A Handy Checklist to Help SMEs Prepare for a Profitable Christmas 22/06/2016 Tips & Advice With research suggesting that Christmas shoppers hit the streets as early as October, and reports of retailers stocking Christmas products in September, it seems that it’s never too early for businesses to start preparing for the festive season. As a small business, you know that Christmas can be one of the most competitive seasons. That’s why planning ahead can help you to implement ways to stand out from the crowd Act now and have time to react to any seasonal changes or trends in your sector or niche. There’s also plenty to do in advance, such as ordering products and stock, refurbishing display areas and putting up decorations, as well as finding and hiring additional skilled staff. The earlier you start the better prepared and more successful this period will be for your business. Here’s a checklist to help your business be successful in the run up to Christmas and during the holiday period. 1. Alert your customers to your Christmas plans beforehand If you’re a restaurant, pub, bar or a hotel owner taking bookings over the festive season, ensure that you alert your list of contacts that you’ll be taking Christmas meal and party bookings well in advance. Use your social media channels, send an email or do a leaflet drop in your local area letting people know how and when you’ll be taking bookings. Many pubs and restaurants place their signage out early to alert passers-by how to book a family or staff Christmas party and they continue to update their signage to say how much space they have left. 2. Update your website to reflect Christmas products and services More and more people are opting to do their shopping online, and in the run up to Christmas this only increases. However, just as physical shops prepare their premises for Christmas products and decorations it’s important that you make your site ready for the influx of Christmas shoppers too. Firstly, get in touch with your website hosting company and developers to ensure that your site can handle an increase in traffic because you wouldn’t want a slow site to be the cause of lost custom. Secondly, you should also consider your search engine optimisation (SEO) and pay per click (PPC) campaigns. Search terms will inevitably take on a Christmas theme so you should adapt your site to meet this trend. Consider adding Christmas-specific landing pages, amending page titles and on page copy to reflect search term reports. You should also run a short-term PPC campaign pushing traffic to your Christmas pages. If you’re not a retailer, but are perhaps in the hospitality industry, why not add a banner to your site saying you’re taking Christmas bookings for Christmas meals and parties? 3. Demand and supply Getting Christmas stock in early is all well and good, but do you have a process in place to ensure you keep up with demand? It’s inevitable that your sales will go up over the period but you need to not only order in more of your usual stock, but you must ensure you have enough supply to meet the demand of your specific Christmas stock. If you’re not sure where to start, look back over what you did at previous Christmases, what mistakes did you make and what could you have done better? Alternatively, look at what went well and what can you replicate? Do you need to place orders with suppliers earlier this year and do your suppliers shut over the festive period and so require your order earlier than usual? Taking these considerations into account can help you to implement a logical and watertight plan; working back from your last working day you can work out when various orders need to be placed or when the last staff roster needs to be in place.. 4. Make your site mobile-friendly With research finding that more people are using their mobiles to shop, browse, check in and make bookings, you should ensure that your website is mobile-friendly. You can find out if Google deems your site to be mobile friendly by pasting your URL into Google’s Mobile-Friendly Testing Tool. Alternatively, check Webmaster Tools to see if Google has alerted you to your site not being mobile-friendly. If you see a non-mobile friendly message, you still have plenty of time to ensure that your site can be functional on mobile devices to meet Christmas peak. 5. Be flexible with delivery times If the items you sell can be delivered to your customers ensure that you offer wide ranging delivery options to meet their needs. Be as flexible as possible and see whether there is the potential for you to offer next day delivery, accommodate late buyers, or even if you can develop a plan to partner with another store to provide ‘click and collect’. 6. Give your premises a make over Every business is vying for the consumer’s attention over Christmas so you need your place of business to appeal to passers-by and customers. Most businesses put up their Christmas decorations, signage and any refurbishments early to capture the spirit of Christmas. Stores will go all out to impress passers-by with some towns holding best dressed window competitions to encourage all the stores to up their game. You might want to take on the Christmas decoration or refurb project yourself but, if you have grander plans, you might want to seek additional funding, like a business cash advance to fund a project, and then contract a shop designer to add a splash of something special to your display. 7. Hire additional staff Every business needs more of Santa’s little helpers over Christmas. Consider recruiting some temporary staff to cover this peak period to ensure you have plenty of hands on deck for running both the main operations, and meeting the demands of extra customers, at this busy time. Plus, if you decide to go on holiday over the Christmas peak, having extra staff will ensure the smooth running of the business without you. Take on new staff sooner rather than later to ensure they’re trained up well before the rush. 8. Holiday opening times and closures It’s inevitable that you’ll be extending your opening hours to meet consumer needs but it’s also likely that you’ll be closing your premises on days that aren’t the same as everywhere else. Once you know the days on which you will offer extended opening hours, and the days when you will be closed in the run up to Christmas and during the holiday period, it’s important that you communicate these times and dates with your customers well in advance so that they can plan their visit or shopping trips. In summary Christmas is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but it can also be the most hectic for all types of businesses. However, if you plan enough time ahead you will not only be ready for the festive highlight of the year, but you’ll also have the time to adapt to changes and trends in the run up to Christmas.