The Definitive Guide To Holiday 2016 PrepContributed by bizhive

The bizhive Expert Team has collectively spent more than 250 years of holiday sales seasons across a wide variety of businesses, and we’re happy – and a little surprised – to say we still love the holly-jolly, silver & gold!  And we’d also like to believe we’ve learned a thing or two.  So when we set about writing our “Definitive Guide to Holiday 2016 Prep” we gathered ‘round a fake Yule log and sung a few carols out of tune before getting down to the hard work of distilling everything we knew into 12 manageable success drivers, one for each reindeer.

So here, without any trumpeted fanfare, is our best Expert advice on pulling off your best Holiday season ever:


  • Look Back to See Ahead


When it comes to plotting out a solid forward plan for Holiday 2016, you have a great starting point – Holiday 2015.  Get in your time machine and transport yourself back to last year – what the heck really happened?  Like the memory of a bad meal, you’ll likely recall the stinky bits first: the free shipping that cost you a fortune, the product recall, the customer who insisted that your Goth cashier single-handedly ruined Christmas for the entire world.  Okay, let’s sweep all that aside.  Think about more important tangibles, like what products or services sold best, or sold out.  What kinds of customers seemed to come in early in the season? Late in the season? Or – gasp – not at all?  What expectations fell short, and what became hauntingly real?  There had to be hundreds of goods & bads, right?  Write all of this down – or speak it into your smartphone notes app – then organize this very lengthy list into 3 columns.  Column A is headed “Keepers” for all those items, actions & more you’ll happily do over, just better.  Column B is headed “Weepers” for all the stuff you’d sooner forget.  And Column C is headed “Sleepers,” for all the stuff you’d like to reconsider, recast and eventually re-try because you believe that with a little more thought and a night to sleep on it, you’ll make a winner there.  Now feast your eyes on the beginnings of your 2016 plan, born from the very real experience you originated just a short year ago!



  • Get Thee to a Calendar


Retailers large and small have known for generations that comparable sales planning (or “comps planning”) can lay a detailed tactical foundation for the Holiday sales season.  As we outlined above, you use your past performance as a model for this coming year – in this case, by each day of the Holiday season (October 1 thru January 1.)  If you had a particularly strong Small Business Saturday in 2015, then consider it a “must make,” requiring your focused attention this year to insure you can beat those comp Small Business Saturday 2016 sales numbers.  If you had a particularly weak after-Christmas result, then consider it an “opportunity,” a place where a different strategy & plan could yield a significant gain.  You can also plot the impact of extraordinary events – from snow days to the arrival of a really hot product – to gauge how much your extraordinary must-makes and opportunities add up to.  By “comp planning” your performance in 2016 you’ll likely have a to-do list you can wake up to every day that sets each day up and knocks each day down.  For your starter comp calendar for 2016, click here! 



  • Talk Amongst Yourselves


The Holidays are a team sport for your Small Biz, so get your team in the game early.  Start with 1-on-1 interviews with your key returning veterans. Ask them about last Holiday season – what worked? what didn’t? what more recent trends do they see impacting the Holiday?  Cover the waterfront, from sales & marketing to operations to staffing.  Then take the opportunity to create team ownership by gathering everyone together for a download of what you heard.  Share fresh donuts, hot coffee and new ideas right alongside overdue fixes.  Be candid, but don’t feel the need to agree with everything suggested.  Just know your effort to engage your team will build a collaborative, supportive group effort.  You’ll see it pay dividends in the long hours, rapid-fire problem solving, and crazy customer demands that make up the silly season!



  • Measure Twice, Cut Once


Carpenters know that cutting a board that fits perfectly requires not one but two measurements.  The same can be said for planning the resources your Small Biz will need to execute your successful 2016 plan.  Whether it’s man-hours to cover a sales floor, or a paper order to cover your complimentary gift wrap, be precise in measuring what you will need.  Then go grab a cup of coffee, put in some time walking around your neighborhood, and come back to the numbers again.  We guarantee that two looks at your numbers will tighten up your projections greatly. And that’s the Lord’s work.  Too much of a resource – whatever it is – eats away at profit.  Too little of a resource likely means you left sales on the table.  So break each resource down into its smallest component parts and build your forecast needs based on last Holiday season, current trends, the input of your people, and more.  Fire up your spreadsheets and play out “what-if?” scenarios – particularly the over-perform & under-perform extremes.  Now you’re ready to cut – checks, that is.



