A seasonal business is one where you only trade for part of the year, or businesses where weeks or months are very quiet. The challenge with businesses like these is making hay while the sun shines, so to speak - making the most of the time you are busy and trading to get you through the rest of the year. So how can you ensure, especially in the first year or so of running your seasonal business, that you can do this?
Ang and Joe Sait are a husband-and-wife team with extensive experience in the luxury hospitality industry, working together on barges in France to provide amazing holidays. Their experience with seasonal work and love for the industry inspired them to start up their own business - and they've done it all whilst continuing to work. Here's how they started their luxury Cotswolds holiday business, Jones & Campbell.
Tell us a little about your business
We offer one-week-long, high-end, all-inclusive holidays in the Cotswolds countryside, predominantly targeting American guests. The idea is that groups of up to eight come to a beautiful 16th century Manor House (via private transfer from London) and from then on do not need to lift a finger; they 'unpack once' and let the holiday be taken care of for them. This video demonstrates the premium service we provide!
We have a wonderful in-house private chef, two hostesses providing 5* service, a chauffeur driving them to see the local attractions, and specialist guides for each visit, providing entertaining and informative tours.
You also work seasonal jobs on a barge in France - how do you balance this and the business?
We have been really lucky this year as our bosses on the barge let us take six weeks off mid-season (unheard of in this industry!) to run our first mini-season. Though it was slightly stressful being on a barge in France for the first few moths of summer, organising everything remotely, it all tied up in the end and worked perfectly. As we didn't want to dive too deep in our first year, we hosted three groups of guests that had travelled with us on a barge previously - meaning that for our first year we did not have to spend huge capital on marketing, and we were able to 'test the water' with guests that already knew us, knew our high standards and felt confident we would deliver a fantastic holiday.
Financially, working either side of our first year summer launch has been incredibly useful. We didn't take a wage from the business, and had initially expected on needing our income from the barge to put back into the business. However we got a late booking which meant this wasn't necessary. It's great now because the business money and our personal money can stay separate!
What are the main challenges of working a seasonal startup - and the benefits?
I think a challenge that will always surface for people working in seasonal jobs is leaving the familiarity and comforts of your regular life. The hard long slog pays off as you are able to save while you're living away, then of course you have the freedom in the winter. So when your friends are all working 9-5, you can take mini-breaks or go travelling wheneve you want. It's hard to leave a lifestyle that can sustain this - but we've all got to grow up sometime, so finding something that you can balance with your aspirations and priorities in preparation for leaving the seasonal lifestyle is crucial I think.
The benefits outweigh the challenges though! We were able to dedicate months on end in the past few winters to starting this business, from building the website, sending hundreds of emails to ex-clients, to spending a lot of time in the Cotswolds researching and viewing properties etc.
Then there's the huge benefit that, while we are working on the barges, we get to meet our target market individuals every week. By the time you've spent a week in the company of these guests you really have established a great relationship - and they always ask about your future plans, so it's a subject that naturally comes up rather than us actively seeking to push our product.
More often than not they really love the idea and ask for our website/brochure/business card. Word of mouth is so huge in the luxury hospitality industry - so even if they don't come themselves, they may be at a dinner party a few months down the line where someone mentions they want to travel to England - and they'll remember the wonderful time they had on the barges and our new venture in the Cotswolds. They also always give you their contact details so you build up a mailing list for when you have exciting news about the business (we don't ever bombard our guests, it's more likely we're emailing them individually to catch up anyway!)
We are also taking a trip to the United States in 2018 and have several ex-guests that we are staying with along the way. The biggest selling point of this business at the minute is the two of us - so having the opportunity to go to these kind of places is really beneficial.
What have your jobs taught you about running a business?
Definitely a new appreciation for the amount of work managers do in order to make everything run smoothly. Although everything was wonderful I felt that my mind was in a hundred different places this summer - something I'll be prepared for in future!
But the main thing would be the incredible feeling of pride that comes with working for yourself. Our first group of guests had all ran their own businesses, and they hit the nail on the head on their first night with us when they said:
"When you're working for someone else, you're constantly looking at the clock, calculating how long you've been working, or how long until your next break. Suddenly you have your own business and you've been working from 7am - midnight without a break, and you haven't given it a second thought, because you just want to get things done."
Do you think starting up whilst working has been beneficial to you and your business?
Definitely. It minimises the risk factor, knowing that you haven't given up everything to start this business. We are young and have no ties in terms of a house, pets or children. As optimistic as you can be, there is always the chance you could fail - and if this were the case, we would just come back to the barges and think of something else! That thought has always been in our mind, so I think staying working for someone else as long as you can until you are confident that your business is sustainable is the safest way for anyone starting up.
I also think the fact that we have been working in the industry in the same roles as those we will be employing will make us treat our staff well; we will always empathise with the long hours and tiring nature of the hospitality industry.
Any tips for startups currently working & thinking about starting up?
Believe in yourself! There are hundreds of people with ideas for new startups. The first step is to have the confidence in yourself to pursue it. It is a lot easier to sit back and wonder 'what if' - but what's holding you back? Once you get started, the rest comes naturally from your motivation!
I also think that, if the worst case scenario happens and your original business model fails, by this point you will have learnt so many new business skills that all of a sudden you'll have five more business ideas. All of the dragons on Dragon's Den failed in their first year of business! That's something that I've thought of often during this whole process.
Remember that feeling when you pass your driving test and for a good while after that you wake up overwhelmingly happy with the fact that you've got this new-found freedom? That's how it feels to follow your dreams and believe in yourself!
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