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A broken website. Sold-out items. Shipping delays. These conditions can be detrimental to small businesses during the holiday season, arguably the busiest time of year for retail sales.
“We see some of our clients in one weekend — like over Black Friday, Cyber Monday — make more money that weekend than they do for the entire year. It’s a huge opportunity,” says Sharon Lee Thony, founder and CEO of SLT Consulting, a boutique digital marketing agency, and a Verizon Small Business Digital Ready instructor.
Small-business owners may not be able to plan for every contingency, but identifying some of the more likely (and costly) possibilities, as well as having plans to prevent them, can help position businesses for success.
Here are three of the most common mistakes small businesses make leading up to and during the holiday shopping season, and tips to avoid them.
1. Failing to plan ahead
Planning ahead is key to running a small business, but it’s even more important during the holiday season when you’re anticipating an influx of sales.
This means having things in place operationally to be able to handle the greater volume of traffic to your e-commerce website or foot traffic in your stores, Thony says.
She recommends preparation strategies such as:
Making sure you have enough inventory.
Hiring additional, temporary staff.
Checking that your website is optimized and links are working.
Creating competitive promotions that offer value to customers.
If you have it, use historical data to anticipate your seasonal needs and guide planning decisions. In order to make sure you’ll have enough inventory, for example, you can create a sales forecast or inventory demand plan, says Hannah Shr, senior program manager at ICA Fund, a small-business accelerator based in California.
Performing these analyses ahead of time can help ensure that you’re not scrambling as the holidays approach, nor leaving “money and opportunities on the table,” Shr says.
2. Forgetting the customer experience
When you’re trying to manage your inventory, staff and marketing down to the smallest details, it can be easy to forget who’s on the other side of the sale.
But making your customers feel special — feel that you understand their needs — can help you stand out from your competitors during this busy time of year, said Oleg Donets, founder of marketing platform Real Estate Bees and SCORE business mentor, by email.
Investing in personalization is one way businesses can prioritize the customer experience. Donets recommends segmenting your customer base as granularly as possible so that you can precisely tailor your messaging and offerings.
Avoid a general offer, like “20% off all merchandise this holiday season,” he said. Instead, you might consider an exclusive promotion for those who opt in to your email list or a special sale for repeat customers.
Investing in your existing customer base, in particular, is a “great way to leverage this holiday shopping period,” Thony says. Customers who are already familiar with your brand are likely willing to buy more, share gifts with friends and spread the word about your business.
3. Overlooking collaboration
As holiday shoppers search for the perfect gifts, one way to amplify your business’s visibility is to connect with other businesses, specifically those that complement your own, Shr says.
For instance, if you run a small candle company, you might partner with a soap maker or local spa to create a “pampering” themed holiday basket. Similarly, a brewery with increased foot traffic during the holiday season might work with various food trucks to promote their businesses.
“There’s something really powerful in collaborating,” Shr says. Business owners who see each other as resources can help each other out and work together toward success.
Local business groups and nonprofits can also be excellent resources for collaboration during this time of year. Some of these organizations operate community holiday markets and promote small businesses in local media, as well as offer other opportunities for you to share your story with potential customers this holiday season.
You can find these groups through social media, your local Chamber of Commerce or a simple online search.