The “holy grail” for contractors is to have a roughly equal amount of business throughout the year, keeping revenue streams flowing smoothly and employees uniformly busy every month.

But in reality, we know better than to count on it.

While some of this will depend on where you are, the shifting seasons affect business to some extent everywhere. Here in the Midwest, we’re lucky enough to have four distinct seasons, so we feel the turn of the seasons more keenly than, say, southern states that may only have varying degrees of summer — at least by northern standards.

The busy season for us is the summer, starting around Memorial Day. This dies down in August, at which point it’s tune-up season. Furnace inquiries pick up after the first snowfall (give or take), and there’s an influx of New Year's resolution makers calling us after the first of the year. Then we try to get everyone to tune their system up in March and April before the next summer rush hits and our schedule is more packed. This cadence will feel familiar to many.

Even in those southern climates, though, there will be swings that come with the seasons. Managing these transitions is one of the biggest challenges in all of HVAC, and I don’t say that lightly. An inability to account for shifting demand sinks many businesses. But it can be done.


The Biggest Rushes

Some contractors hire extra help; others offer overtime. There are pros and cons to both of these methods, and I won’t be dissecting them in too much detail.

Either way, though, you need a strategy for managing employee burnout and customer expectations. Temporary help can be less reliable, and demanding overtime hours can cause higher turnover.

One strategy we use for this is to create a “blackout” period for time off. Employees are prepped in advance that there are dates when they can’t take vacation time (emergencies are exempted, of course). We’ve not had many issues with this, since it’s made clear at the time of hiring and throughout the year. In this way, it’s “all hands on deck,” and it minimizes overtime and workload for everyone. It’s a common enough practice that this won’t be news to many reading this, but clearly communicating it is the area I see more problems with for many contractors.

Many contractors use monetary incentives on top of this or other perks like recognition and promotion. As I’ll discuss a bit later, budgeting is key, but these are valid strategies. I also like to think of advancement in the company as a chance to acknowledge who faces the busy times with aggression and determination. It’s not just a carrot that you dangle to get people to work hard — it’s how you show the rest of the company the rewards of facing challenges head-on.

Lastly, having processes and talking points for your customer service representatives is crucially important. At some point, they’re going to have to talk to someone who needs help today, but you’re currently scheduling service calls three weeks out. Do you try to reschedule another appointment to prioritize the emergency? Keep a call window open for such occasions? Or refer them to another contractor apologetically, if they really can’t wait? And do the answers change if it’s an existing versus new customer or one on a recurring maintenance plan?

I can’t answer those questions for your business, but I believe they’re questions that should be asked.


The Slowest Lulls

The sky is falling! Well, not really, but it can feel like it when you go a full week with a lot of silence as the phones remain dormant.

One of the things we do during these periods is have more planned training. We have a large, excellent training facility, but it’s not getting used much during the busy season. However, we make up for this fact by scheduling 200+ hours of training for our techs every year. Sometimes the training is in-house, as taught by senior technicians or department heads. On more rare occasions, we’ll bring in outside trainers for their unique perspective, particularly on newer topics or the latest equipment.

If technicians know they’ll be improving themselves and getting steady pay, they’re more likely to stay.

Obviously, finding ways to drum up business during the slower periods is also key. Our sales and marketing professionals have lots of planned initiatives for these periods to ensure that the lulls still provide manageable levels of business.


Budgeting for Success

I’m often shocked by the number of people in our industry who don’t plan for predictable outcomes. I think this is possibly the key differentiator between successful and unsuccessful businesses.

There’s a cost to much of what I mentioned above, but the lasting effect is that you’ll experience less turnover and will have a fuller yearly cycle of business and training. So planning for those costs, knowing which ones you can absorb and which you have to forego, is important for businesses of any size. We budget in the fall, as many do, which is also a great time to use the seasonal downtime to assess what worked and what didn’t from the year before.

Incremental progress is always possible, but it’s those who fail to find ways to incrementally progress who will be left behind.

I still have a dream of 12 months with equal business. If you ever manage it yourself, please let me know. I’d love to learn the secret. Until then, though, I’m prepared for the swings that the seasons bring.