As the “most wonderful time of the year” approaches, consumer spending levels also reach their annual peak. Needless to say, this is also a crucial time for all businesses to have strong marketing plans in place and take advantage of the additional revenue opportunities. It’s especially important for small businesses who don’t have the resources of larger companies to have definite strategies in place to maximize the holidays financially. Here are a few strategies that can help your small business prepare for the busiest and potentially most lucrative season of the year:
Optimize your branding and marketing strategy for the holidays
Show your holiday spirit by decorating your website, emails, and any print promotional materials with holiday graphics. This simple but often forgotten strategy adds a touch of humanity to your business and makes the online shopping experience that much more inviting for the customer. Depending on your budget, you could take a page out of the Google playbook and redesign your business logo with the different fall and winter holiday themes as appropriate (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa); it doesn’t cost as much as you think, and can be reused every year.
Check to see that all of your web links are working — nothing kills sales faster than a broken link! There are a number of free online tools and apps you can use for this, including Check My Links (a Google Chrome Web Extension), Broken Link Check, Dr. Link Check, and various different paid software options depending on your needs. Also, update your social media pages to have a look and feel coordinated with your main website.
Make sure that you are current with social media and are promoting your business on the latest social media sites and apps like Pinterest, Instagram, and Vine as well the more traditional Facebook and Twitter. Don’t ignore traditional marketing methods like basic email, snail mail, coupons, and discounts either! Your marketing strategy should be well-focused to your target audience as in all the rest of the year, so make sure to leverage those channels where your target audience can be found.
It is also crucial to make sure that your website and especially your online shopping cart are tweaked to work on mobile platforms. Shopping on tablets and smartphones is becoming more and more prevalent as time-challenged consumers reach for what is at hand to make their purchases. Keep all of these things in mind in creating your marketing mix for your products and services so that you can reach your target customers in the most effective way for this time of year.
Use CRM tools
As a small business you may not be able to compete with larger business in pricing, but you can certainly outpace them in service, quality, and customer relationships. CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tools are an excellent way to manage your customer data and automate the various processes in your sales/delivery chain. Depending on what kind of business you are in and how large your small business actually is, you may need fancy software like Salesforce or you might just need to become aware of the importance of organizing your customer data in a simple spreadsheet or even the tried-and-true Rolodex! There are also free software options for smaller businesses: ZohoCRM — free for up to 10 users, and Insightly — free for up to 2 users. Both offer the opportunity to expand into more powerful versions as your business grows. The more data you have on your customers available at your fingertips, the easier it will be to create and follow-up on sales leads.
CRM tools can enable your sales team to be better organized, collaborate more efficiently, and share data throughout your company thus keeping your sales and marketing efforts integrated. The important lesson here for small businesses is that the more you know about your customers and the stronger your customer relationships, the more likely you are to be able to target them more efficiently in the future. During the holiday season, having this kind of organization and data-driven marketing plan set up will enable you to focus on the day-to-day activities of the business without worrying about the big picture.
Promotions, incentives, and giveaways
Everybody loves a bargain, and at the holidays when competition is fierce people are especially drawn to enticements, specials, and sales. When determining what might be best for you to offer your customers, think about what problem they may need to solve or what might help them cope with the stresses of the season. These can run the gamut from free shipping and significant discounts to a free holiday cookie or cup of hot cider at your business location. You might want to combine this with some kind of offer valid after the holidays to get the customer or client to return after the season has ended. Again, depending on your budget, this may include print/emailed materials such as coupons or maybe just an emailed/social media blasted customer code.
Whatever your promotion or incentive is, make sure to repeatedly blast it out on social media and email so as to get the word out (obviously only to those who have opted into your social media accounts and email; spamming is a poor strategy which can misfire and kill your business). Be creative here! A strong promotion tailored to your target audience and specific to your business can generate huge word-of-mouth ROI (return on investment). For example, a plant nursery that decided to offer a free visit and picture with Santa at Christmas now does a booming business in holiday-themed gifts as well.
Make sure also that you are aware of important dates in planning your promotions. Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) is the largest shopping day of the year, but perhaps even more important to you is the newer Small Business Saturday (the next day). This is a day focused on driving consumers to local merchants and away from the big box stores, and even has it’s own slogan — Shop Small! Small Business Saturday has a centralized website run by American Express where you can register your business so potential customers can see if you are participating. The SBA (US Small Business Administration) has a page devoted to Small Business Saturday as well with plenty of helpful marketing tips and links to the SBS Facebook page (definitely include #SmallBizSat in your social media posts). To round out the weekend after Sunday off is Cyber Monday: the day created by marketing companies to persuade people to shop online. You could have a promotion for all three of these dates, or for just the ones most pertinent to your business.
Then there are the holidays of the season to consider: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and/or Kwanzaa. Being aware of these dates and targeting your promotions and incentives to your audience with them in mind in a timely fashion is sure to bring a healthy ROI.
While it may seem counter-intuitive for this to be the last tip, we wanted to make sure that you had read through all of the other tips above before we emphasized the urgency. It’s never too early to get prepared! Whether you need to hire special holiday staff, create new graphics, or just run through your existing business infrastructure to make sure the ship is secure, there is no time like the present to get started. Once the holiday rush is on, you will be too busy to lay the groundwork and will have to function more like a juggler. You may have to do that anyway, but at least you will be prepared for it! The holidays come quicker than you think, always.
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