Close-up of lit up Christmas lights

 4 Ways to Position Your Small Business for a Joyful Holiday Season

By Hillary Berman

Kids have just gone back to school, its still 80+ degrees in many parts of the country and Halloween is still a month and a half away. Yet Toys ‘R’ Us and Wal-Mart have both already released their lists of this year’s must-have toys. The holiday season is starting earlier and earlier with big business and savvy shoppers alike driving this extended shopping period.

If you’re a retailer, there’s no time to waste in getting ready for the season. But even if you’re a service provider or product company, if you offer something gift-able (or could!), now’s the time to get organized to get in on the holiday action.

Stock up and staff up. Small businesses tend to follow their big box store counterparts and offer sweet discounts to drive holiday sales. But if you don’t have the product on hand or staff to service the business, you’ll fall short on meeting customer expectations. Consider the inventory and team you’re going to need to support the deals you set forth and increased foot traffic you expect. The holidays are all too frequently fraught with out-of-stock signs, long lines, and overworked employees that only contribute to customers’ holiday stress. When you’re prepared, you improve the buying experience and drive sales up in the process.

Make shopping fun (or at least pleasant) again. Holiday shopping tends to take two paths – the painful but discounted Black Friday experience or the easy yet impersonal online one. As a small business, you have the opportunity to stand out and set yourself apart. While twinkle lights are beautiful, go beyond the obvious holiday décor and get organized now to give your customers a memorable shopping experience that leaves them with real holiday spirit. Stock interesting inventory that allows them to give unique gifts. Provide gift wrapping services at no cost that makes their lives easier. Offer water, coffee or cookies to refresh the weary shopper. Have quarters at the ready for expiring meters. These small investments in customer experience empower you reap significant sales.

Communicate, communicate, communicate. Start early and plan to go late. While some shoppers have already gotten a jump start on their holiday gift lists others will put off their shopping until December 23rd. Come Thanksgiving, the big guys will bombard mailboxes and inboxes with offers and incentives. Every year, shoppers face communications overload making it hard for small businesses to stand out from the mix. So don’t wait for the holidays when your communications are forced to compete for attention. Get in touch with your customers now and keep it going throughout the holiday season to remind customers that you’re there. Send quality communications that give your customers a reason to pay attention and elevate your message above the noise. And utilize social media to keep your message front and center.

Get in on on-demand. Not every gift giver likes to shop. And some are simply too busy to get through their list in time for their holiday celebrations. Gift certificates and subscription boxes are great go-to options that allow gift givers to shop small while getting gifts quickly and easily. Plus, subscription boxes let you reinforce your brand and quality with the gift recipient month after month – increasing their likelihood of future purchases and referrals. Get your website set up now to offer these options and design downloadable gift enclosures that beautifully tell the recipient about their gift. Then, go back to the communication piece to make sure your customers know you offer these on-demand options to support their holiday gifting needs.

This year, the first night of Hanukkah and Christmas Eve share the box on the calendar. Get going now to make sure your small business is ready to help make your customers’ holidays merry and bright.

Hillary Berman is the founder of Popcorn & Ice Cream, a Washington, DC-based marketing consulting firm focused on small businesses and start-ups, the author of Customer, LLC: The Small Business Guide to Customer Engagement & Marketing, and a Google Small Business Advisor. Follow her on Twitter at @popcornicecream.