The last time we got together we began planning for the holiday season and the return of our friends and neighbors that have been vacationing up north during the summer. I want to continue that discussion this week and look at other areas of our businesses that require some early planning. Here are some tips to help you prepare before the holidays get hectic.

Review the performance of the business last year. What were your high-volume days last year? What did you do right and where was there room for improvement? Use that information to plan for this year.

Look at last year’s orders. What did you order and when did you have it arrive? Was it enough? How much more will you need for this season? What early order discounts are available, will they help you? Be sure to watch your cash flow. According to reports I’ve seen, optimism is very high in the small business community and revenues are up, consider that when preparing your plan.

Set your holiday operating hours. Create a personnel plan to cover anticipated high traffic days. How many of your team members do you need per shift, and who will be the backup employees? When and where will you begin searching for additional staff?

Build your marketing plan around what makes your business different. What is your unique selling point. Why will customers want to spend time at your business this holiday season? Maybe you have the best selection in town. Maybe your pumpkin spice desserts are coveted all year long. Maybe your customer service can solve any shopping problem.

Create a weekly promotional calendar of all special offers. Train your staff and place a copy in the customer service areas so everyone is aware of those specials. They should be able to answer any customer inquiries, online, on the phone or in person. Are you doing early promotions? Your customers may appreciate your assistance in helping them to get all of their holiday shopping done ahead of time. You could offer discounted or free shipping for the holidays. Prepare a list of innovative ideas acceptable to be sent to service personnel overseas.

Decorate your store and your website. Add a little extra flair to help stand out from the crowd during the busy season. Your whole team can get involved: plan a late-night or early-morning decorating party. Give your business website a once-over to make sure it’s ready for a busy holiday season. Is the design tidy and easy to use? Can customers easily find your most popular products or services? Does your ecommerce checkout work smoothly?

Use social media such as blogs, Facebook and Twitter as ways to connect with customers. Alert them to sales or the arrival of specialty or seasonal products, provide reminders about preparing for holidays and share topical information and tips related to your store’s products.

Don’t forget to plan for Small Business Saturday on November 24th! Kick off the holiday season by adding your business to the Shop Small map now, and take advantage of free promotional materials available to small businesses. Remember, this year, consumer confidence and small business optimism is the highest it’s been in some time. Take advantage of it.

Let me know your thoughts at eddavis@scorevolunteer.org.^p

For more information on planning for the holidays, request a mentor from Port Charlotte SCORE at www.^pportcharlotte^p.score.org. Volunteers provide confidential one on one business advice to meet the needs of both start-up and existing businesses at no cost. To learn how you can become a SCORE volunteer contact Don Benjamin at donbenjamin1937@gmail.com. Follow us on Twitter at ^p@charlottecscore.^p

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