Black Friday: you know it’s coming, and depending on how you look at it, these two words can be a curse or a blessing. This gateway to the holiday shopping season can mean big profits for businesses prepared to handle the rush. Any business—retail or service-based, online or brick-and-mortar—can benefit from the holiday shopping season. The key to success is early preparation.
A meeting of the minds is a great way to start planning for the holiday shopping season. Taking a serious look at what’s working for your business, what’s not, and how to make things better can help you formulate your holiday plan. Meet with the people whose input you value—employees, a business partner, spouse or best friend. Then go over key aspects of your business that can make or break your holiday shopping season.
- How well did your business do during last year’s holiday shopping season? What products or services were best sellers? How can you offer those things, or similar goods, this year?
- What snags did you encounter during the holiday season in past years?
- How can you make things run smoother this year?
2. Prepare what you can
Some tasks and preparations can be taken care of ahead of time, before the mad rush begins. Retailers may want to begin some preparations a month before Black Friday. Service businesses like caterers, event planners and cleaning services may begin taking appointments, and making some preparations, two months or more before the Christmas season.
Order supplies early
Have on hand the things you use most and are likely to use more of: Product packaging, business collateral like business cards, labels and brochures, and office supplies like printer ink and paper.
Perform maintenance and upgrades
Upgrade essential equipment like computers and software, printers, registers and production equipment. You want to avoid malfunctions and breakdowns when you need them the most during the shopping season!
If your desk is overrun with mess, now is the time to clean it. Consider how you can make your workspace, and that of your employees or helpers, more organized and efficient. If you have a store front or office space, perform any needed cosmetic and functional repairs now. Have carpets cleaned or floors polished. Update the aesthetics and functionality so customers feel welcome and ready to spend or book an appointment.
3. Revisit customer service
If you haven’t completely nailed down customer service essentials, or have been thinking about revising your current policies, now is a good time to carve them out. Both retail and service-based businesses should have clearly defined policies in place to help customers through their buying or service experience.
Do you accept them? If so, how long after purchase may an item be returned? Do you provide return shipping reimbursement? What are your stipulations for returns? Make sure you have a clear policy and more importantly, that your customers are aware of what it entails.
Hours of operation
While regular working hours may get thrown out the window during the holiday shopping season, it’s still a good idea to have them. Having set hours of operation allows customers to know when you’re around to answer questions or offer assistance.
Determine how fast you’ll ship products after an order is placed. Also consider pricing for international and state-side shipments and whether insurance is offered. Most importantly, consider the cutoff date for holiday shipments.
Email and phone service
Consider how your e-mail and phone services will be staffed. If you have a business phone, will you have a real-life person answering it, or let it go to callback? How quickly will emails be answered?
Consider an FAQ
If you have a website, consider posting a frequently asked questions (FAQ) page. This can answer common questions and help reduce the amount of e-mail or phone inquiries you have to return. Also be sure to update it with your customer service information. This also includes any social media accounts that may display your operational hours or business info, like LinkedIn and Facebook.
4. Where’s your help?
While retail businesses may take the hardest hit when the rush starts, any business that expects to see an increase of activity may benefit from an extra hand or two.
If you’re considering hiring help, don’t wait too long. You’ll want ample time to provide training for employees to become acclimated to the job.
If hiring an employee is out of budget, consider rounding up help from family and friends. Ask early and make a schedule of when you’ll most likely need the help and the duties to be done. Be sure to offer training just as you would for an employee so your helpers know exactly what’s expected and needed.
5. Organize your budget
Adding a little boost to your business before the holiday rush takes capital. Don't be surprised that some budget-tweaking may be required. Advertising opportunities, inventory purchases and hiring employees can make a dent in your operating budget.
Consider how your advertising dollars will be best spent during this season. You’ll likely be presented with many opportunities to participate in paid advertisements, but be sure to hone in on the ones best suited to your target market and focus on the opportunity for return on your investment. Take a look at where else your money may be spent in preparing for the holidays:
- Upgrades to your website or business collateral materials
- Equipment and materials purchases
- Repairs or upgrades to your physical office space
- Increased utilities expenses for extended office hours
Be sure to leave money in your budget for unexpected overages, like miscalculated shipping costs, product returns or refunds, last-minute purchases or business emergencies. A little padding for the unexpected is a good thing when you’re up to your elbows in holiday madness!
6. Prepare yourself
You can’t run your retail or service business with the big dogs during the holidays if you’re not physically and mentally ready. The stress of trying to handle a million things at once can certainly take its toll. Just as you’ll put a plan in place to prepare your business, you should also plan to prepare yourself mentally. All of the things you should really be doing all year long are especially true once Black Friday comes to pass.
Even if you can’t get a full eight hours, resign to go to bed at a specific time each night and stick to it. Lack of sleep drains the mind and the body of precious energy and focus-two things you can’t afford to lose when the holiday rush is in full swing.
Skip the holiday goodies
A balanced, healthy diet (OK, a few sweets here and there shouldn’t hurt!) with plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains can help energize you through the rigors of the season.
Find a way to lower your daily stress level and make a commitment to de-stress each day. Yoga, a long walk, mindless television watching or 20 minutes at the gym may be the ticket to take your mind from hyper-overdrive to calm and relaxed.
Get a check-up
If you’re currently feeling unwell or have questions about your health, meet with your doctor now instead of later. You may think that waiting until after the holiday rush is a better time to have your symptoms or complaints checked-out. But just think of how the bustle and stress of running full-throttle over the holidays might make things worse. Check it out now and feel better sooner.
As the holidays approach and get into full swing, you’ll be grateful for the time spent preparing for the season. Remember to make notes of what you did this year to prepare, and what worked and what didn’t, for future planning. Hats off to a successful and smoother holiday shopping season!
Justine Grey is a Web entrepreneur who writes Work Life Joy for frazzled business builders who long to work vibrantly and live beautifully. You can find her on Twitter at @JustineGrey chatting about life, work and her pop culture obsession.