by Linda Morris Gupton, Staples Contributing Writer
The frantic pace and stress are an inevitable part of the holiday rush that often leaves small business owners in a frenzy. How can you make sure you’re not overlooking important items that could make this time of year less of a hassle?
“The worst thing you can do is fail to have a plan,” says Jay Clark, co-founder of SilverGrass Marketing in Chicago. At the very least, develop a list of critical tasks and supplies that are required for doing business during the holidays, when schedules are compressed and suppliers and vendors may be closed.
Speaking of planning, use this year to plan for next. Clark advises taking notes throughout the holiday sales cycle about what’s working and what’s not. “And don’t put those notes in a binder on a shelf and forget to look at them again,” he says. “Review them on a regular basis and make changes based on what you learn.”
Check out this list of common holiday-related business fails and our experts’ advice on how to avoid them.
Fail #1: Assuming you have the staffing you need
Work out staffing issues as early as possible. “We make sure our employees understand up front that the holiday season is a ‘no fly’ zone,” says Andreas Argentinis, cofounder of Metal Pressions, a custom jewelry manufacturer in Savannah, GA. “That means no one gets time off — and they understand that being in this type of business requires that kind of commitment. It’s the nature of the beast.”
Locking down part-time help for the busiest days ensures Anne Marie Blackman sleeps better going into the holiday season. Her company, My Ugly Christmas Sweater, headquartered in Burlington, VT, relies heavily on part-timers. “I know from past experience which days are going to be my busiest, so I can let employees know well in advance when I’ll need extra help,” she says.
Get completed W-9 forms for contract employees so you don’t have to scramble when it’s time to send out 1099 forms in January.
Fail #2: Forgetting to stockpile vital supplies
The last thing you need is to run out of critical supplies or stock causing a business failure. At Metal Pressions, Argentinis carefully cultivates a great relationship year round with his suppliers so he knows he can count on them if he runs short on the materials needed for the company’s jewelry production during the holiday season
Blackman suggests using a POS system that provides real-time tracking of products and raw materials. The data provides an early warning when supplies or stock get low, and helps plan for next year. “Last year, I sold out of the larger sizes for men, so this year I’m really stocking up on my men’s sweaters because of that increased popularity,” she says.
Don’t forget to stockpile office supplies and breakroom items, too. If you run short, shop with a supplier that allows online ordering with next- or same-day delivery, or in-store pickup to save time.
Fail #3: Neglecting year-end financial matters
As if you don’t already have enough on your mind in December, year-end tax and financial decisions also need attention. For instance, checking actual income and expenses against projections for the year ensures that estimated tax payments are accurate, says Tom Presley, a CPA and business consultant in Raleigh, NC. If needed, extra inventory or supplies can be purchased before year end to offset unexpected income, or invoices can be delayed to push income forward into the next year. Check with your banker or CPA now to find out what’s required.
Fail #4: Overlooking shipping details
For businesses that rely heavily on outside shipping companies to get their products to customers, planning is paramount. Blackman makes sure she knows deadlines for various forms of delivery and the peak shipping days so she can account for any delays. She also has a contingency plan in place for producing all-important mailing labels — there’s a backup printer and toner on hand in case the main printer goes down.
Shop early for any specialty supplies required to send your product, like poly bags and oversized boxes. You don’t want to lose a sale because of insufficient or improper packaging.
Fail #5: Forgetting the spirit of the season
Don’t forget to plan for corporate gifts, holiday cards, year-end bonuses, charitable giving and other festivities. Lee Marbett, owner of The Rock Place in Smyrna, TN, budgets for holiday bonuses and plans a holiday party for his full-time employees, in addition to buying gift cards for his best customers. “It lets them know you’re thinking about them, that they’re a part of our family.”
Presley advises business owners to separate employee bonus checks from regular payroll checks to ensure the employee takes home more of the bonus rather than paying a larger portion to taxes. And be aware of IRS regulations related to corporate gifts, which allow a deduction of only $25 per person, he adds. Employee gifts aren’t deductible as such, but may be deducted if included as part of compensation. Check with your CPA to be sure you account correctly.
Fail #6: Missing out on holiday season momentum
“Marketing and advertising is a year-round endeavor,” Clark says, so use your holiday momentum to seed sales in the coming year. Capture contact information from new customers, and add them to your email marketing list and send them deals, specials or useful tips. And while customers are in your office or store, encourage new and existing ones to purchase gift certificates or make appointments for future services.
While the holiday season has its challenges, putting in the extra work now will pay off in less stress and better results once the mad rush begins. Avoid these common holiday fails to ensure a successful and happy holiday season.