The 12 days of Christmas planning: Preparing for the festive season

Here's how to go about increasing your Christmas sales in 12 straightforward steps.

Are you working to a plan to increase your Christmas sales this year? Like Santa and his elves, you need to start planning a long time ahead to ensure success. But if you don’t have a plan, or the one you devised isn’t working, here’s a guide to festive success for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), from Ed Reeves, co-founder of Penelope, the latest digital call handling solution from telephone answering specialists Moneypenny.

Just like people decorating their houses for Christmas, there are countless different ways of preparing your business for the festive season, depending on the type of operation you run. For instance, if you’re a plumber, it might simply be a question of finding a reliable means of managing any calls that could come flooding in (no pun intended) if there’s a very sharp frost and pipes start bursting.

On the other hand, if you’re a retailer, then there are also boundless opportunities to help make those cash registers jingle faster than ever.

I can’t cover everything here, but I’ve come up with The 12 Days of Christmas Planning – the SME alternative to that old Christmas favourite. You may not be able to afford £7 million for a Christmas TV advert like John Lewis’s ‘The Bear & the Hare’ – a lavish animation with Lily Allen trilling Keane’s Somewhere Only We Know in the background – but something I do know is that there’s still a lot you can achieve even on a tight budget.

The first day: Christmas callers

All businesses need to think about communication with customers who may call over the festive period. While you’re enjoying stress-free time with family and friends, will people be able to leave messages for your business, can someone else in the organisation field any calls for some of the time, or would it be easier to make use of a telephone answering system?

The second day: ’Spring’ clean your site

Online sales are still rising as a proportion of total sales. Have a look at your website and make sure it’s fighting fit. Are there any broken links? Does it provide all the relevant information in a simple, readable format? Make sure it’s updated it with sufficient information about when you are closed and when you will be back at work.

The third day: Spread the word

Use your website and social media presence in an engaging way and be sure to add value for your customers. Remind them about your special offers, products and services and think about hosting exclusive competitions, special discounts, awards or giveaways.

Whether it’s a huge sale, an in-store event, a brand new product or service, make sure you use all the channels available to you including Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, and your own direct channels such as email and database marketing.

The fourth day: Pay-per-click advertising

Localised, seasonal pay-per-click can help you reach new potential customers online. Consider increasing your bids on relevant keywords – and rewriting your ads to emphasise things like free delivery.

The fifth day: It’s not quite ‘Out with the old, in with the new’

‘Out with the old, in with the new’ is not necessarily the best adage to describe the ideal approach to marketing. Are you trying to reach existing or new customers? Getting more sales from existing customers has, for many businesses, proved to be the better bet – they’re already your fans! Think of ways of capitalising on this, such as discounts for existing customers and cut-price upgrades to newer/better versions of things they’ve bought in the past.

The sixth day: Put the customer first

Go the extra mile for your customers. They need a reason to come back to you rather than your competitor. Giving great service is among the best ways to achieve this. Give some thought to how you can achieve this for your business.

The seventh day: Sell your uniqueness

Competing against the big boys is a major challenge. If competing on price is difficult or impossible, be sure to highlight the fact that yours is an independent business, and therefore unique. Look at ways of emphasising what’s unique about you, for most small businesses it’s the level of service they can offer.

The eighth day: Be flexible on delivery

If the items you sell have to be delivered to the customer, make sure you’re offering as wide a range of delivery options as possible. Are you able to offer next-day delivery immediately before Christmas to accommodate late buyers?

The ninth day: Returns

Remember that returns usually increase after Christmas. Customers will want to know that the recipient of a gift will be able to change the item if necessary. Think about how you can make this as easy and economical as possible.

The tenth day: Additional resource

Everyone needs elves at Christmas. It’s a good idea to consider temporary workers as a means to be more agile and scale your staff in line with business requirements such as extended opening hours.

The eleventh day: Staff training

If you have staff, they will be under extra pressure during the festive period. Consider running refresher training to ensure they are up to speed. Above all, ensure they have full information about any new offers you are running. The same applies if you take on additional staff to help out over this frenetic period.

The twelfth day: if you’re planning to go away for Christmas

It’s like having your Christmas cake and eating it – you’re going away, but you want the business to carry on perfectly. If you have reliable staff to cover for you, there should be no problems. If not, you might want to think about outsourcing your operation temporarily by using one or more of the many business solutions available to SMEs.

Further reading on Christmas preparation

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