A Small Business Guide to Surviving Christmas

Wait, what? Haven’t we just spent weeks listening to what Mariah Carey wants for Christmas? The decorations have only just been put back in the loft, surely? Yep, as sure as eggs is eggs, the minute the last Halloween trick-or-treater has rung your doorbell, Christmas creeps up like an incoming tide; it’s beautiful, it’s a lot of fun, but if you’re not prepared for its arrival you’ll end up with wet feet. Never is this truer than where small businesses – the growth-fuelling, people-employing backbone of the economy – are concerned. Seasonal trading can mean big business for a lot of companies, so forward-thinking, time and effort in preparation for the festive season should translate into higher profits, lower stress levels and, with any luck, a very merry Christmas. These are our top tips for keeping your business on track before Santa Claus comes to town.

Keep on top of Christmas chaos

Christmas strategy, whether that’s about filling seats, getting feet through the door, or making sure clients remain switched on as end-of-year fatigue sets in, waits for no (wo)man – rumour has it that massive retailers start planning their Christmas window displays in January. So, if Christmas is a particularly busy time for your business, it’s best to avoid playing catch up. Make sure you have enough stock for extra footfall and then work out whether you need extra resources and/or staff to ensure that any crazed Christmas crowds can be steered in the right direction. Even if you start to think ahead now, you’ll still be more prepared than the millions of businesses that choose to wing it every year.

Get ahead with staff holidays

Time off work, simply to eat mince pies, watch every Home Alone film ever made, and wash it all down with a Baileys, is (for grown-ups, anyway) the very essence of Christmas, but life goes on and business doesn’t often come to complete standstill just so a jolly old man can make it safely down your chimney. This also doesn’t mean you should shy away from the meticulous planning that is coordinating staff holidays and come over all Scrooge about the situation. Ask way ahead of time for staff holiday requests and set a clear deadline for receipt of those requests, so you can work out how to keep everything ticking over while festivities are in full swing. Don’t just assume everyone will want time off either; some people are happy to work over the holidays, especially if some extra cash is a possibility, so incentivise your staff with the offer of bit more money, or some time off during quieter months in lieu of hours worked over Christmas.

Spread goodwill (about yourself)

Not every business booms at Christmas of course, and December can be a much slower month depending on the services that you offer. But, this doesn’t mean you should rest on your laurels – instead, have a think about how you can catch the attention of any prospective customers by shouting about what sets your business apart from everyone else’s. A determined social media drive just before the holidays can breathe new life into your marketing strategy leaving you at the forefront of your target market’s mind as they consider with whom they’ll be placing their custom in the new year.

Spread goodwill to your customers…the right way

If you have physical ‘halls’, deck them with the most eye-catching decorations you can lay your hands on to entice customers through the door. If not, a Christmas countdown promo on your social media channels, or better still a new year discount perfectly timed for when everyone needs to tighten their purse strings is the ideal gift for clients new and old. Most importantly, say thank you to your loyal customer base, but please, for the love of Saint Nicholas himself, do not send out a generic, mailshotted email. People can sniff out a template that’s been rushed out from a database very easily and it’s neither personal, nor worth the effort. It’s fine to send an email in thanks, but spend a few minutes making it more personal and, for your biggest, most loyal clients, consider sending a card. If you have a shop, a mince pie and some mulled wine during late-night shopping will work wonders.

Don’t get caught out by festive extras  

Giving to charity, gifting a bonus to your hardworking employees, getting carried away and ordering a round of expensive shots at the Christmas party – there are many financial ways that Christmas cheer can get the better of your anticipated yuletide budget, so in anticipation of next year, have a think about setting a monthly amount of money aside to cover these costs. You’ll know exactly how far you can spread your festive fun, and, if you’ve saved more than you thought you would over the course of the year, you can throw in a couple of seasonal surprises just for the fun of it.

Plan an office party that works for you

It’s all very well wanting to throw the party of the year for your fabulous employees, but a West End show followed by dinner at a swanky restaurant, drinks and probably some more drinks is a very expensive night out – especially for small businesses and even more so for remote small businesses who then have to consider the cost of travel and hotels too. Instead of going for the wow factor, plan a warm and friendly office party that works for you and your team – if a majority are parents, for instance, then head to the local for a lovely lunch before surprising everyone with the afternoon off. You can still have a relatively wild night out on a budget if that’s what you’re all into, but consider a BYOB restaurant first, put the first few rounds at the bar afterwards on the company credit card and then make it clear that further drinks are not being paid for out of the business account.

Take time to chill out

Juggling the responsibilities of running a business with the demands of everyday life can be challenging enough, so throw in a bucket load of Christmas activities and celebrations and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. It is the season to be jolly though, and this means taking time out to relax. You’ll have Christmas Day and New Year’s Day off as a given, but if there’s any way you can extend the Christmas break to be exactly that – a break – you’ll reap the rewards hugely. Whether you choose to use that time doing little else other than curling up on the sofa watching festive flicks with your loved ones, or you’d prefer to pack your time with ice skating, seasonal shows and parties galore, the change really will be as beneficial as a rest and will clear your head, giving you time to reconnect not just with family and friends but with your business too; you’ll be surprised at how many new ideas you generate simply by switching off.

Give

It’s not a cliché – Christmas is a time of reflection and of giving, not just to your family, friends, employees and customers, but to those who don’t have as much as you do. It’s likely your business supports a charity or two anyway, so use this seasonal springboard to contribute a little more than you do throughout the rest of the year and encourage your employees to give what they can too, whether that’s a single toy to Barnardo’s, a care package for a women’s refuge, or a bag of Christmas goodies for a food bank. Appreciate all that you have in your personal and professional life, from the employees that have helped you get there to the customers, suppliers and mentors who keep the whole chain ticking along. Say thank you to them. Give them a gift. Be grateful.

Wishing you all a very happy Christmas.

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