Business Owner’s Guide to Holiday Sales Season

surviving-holiday-season

For some small businesses, the holidays are the most bustling time of the year. With holiday shoppers coming through the doors and not a break in sight, keeping all orders straight, staying fully staffed, and managing inventory can be tough.  

But for other business owners, the holidays are the slowest time of the year. With customers home celebrating, the challenges some business owners face instead can actually end up being keeping their cash flow stable and their business operating smoothly.

So, whichever boat you’re in—the holiday rush or the holiday lull—how can you survive the holiday season? Hopefully, the following small business holiday tips will help you with preparing and then taking it all on. 

First things first let’s define what we mean when we talk about “the holiday season.” For businesses, this is usually the months of November and December. Some retail businesses see 20% or more of their annual sales during the holiday season, according to the National Retail Federation.[1]

Before you can get to surviving the holiday season you need to get prepared for it first. Preparing for the season is the first thing you can do so that once it arrives you’re ready to take on whatever it has in store for you.

small business holiday tips

Small Business Owners Offer Tips for Preparing for the Holiday Season

We’re going to walk you through the small business holiday tips that small business owners had to offer on preparing for the season before we get to the tips on what to do during the season to survive it. Remember, these small business holiday tips are applicable whether you’re busy during the holidays or if it’s a slow season for your business.

Track Previous Holiday Season Sales

Ronni Wilson of Demosea (formerly So Posh Beauty) digs into analytics for past trends that will direct her holiday sales approach. “I took a hard look at my analytics from last year and created a strategy. I reached out to the blogs that drove the most traffic to my site last year to be included in their gift guides for this year,” Wilson told Fundera.

Knowing what’s worked before and what hasn’t is key. You need to examine trends from your normal sales seasons as well as past holiday seasons. It’s a good idea to takes notes and have numbers handy so that you’re not piecing bits of information together from memory. You can even create a “Holiday Sales Season” journal for keeping notes and stats around your sales and marketing activity. Keep it as a reference for future holiday marketing efforts.

Pay for Social Media Marketing

The world of internet marketing is an incredibly competitive place these days. The holidays are a time when retailers are amping up their reach and trying to get the attention of more customers than usual.

As a result, paid traffic might have to be part of your promotional strategy. This small business holiday tip comes from Tamara Darnley of Darlyng & Co. She says paying for traffic can be a good investment because “of the ability to target customers in an extremely precise manner.” Facebook ad marketing has truly changed the advertising game due to powerful targeting capabilities.

Tamara says that works well for retailers with physical locations, too. You can also drive traffic to your store by targeting prospects in your state or by zip code through these ads. So consider boosting high-performing posts on your Facebook page for as little as $5 a day to generate more traffic to your sales pages.

Perfect and Invest in the Customer Experience

Terrand Smith, founder and CEO of 37 Oaks Retail Consulting, encourages her retail clients to create a well-crafted customer experience for the holiday shopping season. “Make the return and exchange process simple, and offer online ordering or in-store pickup or gift wrapping options,” she says.

She adds that brick-and-mortar retailers have can have an advantage in this area, too: “A simple hello and a smile can go a long way during this stressful shopping season. Make your products and experience unique and the reason why they shop with you.”

small business holiday tips

Hire Temporary Employees

Brandon Chopp, formerly a digital marketing strategist at iHeart Raves, said that having enough help is crucial around this time of year: “We hire temporary employees who help out with everything from shipping out orders to answering customer service queries.”

Then, there’s also the extra help needed to customize landing pages for events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It’s an all-hands-on-deck approach to make sure the customer experience is smooth during times of heightened web traffic and sales. You can consider sourcing extra help from places like Upwork or Fiverr. Start with small tasks and then move up as your hired help displays competence and helpfulness. For the 2019 holiday season, 530,000 to 590,000 temporary employees were expected to be hired, according to the NRF.[1]

Decorate or Rebrand for the Holiday Season

There’s a reason you see holiday decorations as soon as the back-to-school campaigns are done. They evoke a nostalgia that’s hard to resist for the average consumer. The sensory experience of the holidays can bring back good memories that can influence customers to purchase products.

Rekha Pada owns an online store that sells beauty products, Raeka Beauty. She says her ecommerce shop goes under a dramatic change this time of year. “We make everything more sparkly, colorful, and depict friends who are happy together,” she says. “This reflects the mood and joyous feeling everyone begins to have as it gets closer to the holidays.” This is one of the small business holiday tips every business owner can use. Whether you’re busy or not you can spruce up your sales space online or in-person at a brick-and-mortar location. Understated that holiday decor goes a long way to show your customers you’re excited about your holiday promotions and sales.