  • To Thine Own Customer Be True


Most Small Biz find that 80% of their sales come from 20% of their customers.  No time is this more true than the Holidays, when our best customers return to our Small Biz for products, services and experiences they’ve come to love and count on.  So why is it so many Small Biz spend so much time and money chasing after new customers during the Holidays?  The impulse is natural – after all, with so many millions out there shopping and buying, why shouldn’t you get some of that?  The short answer is it’s just too expensive.  Our Experts and our more successful Small Biz members agree: focus on your best customers first, and their goodwill is guaranteed to generate referrals and thus new customers.  We hope that you can easily identify and communicate with your best customers (e-mail, social media, text messaging) so begin with a steady stream of invites describing what you’ve got to offer this Holiday, and keep it up every week (or at every opportunity) throughout the season.  Be relevant, be timely and above all, be valuable.  And since you know who they are, take the time to personalize.  Consider each communication as an opportunity to have a direct and customized dialogue with each best customer.  Then draw from a big bag of tricks to identify your best customers while they’re in your place of biz (loyalty cards, social media check-ins, coupons, private events) and step out with that most powerful selling tool, a smile.  Last but by no means least, encourage your best customers to share their best experiences with your Small Biz, especially in the form of reviews on the most popular search engine, Google.



  • Is Your .com The Bomb?


If you haven’t figured it out already, your website is now and forever will be your most powerful sales tool, even if it isn’t e-commerce enabled.  During Holiday 2015, over 75% of shoppers visited a Small Biz’s website before making a first-time shopping visit.  Add to that the staggering amount of traffic from loyal customers checking when you open, when you close, and what you’ve got, and your .com better be the “bomb!”  First step is a personal QC audit.  Sit in front of your own computer and visit your own website.  Press every button, go to every page, check every copy block for accuracy and spelling.  Then do the same thing on a smartphone, confirming that your site is indeed mobile “responsive,” adapting to the smaller screen with no thumbs-in-thumbs-out for right-sizing the display.  Make sure your click-2-call is working – and if you don’t have click-2-call, get it!  Is your physical address easy to find?  Or is it buried in the “About Us” tab?  Are your holiday hours clearly presented on your homepage, above the “fold”?  Your social media links?  Do you have a quick/easy way for someone to ask for more info?  An e-mail list sign-up form?  A place to regularly present special offers?  If you have an e-commerce site, make a few transactions to confirm everything is working.  We can’t stress enough that doing this work yourself is key – your website is a digital reflection of you and your Small Biz!  Own it!



  • Go Mobile or Go Home


Have we mentioned that smartphones play a big role in Holiday sales?  Ok, we’ll just add this little tidbit: the average consumer’s time glued to a smartphone far exceeds time watching TV, listening to the radio, reading, or in some cases, sleeping!  So while the vast majority of Small Biz are still waiting to do their first mobile-based promotion or ad, recognize that your website, your social media, and even your promotional e-mail is being consumed on a handheld device.  What’s that mean?  First, make sure your website is – yes, we’ll say it again – mobile responsive.  If you’re not absolutely certain it is, then grab a smartphone and check.  If you’re having to adjust that tiny screen to eyeglass your homepage, you are NOT mobile responsive.  Next, recognize where your customer is interacting with you, especially your marketing communications.  Keep all your pitches, offers & promotions short, sweet & simple.  A 3-inch screen is no place for a big, complex story.  Want to try a true mobile promotion?  The best to start with is a “text to get offer” message that you can promote across all your available media, including inside your own place of biz.  Chances are also very good that you’ll confront customers expecting mobile-based payment options, like Google Wallet or Apple Pay, so be prepared.  For a primer, check out Melissa Thompson’s excellent short-list summary at Small Business Trends here.



