A Holiday Survival Guide For Small-Business Owners

Some of the most-stressed out people during the holidays are small-business owners. Use these 5 tips to help you emerge from this holiday season unscathed and ready to conquer 2014.
December 11, 2013

Stress. Stress, stress, stress.

Did I mention stress?

Shortened workweeks, vacations (yours and everyone else’s), sales, year-end accounting. The list of things that need to get done, or are disrupting your business, goes on and on ... and on.

There’s nothing quite like being a small-business owner during the holidays, is there?

This holiday season, cut yourself some slack and get through the season like a champ—and not the guy who lost the fight to the champ. ‘Tis the season to use some smart tactics that will help you get through the holidays unscathed.

1. Make Your Year-End Task List

Fourth quarter taxes. Sales taxes. Year-end numbers and reporting. Maybe holiday bonuses. There’s a lot that needs to get done this time of year on the administrative side of your business. Santa sure isn’t going to do it for you, so you’ve gotta get all this stuff down yourself. Where to start?

Make your year-end to-do list, and include everything you need to get done on the administrative side of your business. Next, assign tasks to trusted advisors like bookkeepers, CPAs and assistants. Then, for the tasks that remain on your list, set one day between now and December 31 to get those done. One single day. Bring your kids in to help organize receipts. Order pizza and bring in some beer to get that warehouse organized. Trust me, you'll be amazed at what you can get done in a single day, when you set aside a day like this.

2. Who Are You Really Shopping For?

Question: Why do you still have shopping to do? Your inbox has been jammed full of sales since a week before Black Friday. Seriously, part of the reason you're putting shopping off is because it feels overwhelming.

Right now, I want you to make a list of people you need to get gifts for. Now, break that list down into three sections: Must, Like, Maybe. Musts are the people like friends, family and cherished professional contacts that you couldn’t bear to pass over for gift giving. Likes are those folks for whom you’d really like to give a gift, but are at a bit of a loss as to what you should get them, and you're not sure when you’re going to find the time anyway. Maybes are those people who, if we're being totally honest, we feel obliged to buy something for, but don't want to bother with it during the hectic shopping season.

Let’s deal with your list of Likes and Maybes first. Set a budget, and hand the list to your assistant or hire a virtual assistant for the task. Virtual assistants will be pros at seeking out the coolest of the cool for your Likes and Maybes—and within the budget you choose. You can even try using an on-demand virtual assistant service like Fancy Hands to get a few gift ideas from which to choose. (Be sure to specify delivery demands.)

Now the Musts. Here’s where I say go local. Why not hit up your favorite local shops and find a delightful food basket, bottle of wine, local liquor or something that screams special? You can also check out my column on 5 out-of-the-ordinary gift ideas that make a big impression for added inspiration.

3. Lose The Inbox Distraction

This is for every sale that pops up in your inbox from now until New Year's. The daily (sometime hourly) influx of sales emails does nothing but distract you, especially when you know you're behind on shopping for gifts. My advice? Unsubscribe. If that feels too drastic, at the very least make an email rule to send all emails with the word “sale” in the subject line to a special folder to avoid distractions.

If you’re on the email sending side of things, you probably aren’t too fond of my advice to unsubscribe. Remember to be respectful of your customers’ inboxes and know that their holidays are just as stressful as yours. Try a weekend roundup email instead of a mid-week email. Try catching people at home when they have a moment to breathe over coffee on a Sunday morning instead of when they have things that need to get done.

4. Set Time For Family And Friends

There’s a reason we do this holiday thing every year—it’s for the people we love. Those people are also one of the reasons we do this thing called running a business. Be sure to set aside time to spend with your family and friends as another season comes to a close. Maybe it’s coming home at the same time every night for the next couple weeks to have extra time with your significant other or kids. Maybe it’s declining a party invitation in order to take your family out to see the latest holiday season blockbuster movie. It could just be turning your phone off and not checking email on the weekends and over the holiday.

5. Check Out

Surviving the holidays as a small-business owner means taking care of both your customers and yourself. Take 15 minutes out of every go, go, go kind of day (which is every day, isn't it?) and do something for yourself. Make that call you’ve been meaning to make. Watch that silly YouTube video with the cat in the Santa hat. Listen to a song or three that make you smile. Or do nothing at all.

Okay, small-business owners, you’ve made your lists, you’ve assigned tasks (and checked everything twice). You’ve shopped till you’ve dropped, and surrounded yourself with people you love. And you've taken time out to breathe, which will help make the realization that the next holiday season is only 365 days away much more tolerable.

Read more articles on surviving the holiday season.

Photo: Getty Images