If there’s one thing we can say about 2020, it’s that it’s been a wild ride. Due to COVID-19, spring brought an unexpected standstill in bookings. Thankfully, things picked up in summer, when countless anglers and their families found fishing to be the perfect outdoor activity for them.
Now that high season has wound down in most of the northern hemisphere, we’re heading into a very different low season to what we’ve seen before. Here are our tips on how to prepare.
Low season is a good time to work on building the trust between you and your potential and returning customers. With so many concerns and COVID-related anxiety, now more than ever, your clients need to know that they can trust you to be responsible, communicative, and flexible.
Manage Your Customers’ Expectations
According to customers’ reviews, the most successful captains are able to communicate and manage their customers’ expectations ahead of time. Cultivate this strength and it will set you apart. Make a great first impression, and allow you to deliver on your promise of a memorable day on the water.
During the low season, managing expectations is particularly important. The bite might not be consistent, the fishing conditions are usually less than ideal – this is something your customers should know well in advance. Explain to your clients what kind of experience they can look forward to and then do your best to deliver on that promise. Even if things don’t turn out perfect, they’ll appreciate your honesty and hard work.
Keep It Clean
With winter just around the corner, the coronavirus is still on many people’s minds. This means that anglers coming to fish need to know you’re doing all in your power to keep them safe.
Maintaining the highest hygiene standards is a great way to show them that you care about their wellbeing. Cleaning and disinfecting your boat after every trip, wearing a mask, keeping a safe distance, and having hand sanitizer on board are good ways to help your clients feel protected.
If you’ve changed the number of people you can take out due to safety and COVID restrictions, make sure your listing clearly shows that and repeat it to the customers as soon as you get in touch. Above all, people looking for a charter want open and honest communication. Be straightforward and it could result in positive reviews, even when the action isn’t that great.
Let your customers know that you’re adhering to the latest health safety guidelines and, in response, they’ll feel more comfortable going out with you.
When booking a fishing trip online, anglers want the experience to be as hassle-free as possible. Their reviews show that they really value a seamless booking process. Also, there’s always special praise for flexible captains who go the extra mile to make it all work, despite the potential hiccups along the way.
What does that mean for you? First things first – you should keep the calendar on your listing up to date to avoid double bookings. Having to cancel makes for a very poor customer experience, and you may lose that client for good.
It’s equally important to communicate well when rescheduling. During the low season, bad weather is common, but you don’t have to lose clients over it! Put in the effort to reschedule the trip instead of canceling it, and your customers will appreciate it. Master the art of rescheduling and it can result in clients who are wowed by your flexibility even when you encounter problems.
Secure Your Finances
Financial security is on everybody’s minds and it hasn’t been easy dealing with so many uncertainties at once. Use the low season to regroup and come up with a plan that will allow you to reduce your losses as much as possible. While this might include a lot of research and dealing with paperwork, it could make a lot of difference for your business. Here are some things to think about.
What are your additional funding options?
In the midst of the first COVID outbreak, we wrote extensively about the types of financial support available to charter captains. This has been a tough year and buffer months were hit hard, so it’s good to get in on any available funding in good time.
NOAA Fisheries regularly update their website to keep fishermen in the loop of new grant possibilities. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is also offering different types of financial assistance for businesses and groups that were hit hard by the repercussions of COVID. You can also look into the CARES Act that has assigned over $300 million to help independent fishing operators.
Of course, these options are just the tip of the iceberg. You can go for a bank loan, look into the deferral of the payroll taxes, or explore Payment Protection Program opportunities. It all depends on what’s the best fit for your business model.
Look for ways to cut your costs without compromising the quality of your service
If there’s one thing the low season is good for, it’s rethinking and optimizing your costs. In 2020, there’s no room for losing money due to non-essential spending.
What are some cost cuts to consider? Optimizing your inventory is one part of it, as well as cutting down on additional perks for the time being. If there are elements of your fishing gear that aren’t working as well as they could, you could mend them instead of replacing them completely.
If the tip of your rod gets broken, you can get an affordable repair kit and fix it instead of buying a whole new one. You can use old rods for parts to fix the ones you’re currently using. The same goes for reels. If, for example, your level wind isn’t working properly, maybe you just need to clean it from grit and protect it from rust instead of replacing it. This kind of practical thinking applies to everything. It might take a bit of time, but if it helps you save money and it doesn’t take away from the fishing experience, it’s worth it.
During this time, it’s also important to stay financially secure, so make sure all your payment details are up to date on your listing. If you haven’t done so already, consider activating Online Payments for more secure transactions and contactless payment.
Deal with All the Necessary Repairs
Yes, you should be actively thinking about ways to save and make money, but not at the cost of good service. While it might look like a good idea to cut on essential boat and equipment upgrades this year, this decision won’t do you any favors in the long run.
Small gear repairs are a good idea, but if your fishing gear isn’t working well and little fixes don’t bring it up to par, you should replace it. Otherwise, anglers will be put off by it, and you better believe it will reflect in your reviews. A faulty boat or fishing equipment gets easily noticed on a charter, and customers will call you out on it.
Invest in upgrading your tackle (where necessary) and keeping your vessel in excellent shape – it will be another reason for your customers to recommend you. Both during this low season and in the future.
Boost Your Online Presence During the Low Season
While your offline advertising might be effective, nothing beats a good online presence and marketing. This is where your website and FishingBooker listing come into play. All you really need is some extra time and creativity. Here’s what you can do:
- Accurately show your low season offer. This is a great way to keep people in the loop about top catches, prices, special winter deals, and whatever else you’ve got in mind to attract customers.
- Write regular fishing reports. FishingBooker’s captain reports get a lot of traffic and are a terrific way to publicize your charter for free. You’re also adding a personal touch to your listing that customers appreciate because they get to know you a bit better. In your reports, write about what’s biting and add photos of your recent catches for more impact. Our report pages have recently had a revamp to look even better and we’re experimenting with ways that will allow people to follow your reports – almost like your own personal blog. So it’s a win-win situation!
- Don’t be afraid to come up with special offers and discounts on your trips. Even a small change in the price can make a world of difference to browsing customers and bring more business to you. Make some calculations to see if you can afford to come up with deals and still make profit. If you can, then you only need to hop onto your listing and make it happen!
Take Good Care of Yourself
Running a business and staying profitable is very important, especially in the midst of a pandemic. However, taking good care of yourself and your health is vital and should always come first.
All the stress, losses, and changes in the previous year have taken their toll on our physical and mental health. The time to rest and recharge is now. Don’t avoid and postpone your downtime, it won’t do you any favors in the long run. Take this low season to reflect on everything that’s happened and find out what you can do to handle things better in the future.
Keeping yourself healthy and stress-free has another perk. When you rest, you’ll have the focus to make the right decisions. Not to mention that you’ll be able to continue doing what you love for many years – and do it well.
There hasn’t been much balance in 2020, but this low season is a good time to try and find the equilibrium.
Don’t Worry About the Low Season, Make The Most of It
COVID-19 has changed our reality for the foreseeable future and it can be scary. Now, more than ever, it’s crucial to keep a clear head on our shoulders. Take time this low season to regroup and rethink every aspect of your business and how you can improve it. When you take your customers fishing, provide the best service you can, because they’ll appreciate it and, chances are, you’ll make their day.
In the end, it all comes down to that! You might not know what the future holds, but it’s so important to show up and do the best that you can. Every day is a new opportunity, even during the low season, so why not make the most of it?