  • Welcome to the Machines


As technology plays a bigger and bigger role in successful Small Biz throughout the year, so too is it playing a particularly critical role during the holidays.  After all, we’re talking tools here, and we use tools to get things done faster, cheaper, better.  So what are the must have tech-tools of Holiday 2016?  We mentioned one just above – mobile payment solutions, a range of platform options for point-of-sale transaction processing (wherever that point of sale happens to be.)  Next on the list of most in-demand?  Cloud storage tools, allowing for a Small Biz’ most critical data to reside somewhere besides under a desk.  Preptember is a great time to complete your migration to the cloud, especially your most valuable data – your customers’ contact info!  Once on the cloud, it’s time to insure that you can communicate often with those customers, so a solid e-mail tool is the right machine for the job.  See our Marketplace for a great list of options.  And if you intend to use social media actively, then consider a machine to run it – we like Hootsuite best.  Last but by no means least, consider the machine we call wi-fi, and whether offering wi-fi in your place of business will be an excellent addition to your Holiday tech-kit.  To see if wi-fi is a fit for you, check out Stephen Scheck’s straight-talk overview at Small Business Trends here.  



  • Secure Your Cyber-self


For those who are new to the whole subject of cyber-security, we strongly suggest you get acquainted with one of our most popular “jobs to be done”: Secure Your Biz.   Don’t think you are too small to be of interest to hackers.  No less than the Department of Homeland Security has issued direct warnings to American Small Biz – foreign cyber-crooks are coming for you.  You have what they want and more importantly what they believe they can easily obtain: customer & employee info, credit card transaction files, banking credentials, and more.  So become a student of necessity and really apply yourself to these growing threats.  And check out new insurance options that cover you if something cyber-bad happens – learn more here.


  • Cash Ready & Profit Primed


When asked if he was prepared for the Holiday sales season, one of our favorite Small Biz members, Bruce Irwin of Saddlebacks, wrote “I’m cash-ready and profit primed!”  We love it!  That means like many successful Small Biz, Bruce has thought through how his cash flow will lay out for the 90-day Holiday window.  He’s committed it to a simple, Excel-based spreadsheet by week.  He knows where the peaks and valleys will be, and where the holes may present.  He’s also secured a line of credit sufficient to cover cash needs should they arise (note: he did this ahead of time!)  To do this, of course, he had to have confidence that both his billables and payables systems were running smoothly (via automated apps) and that his people knew the drills of closing, transacting and collecting.  Equally important, he’s disciplined in challenging his expenses routinely, paying his bills regularly and forecasting his end of season profit – a well-lit beacon in the blizzard of Holiday activity.  Lastly he follows our Experts dictum – he’s thinking sales every minute, but designating a single hour a week to review payables, so he can stay focused on the good that solves all ills – revenue!



  • Prepped for Trouble

Unfortunately, the Holiday season brings out grinches, gremlins and all manner of con artists.  Fraud at Small Biz spikes, from bad checks to identity theft to charity scams, chances are you’ll get hit.  And though we know you’ll be on the alert, be equally aware that the insurance industry has taken note.  They’ve responded with a whole new wave of coverage options that provide you protection in case bad stuff happens.  To learn more, click here.  Policies not only include financial recovery, but advice & even services to help your Small Biz get through, over and to the other side of the problem, whether it’s the wholescale breach of your customer files, or a hack of your credit card processing system, or ransomware on all your inventory data.  These kinds of protections are an unfortunate but necessary part of your Holiday planning.



  • Win the Peeps Sweeps


Your people will make or break your Holiday 2016 success, no matter if you’ve excelled at taking care of everything else on our list here.  So if people are the prize, how do you win the best?  How do you win the sweeps for the peeps?  The answer is “enter early and enter often.”  One very successful Small Biz Member – Jeans & a Cute Top – begins hiring and training in – you guessed it – Preptember.  They fill up their core staffing team from those out in the market looking earlier than most (a great indicator of initiative, don’t you think?)  They then “soft-hire” replacements for every one of those initial hires, informing these candidates that they will be the first hires made if openings become available.  For some, they even offer seasonal training (and pay them) to wait for the inevitable opportunities to come.  The rest they extend discounts to keep them familiar.  This strategy insures great talent ready to go when needed.  An investment in a killer staff-hours planning system coupled with a great automated payroll system means Jeans & a Cute Top owners can stay focused on coaching, motivating & directing their peeps for the ultimate Holiday success.


Still want more?  You’ve come to the right place!


  • For more help with financial management, see our Master Your Money Job to Be Done with on-demand webinar here.


  • For more help with local marketing, see our Master Local $ales Job to Be Done with on-demand webinar here.


  • For more help with your tech, see our Upgrade Your Tech Job to Be Done with on-demand webinar here.