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For some small businesses, the holidays are the most bustling time of the year. With holiday shoppers coming through your doors, keeping all your orders straight, staying fully staffed, and managing your inventory can be tough.
But for other business owners, the holidays are the slowest time of the year. With your customers home celebrating, it can be tough to keep your cash flow stable and your business operating smoothly.
So, whichever boat you’re in—the holiday rush or the holiday lull—how can you survive the holiday season?
We asked 11 small business owners how they get their business through the holidays. Here’s what they had to say.
“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. We like to test different campaigns either on the website, Facebook ads, etc. to see which ideas work best for the company and produce the most 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 on-board them.”
—Phil Lang, Co-Founder and COO of TripleMint
“Automating, simplifying, and systematizing as much of the business as possible has saved me from being overwhelmed coming up to the holidays. Some clear steps that have helped a lot include outsourcing warehousing to save time filling orders and color coding emails to manage a continuous stream of emails during the holidays.”
—Daniel Brady, Owner of Heavenly Hammocks
“Embrace the holiday spirit! Take festive photos of some of your most popular items and post them to social media for all to see. Holiday-themed posts are a great way to boost engagement, and can even translate to sales when paired with a holiday special offer.”
—Shiree Odiz, Founder and Head Designer of Shiree Odiz
“As a B2B small business, the 4-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.
“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 4-week quiet period to get a head start on spring projects!”
—Rich Patterson, Owner of Patterson Brands
“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
“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.
“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.”
—Zondra Wilson, Owner of Blu Skin Care LLC
“If you need to survive the lows of a holiday season, get some renovations completed. Especially for companies that are looking to expand, the holiday season is a perfect time to send people to work at home and finish those renovations that you have been planning. Don’t forget to add a few cool perks like a full kitchen or company bar for your employees. These updates will not only promote retention, but will also stick out to any visitors. Furthermore, any changes you make is great content for newsletters and other industry publications that can promote your products/service in the new year.
“Also, 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. 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!”
—Sacha Ferrandi, Founder of Source Capital Funding Inc.
“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.
“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. You can also ask yourself if there are other areas of the organization that you can pull from for additional support. For example, can the finance or accounting team lend a hand to other areas of the business for a couple weeks?
“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!”
—Steve Benson, Founder and CEO of Badger Maps
“If your business typically hits a lull during the holidays, prepare for it in advance. You knew it was coming for the last 11 months! Use the time to do the things you don’t have time for throughout the year. This includes planning. Plan for 2017, for 2020, and maybe even 7 or 8 years out. Also, showing your customers some love—why not call them, say thank you, and ask how you can better serve them in the new year? You could also reach out to vendors. Talk to them and figure out what you may need from them next year.
“A holiday lull is also great for organizing. Whether you own a shop, store warehouse, office, or even online space, clean up the loose ends. Your customers and employees will appreciate it. And finally, rejuvenate. Sleep a little more and have some fun. Work-life balance is key to productivity, and the holiday season is a great time to prioritize life.”
—John Meetz, President of The Alternative Board South Central Kansas
“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.
“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.”
—Dave DiVerniero, Producer of Black Chip Studios
“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.
“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!”
—Rachel Charlupski, Founder of The Babysitting Company
There you have it—11 pieces of advice for keeping your business up and running the rush or lull of the holidays.