This includes the signage for your brick-and-mortar locations. According to the NRF, roughly 55% of shoppers go into the store with the intention of browsing for gift ideas.[2] This creates a great opportunity for you to create displays or offer promotions to help inspire shoppers. You can also include some of these in emails, on social media, and on any sales flyers you send around. If a shopper isn’t sure what they’re looking for you can help by highlighting your best sales or promotions.

Be Diligent About Scheduling Content

Online marketing is a large part of retailers’ sales strategy this season, but it can’t be willy-nilly or off the cuff. Online retailer Gorilla Socks adheres to a specific content calendar. It provides a mix of education, inspiration, and call-to-actions that drive sales during the holidays’ peak sales times.

Like many others retailers, they’ll be engaging online influencers to spread the message about their products and their support of gorilla conservation. For your business, create a content calendar of ads, emails, and social media posts that tell a story and build up to the “most wonderful time of the year.” Spend time educating your audience and building trust so that the ask (for sales) becomes much easier and converts better.

small business holiday tips

Look Into Promotional Pricing

Brian Greenspan of Inmod, a modern furniture and decor store, says that promotional pricing is a big deal for them during the holidays. “This year we are working with all of our vendors to aggressively price items in order to save our customers more money,” he says.

His business holiday tip is that other retailers follow suit for the best results. “Try and offer your best prices of the year during the holiday season,” he says. If dropping prices is scary, then you might want to consider the gift guide approach. Inmod has tried this and seen sales increase as a result. “We’ve created gift guides to make it easier for customers to purchase gifts,” Greenspan says. “The guide should be broken down by price to help people make decisions on what to buy.”

To do this, choose a few items where you have pricing flexibility. Consider offering discounts or even testing different price points to create your ideal holiday pricing for promotional purposes.

Small Business Holiday Tips and Strategies for Surviving the Season

Doing all the preparation for the holiday season will go a long way. But it will likely still feel like a sprint to the finish line, or it might offer you a great opportunity to prepare for the year to come if you’re one of the businesses that see a lull during the holiday season. Now we’ll get into the small business holiday tips for surviving the holiday season once you’ve done all your preparation. These business holiday tips also come from business owners with personal experience.

Use the Slow Times to Focus on Infrastructure

If you do suffer from a lull during the holiday season you don’t need to worry. While you might not be dealing with as many customers day to day, you can still be plenty productive. “We focus on infrastructure during the slower periods so that we can provide a better experience for clients when we get larger. The holiday season is a great time to focus on departments like marketing or lead generation,” says Phil Lang, co-founder and COO of TripleMint. 

Not only does Lang’s company focus on building and solidifying the company during the break they also take the opportunity to test new campaigns on Facebook or the company’s website to see what produces the best leads. “We believe that progressing certain departments during a slower season will ultimately pay off when things pick back up once the holidays are over. We have also made a few hires during this time. That way our team has the time to properly onboard them,” he says.

Embrace the Holiday Festivities on Social Media

“Embrace the holiday spirit! Take festive photos of some of your most popular items and post them to social media for all to see,” says Shiree Odiz, founder and head designer of Shiree Odiz, a diamond jewelry company. “Holiday-themed posts are a great way to boost engagement, and can even translate to sales when paired with a holiday special offer,” she says. This is one of the most universal small business holiday tips, even if you’ve prepared some holiday-themed content, keep it up throughout the whole season. 

See the Slow Period Coming, and Plan for It

“As a B2B small business, the four-week window from mid-December to early January is one of our slowest periods of the year. Our clients—human resource managers, event specialists, marketing executives—all disappear on holidays at this time, so projects dry up,” says Rich Patterson, owner of Patterson Brands.

Patterson’s company creates branded items for businesses or movie productions and more. Many businesses can apply his method of preparing for the slow season, no matter what time of year it comes. It can be a good time for taking a much-needed break or for getting a head start on future projects.

“Small business owners in my situation need to expect that this is coming. Plan for it financially, by managing cash flow, and for staffing changes. And because we mirror our clients’ holidays, it’s a great time to also take a break from the office and escape on holidays. Finally, spring is always one of our busiest—if not the busiest—time of year. So if you’re like us, you can use the four-week quiet period to get a head start on spring projects!”

Don’t Overspend for the Holidays

This one might seem like a no brainer, but during the season it can be easy for things to slip out of control a little bit or to just forget about certain costs or purchases.

“The holiday season is pretty hectic. In my experience, the best way to limit too much spending during the holidays is to set a monthly limit on credit cards. This forces you to keep track of your spending on credit cards and not overspend on what your business doesn’t need,” AJ Saleem, director of Suprex Tutors Houston.

