keep your talented chefs and customer-facing staff year round, while using temporary or part-time staff for work such as cleaning. If you run a construction company, you want to keep skilled labour versus workers who perform repetitive manual labour.

During your peak time, the productivity level of your workers needs to be as close to 100 per cent as you can get. The focus during the off-season needs to be on maintaining the business and planning for the next peak time. This would include maintenance and repairs, training, forecasting, attending events, or any activities that are focused on improving the business. These activities should not be done during your peak time when the emphasis needs to be on generating as much revenue as possible.

It's important to plan your staffing year round, rather than avoiding this often emotional decision until you just can't afford to put it off. A lack of proper planning can put your business in jeopardy, threatening the jobs of all of your employees.

Have a question for the Globe Small Biz Coach? E-mail smallbiz@globeandmail.com. Anonymity ensured.

Karen Fischer is a partner with RK Fischer & Associates, a business consulting and coaching firm based in the Greater Toronto Area that helps entrepreneurs generate growth and profitability for their businesses.

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