The holidays are here and the pressure's on.
Not only are there a few weeks left to close the year out on a high note, small businesses must maintain an exceptional level of customers service while dealing with increased foot traffic, bargain hunters and crushing competition from bigger companies. Those who don't deftly balance these factors, and more, may end up missing out on strong consumer demand.
The 2016 holiday shopping season is already off to a strong start. The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) and American Express revealed that this past Small Business Saturday (Nov. 26), a whopping 112 million consumers shopped at a small business, a 13-percent increase compared to 2015. A record 72 percent of U.S. consumers were aware of the shopping holiday this year.
Fortunately, it's not too late to capitalize on this momentum. Small Business Computing asked Balboa Capital's Carla Freberg, sales manager at the small business financing specialist's Vendor Services Group, on some steps that entrepreneurs can take now to make the holidays a success for their companies.
Go the Extra Mile
A little extra attention goes a long way, particularly during the holidays.
"Compete with large-scale retailers by offering something special for your customers. This could mean offering special gift wrapping, free gift-with-purchase or even a free holiday greeting card. Consider what your customers will find most valuable during this busy season," said Freberg.
Consumers, just like business owners, appreciate a time-saver or two.
"This is the busiest time of the year, so anything you can offer the customer that frees up their time is surely a gift that will be appreciated and sought after," Freberg. "This is also a good time to utilize a looser return policy, as that safety net will help your buyers pull the trigger when making the purchase decision."
Spread the Word
The holidays are the worst time to keep your discounts and promotions a secret.
"It's important to spread the word about your holiday sales online. Even if your business is small, making periodic updates to your company website helps keep it optimized for search, and shows your visitors that you are active online," Freberg said. "You can promote your upcoming holiday deals via social networks such as Facebook, Google+ and Twitter."
Social media a mobile shopping experiences go hand-in-hand.
"Work towards building a following on your social sites. These sites will allow you to build your brand and interact with your customer," Freberg urged. "Social accounts are also the perfect place to announce news, sales and much more."
Determine Your Goals
Don't wing it during the holidays. The worst thing to do is come up short, or worse, succumb to an overly optimistic outlook.
"Set holiday sales goals and stock up and staff up appropriately. This will help you to predict your inventory, workforce, payroll, and marketing needs, to name a few," Freberg said.
Similarly, make sure you have enough stock on hand or the means to acquire it. Don't let your customers walk out empty handed.
"Check inventory and make sure there's enough," said Freberg. "If you're in retail, this could mean acquiring a working capital loan, which offers an easy application and approval process."
Study Your Competition
Unleash your inner sleuth and scope out the competitive landscape. It may reveal some money-making strategies.
"After determining which items you want to promote over the holidays, find out what your competitors are charging to see how your business sizes up. You can do this by visiting their stores, checking their websites, or making phone calls," said Freberg.
Don't wage a price war with big box stores, however. "If you own a small business, avoid competing with the large chain store's prices. They have bigger buying power and can purchase items in large quantities for less," she warned.
Finally, it's time to rally the troops.
"If there's not enough time (or budget) to hire new employees, it's important to train the existing employees on how to handle the extra customers," Freberg said. "Schedule the right number of employees, and make sure you have enough workers tending to the cash registers during peak time periods."