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Updated: Nov 23, 2015
There’s something about snowfall, reindeer decals, and mistletoe that make holiday shoppers go turkey. Big box retailers relish the huge profits they rake in this time of year, but that doesn’t mean that small businesses like yours shouldn’t go after your own slice of the consumer frenzy pie.
It takes a village to compete in the holiday season as a small business – and your amazing products and services will shine even brighter if you hire the right people to help your business stand out.
Like that gaudy blow-up reindeer your neighbor insists on displaying every year, you may not want extra hands onboard all year round – but it might make sense to invest in seasonal employees to make the most of your holiday season potential.
Here are five things that can set you apart from your competition – and the five employees that every smart business owner should have onboard to cut through the noise this holiday season:
Big retailers spend inconceivable sums every year to spruce up and decorate their stores for the holidays — with the same old Santa, wreath and tree routine as every other department store in America. As a small business without strict rules trickling down from Corporate Headquarters, brainstorm ways to have a little fun and offer your customers a shopping experience that’s more personal, engaging, and authentic. Here are two examples:
Help customers reach their “season of giving” goals. Add a social impact element to their shopping experience! According to a Funding Circle survey*, 46% of small business owners donated up to $1,000 to charity during the 2015 holiday season. And while donation figures varied, one-in-two (52%) small business owners plan to donate this holiday season too and anticipate making the same size charitable donation. Need inspiration for how you can give back? Share information about the ethical way you source ingredients or materials, donate a percentage of each sale to a popular local charity, or host a rescue animal adoption and fundraising event in front of your store. Or, you could follow the lead of most small businesses (45%) and donate cash to you or your customers’ favorite local charity, non-profit or community group. Ideas like this help your customers give back to their local communities – and form warm impressions of your business.
Go outside your ordinary style! Host a limited time only pop-up shop location of your normally online brand to build customer loyalty in a promising sales territory – with live music, cookies and cider, to set the mood. Alternatively, open an Etsy shop to sell your retail storefront items online for better geographic spread – with clever product description copy, drool-worthy photos, and a handwritten note and a little something extra free included in all shipments.
Who you’ll need: Motivate your existing employees to go above and beyond to help you staff an event, set up an online store, and pump a little extra pizzazz into their day-to-day customer interactions! Offering opportunities to employees to help the business make a social impact can strengthen their investment in the success of your business, especially if it’s a project that relies upon their normally underutilized talents — or a cause that’s close to their heart.
More than ever, small businesses like yours are investing in comprehensive online marketing, because it’s an effective and affordable way to fatten up your holiday sales. Here are three things to focus upon:
Email marketing. Bonding with customers directly via their inboxes is still the most effective marketing channel for small businesses. Reach out to your email list of customers with a coupon or gift certificate that they can use and share with friends and family! It’s a no-brainer way to promote new products, and humblebrag about your most unique or best-selling items.
Social media. Are your best-sellers ready for their close-up? The holiday season is prime time for being active on your social media channels and blog (if you have one). You can alert your online audience of promotions and sales via Twitter and Facebook, and share your best product photos with links back to your mobile-responsive website to tempt customers into an instant online purchase. Tip: social channels are a great way to demonstrate your commitment to stellar customer service by responding to customer questions and complaints in a jolly way.
Paid social. These days, social media platforms are good for more than just photo-sharing: a little budget can go a long way in prospecting new customers, too. In particular, Facebook is a very easy-to-use platform for business owners who are working with modest budgets, but wish to target a specific type of customer in a locally defined area.
To rock the aforementioned marketing channels, stop guessing and get the facts: make sure you have the right automation and reporting tools in place to make campaigns as painless as possible to create and evaluate. For example, A/B testing your email campaigns with a tool like Hubspot helps you see what works, what doesn’t, and how to drive leads more efficiently in the future.
Who you’ll need: A social media and marketing consultant who knows how to use a modest budget to maximize impact in your local neighborhood and online. If you see stellar results, consider hiring a part-time marketing specialist to keep up your momentum even after the holiday cheer fades into the new year.
Our tip? Hire for both sides of the brain: it’s critical to have the right balance of technical and creative skills on any marketing team. To make the most of your clever email copy and beautiful graphics, you’ll also need to know your way around retargeting and advertising bids.
Everyone knows what the Nordstrom logo looks like, and can recognize an Apple commercial from a mile away. A clearly defined brand bolstered by the use of clever logos, videos and high-quality visuals is on the rise – so don’t let bigger businesses with deep pockets overshadow you!
Your brand strategy should build trust and credibility with customers – and be memorable in such a way that no customer would ever guess you store extra inventory in your garage. Would your sales benefit from a video of your product to include on your website, rich, branded illustrations to use in your online ads, or eye-catching murals or signage for your storefront?
Who’ll you need: A freelance designer or videographer to produce a beautiful, effective library of content you can use to identify and advertise your brand. You can search for independent contracts on platforms like Thumbtack or Upwork, or work with our partner 99designs to find the right artist for you!
It’s a small world after all – so know your customer, and anticipate their logistical needs. First, if you can find room in your budget, offer free shipping to customers who meet a minimum online spend threshold. Helping customers save on shipping costs can help you compete against bigger businesses who may offer lower prices overall per product.
Second, reposition your business to the center of the world by offering international shipping. Geographic borders are increasingly invisible to consumers, so rethink your distribution strategy to appeal to their multicultural tastes. Bonus: this opens up your small business to a not-so-small market, beyond the confines of your local community — and makes your sales less sensitive to fluctuations in local spending.
Third, appeal to consumer’s love of instant gratification by taking advantage of trends in the sharing economy through local on-demand delivery. For example, Shopify and Uber have teamed up to help you get your products delivered instantly to customers – with only the touch of a smartphone!
Who you’ll need: An existing, online distributor or vendor network who you can partner with to sell your products worldwide without having to map out the logistics all by yourself or pony up for intensive capital investments.
You probably already know the stats: more and more savvy consumers these days opt to snap open their laptops instead of driving to the nearest shopping mall – or at the very least, check your business out online before making the trip. With digital devices in their pockets at all times, consumers can browse, research, and compare prices online before ever stepping foot in your store. In this day and age, it’s no longer acceptable to have a basic or poorly-functioning website.
Another consideration? Mobile! Mobile shopping is on the rise, and if your website isn’t responsive to mobile format, you may be delivering a poor first impression to prospective customers.
Who you’ll need: A website developer and/or designer on a project basis to polish up your website and ensure your ecommerce abilities are up to par on the back-end. You could also try your own hand with self-service sites like SquareSpace or StoreEnvy. Get the financing you need to stand out this season with an affordable Funding Circle loan. Check your eligibility today!
*Funding Circle Small Business Holiday Survey, October 2016
Results for the Funding Circle Small Business Holiday Survey were collected through an online survey conducted by Survey Monkey. A total of 1,388 U.S. small business owners completed the survey between October 25-29, 2016.
Paige Smith is a Content Marketing Writer and Senior Contributing Writer at Funding Circle. She has a bachelor's degree in English Literature from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and specializes in writing about the intersection of business, finance, and tech. Paige has written for a number of B2B industry leaders, including fintech companies, small business lenders, and business credit resource sites.