Keep Your Holiday Orders Straight, Stay Organized

“When the holiday season gets busy, stay organized. Make sure you keep your orders straight so your products don’t get sent to the wrong customer. Use spreadsheets and online tools to manage sales, inventory, and shipments. Have all your bookkeeping in one place by using tools like QuickBooks,” says Zondra Wilson, owner of Blu Skin Care LLC.

This holiday business tip can be useful at any time of the year, and the habit you form during the holiday season might end up helping you manage your inventory, sales, and customer experience better throughout the year. 

“Also, stock up on inventory. Get ahead of sales and build your inventory of products before your customers buy them. If you make your products by hand, it will be especially beneficial to your sanity to make the most popular items ahead of time. Analyze sales from past years to determine which products to keep on-hand and in what quantities,” she says.

Stay Connected With Your Customers, Even During Slow Times

“If your industry is slow during the holiday season, it is a great opportunity for a targeted email campaign that promotes engagement and celebrates your clients. Targeted email campaigns work wonders during an off-season,” says Sacha Ferrandi, founder of Source Capital Funding Inc.

Everyone loves a little appreciation sometimes and your customers are no different. When considering the small business holiday tips, make sure you add this one to your list. “Don’t try to sell too hard, especially if your industry is slow. Take this time to thank everyone for their support and softly promote any upcoming changes or special company offerings. This email could stay at the top of your potential clients’ minds when their budget is renewed the following month. Don’t forget to send a follow-up email campaign that is more sales-focused early in the new year!”

Utilize Your Resources to Survive the Rush

“If your business has a lull in the holiday season, then your employees get to take vacation over the holidays—which is generally what they wanted to do anyway. A big holiday rush is a lot trickier to manage,” Steve Benson, founder and CEO of Badger Maps.

If you do face a holiday rush and need extra help, think about employees you’ve had with your company seasonally, they can be great to bring on for a few weeks because they already know how to do everything and can jump right in. “First, look to the parts of the company that will be strapped for time for the holidays. A lot of college students are out of school for the holidays, and people like to work for a bit of extra holiday cash. Remember that great employee you had for the summer last year? They’re already trained and can hit the ground running, so shoot them an email and ask if they want to jump on board for a month,” says Benson. 

While you’re doing this all, remember to be present as well. “Remember, you have to lead from the front during this time. If you are posting pics on Instagram of yourself sipping mai-tais out of coconuts in Hawaii and asking your team to pull double shifts, there will be some resentment. So roll up your sleeves and turn up the Christmas music!” Benson says. 

Stay Flexible During the Holiday Season

“If you’re experiencing a holiday lull, create some flexibility in your operations. If you have the ability to scale your business, you can reduce expenses when demand is lower during the holiday season. You can also explore alternative business avenues during the holiday season,” says Dave DiVerniero, producer of Black Chip Studios. This is one of the small business holiday tips that also apply to seasonal businesses that have off seasons. 

“Or spend the time securing January business. Many businesses are too preoccupied during the holidays to want to schedule services. But if you reach out to your clients, you can schedule work for January and get a jump on the next year,” he says.

Find a Way to Stand Out

“To survive the holiday rush, we give out Christmas presents to our partners and clients the week after Thanksgiving. They enjoy them more because they aren’t being given a million presents and food all at once. It helps us stand out,” Rachel Charlupski, founder of The Babysitting Company.

“We also ask our own network for help. We invite other employees into our office to help with phone calls, filing, and so on to take the load off of our regular staff. Plus, it’s really fun, and we can help them make extra holiday money!”

Small Business Holiday Tips: The Takeaway

These business owners have been through the holiday season before, they’ve seen what works and what doesn’t, and the best, most productive ways to use your time during the holiday season either to boost sales or to prepare for the busy months to come.

Remember that a lot of these small business holiday tips can be done without having to break the bank and you can do much of it yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask for help though, especially if your business sees a big uptick in business during the holiday season. Bringing on some seasonal workers might be exactly what your business needs to get your customers in the holiday spirit and ready to shop.

By taking these small business holiday tips into account and doing some planning, you should be set for a wonderful holiday season.

Article Sources:

  1. NRF.com. “Winter Holiday FAQs
  2. NRF.com. “2018 In-Store Holiday Shopping
Director of Content Marketing at Fundera

Georgia McIntyre

Georgia McIntyre is the director of content marketing at Fundera.

Georgia has written extensively about small business finance, specializing in business lending, credit cards, and accounting solutions. 

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