Balancing Staffing Levels with Customer Demand

Forecasting, outsourcing, cross-training, and ongoing recruitment are all recommended by experts, in addition to the need to protect staff from burnout.

Fluctuations in demand is an unavoidable part of doing business, but that doesn’t mean you can’t mitigate the risk. With the busy holiday season fast approaching, we asked our partners what companies can do to keep their staffing levels balanced with seasonal demand.

“An organization should ensure that the business trends and market demands are known and understood, which can provide a guide to anticipating proper staffing levels,” said John Paganini, CEO at CrewTracker Software. “They might use contractors or temporary workers to ensure sudden rises in demand are managed. Traditional cross-training programs can also be implemented, which have the added benefit of enabling career growth.”

John hit the nail on the head and touched on three key points made again and again in the responses we received from our partners. In addition to forecasting, outsourcing and cross-training, ongoing recruitment was also recommended—with additional emphasis placed on the need to, above all, protect your staff from burnout.

Forecast, Forecast, Forecast

Forecasting is your best friend. Look at your past data, understand your busy periods, and plan accordingly.

—  Tito Caceres, Bloom Partners Talent Solutions

To better plan staffing levels, companies should forecast customer demand by analyzing historical data, market trends, and customer insights. This will help them anticipate when they will need more or fewer staff to meet demand. (BOSS Business Management Software has a really great forecasting tool just for this purpose.)

— Chris Darnell, The Harvest Group

Ask the head of finance to build a model that tracks capacity. Using a few key drivers, you can test the sensitivity of production based on headcount, and start to test if the model mirrors the reality of the business. Most companies just guess at this, and often think they need more staff than is necessary once tracked and tested.

— Cullen Talley, Exit Momentum

A robust well functioning sales department should be able to tell you with good accuracy how much work is coming in next week, next month, next quarter. If you have 90 days notice that a ton of work is going to appear, start looking at how you are going to staff that, both in the office and in the field. Sales forecasting is a key to staying informed on what is coming and giving you time to plan. Without it, you are just going to be reactive.

— Greg Hayne, Hayne Coaching Group

Flexible Staffing Arrangements & Outsourcing

In the field, consider subcontracting certain functions so you don't have to hire more employees that you will have to cut if demand slows. In the office, consider out-sourcing functions like HR, design and sales. This allows you to be more agile in managing seasonal fluctuations in client demands. It also gives you the opportunity to see how a person might fit in your organization on a long-term basis.

— Jud Griggs, The Harvest Group

Lean into future trends such as robotics, AI, remote work, etc. You can also stop or reduce usage of full-time (W-2) staff by swapping in fractionals, temps, giggers, and other types of project driven hires.

— SJ Barakony, The Education Sherpa

Implement flexible staffing arrangements: Companies can use flexible staffing arrangements such as part-time work, job sharing, or temporary workers to adjust staffing levels according to demand. This can help reduce labor costs during slow periods and increase staffing levels during busy periods.
Outsourcing can also be a viable option for companies to balance staffing levels with customer demand by using external contractors or agencies to provide additional resources during busy periods. Remember, we are landscapers, not recruiters.

— Chris Darnell, The Harvest Group

Flexibility goes a long way. Try a mix of full-time, part-time, and temporary staff - it's a great way to adapt to changing workloads.

—  Tito Caceres, Bloom Partners Talent Solutions

Consider subcontracting for the less important phases of project work. Use drops in customer demand to invest in training and developing your staff. Turn a negative into a positive for your employees.

— Jeremy Huffman, Constant Flow Marketing

Automation and Cross-Training for FTEs

In the industrial world, manufacturers are constantly looking for ways to automate. "Flexible automation" is a term used to describe processes that can be modified quickly to manufacture different parts. If demand changes, the process can be modified to focus on a new product. By having people staffed that are responsible for automation - rather than performing manual labor tasks that could change with product and demand - their roles can be repurposed with demand, rather than eliminated.

— Chris Luecke, Manufacturing Happy Hour

Cross-training employees is a great way to provide flexibility and increase staffing levels without having to hire additional workers. Employees with diverse skill sets can also help to fill gaps in staffing due to turnover or absences.

— Chris Darnell, The Harvest Group

Cross-training is a game-changer. It gives your team the versatility to step in where they're needed most.

—  Tito Caceres, Bloom Partners Talent Solutions

Recruit Throughout the Year

In our industry, you're either hiring too early or too late. Having a consistent flow of solid, new employee candidates is one way to smooth this process out. Some of my clients' businesses are very seasonal, but the most successful are sourcing new employees throughout the year.

— Marc McTeague, SeibertKeck Insurance Partners

If a business is trying to grow, they need to be realistic with the resources and costs associated with hiring and training new staff, but I would recommend being overstaffed (at times) to prevent employee burnout, and to be prepared for high customer demand.

— Carla Policastro, Cycle CPA

Protect Your Team From Burnout

Keep an eye on your staffing levels regularly, and always strive to keep your team members content - a happy team is a stable team. Good communication is the glue that holds it all together. Being transparent with your team about changes can lead to greater understanding and collaboration.

—  Tito Caceres, Bloom Partners Talent Solutions

Set realistic sales goals and build capacity to match in a thoughtful, methodical, and strategic manner. Sometimes this means deferring opportunities until capacity catches up.

— Phil Harwood, & Snowfighters Institute

Put your employees first, ahead of your customers. It may sound crazy and against everything you have been taught about running a business, but if you continue to focus on servicing your customer at the expense of your employees, you will further fuel any turnover issues, which ultimately decreases your ability to adequately serve your customer.
Get better at saying "no" to customers in order to protect your employees. Only agree to do the amount of work that you can reasonably get done with your current resources. Asking everyone to work harder & more is short-term thinking that will ultimately cost you people and business in the future. Too much service is bad service. Control the work you sign up for and do 100% of the job you agreed to do. Don't overextend your resources just because you have the sales opportunity.

— Wes Verno, Verno Consulting

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