Preparing for Holidays in time of COVID

With the August 2021 news that New York City will require proof of vaccination for indoor dining and fitness, small business owners across America may be rethinking their holiday strategy.

There is good news about the shopping landscape overall. The National Retail Federation (NRF) conducted a study showing that 2020 holiday sales grew 8.3 percent despite the world-wide pandemic.

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“Consumers and retailers demonstrated incredible resilience this holiday season,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “Faced with rising transmission of the virus, state restrictions on retailers and heightened political and economic uncertainty, consumers chose to spend on gifts that lifted the spirits of their families and friends and provided a sense of normalcy given the challenging year.

Getting a head start on the holiday season to rebuild your business is a smart move. When the calendar turns and the weather cools down, don’t wait until the last minute and let holiday stress impact your business planning. Entrepreneurs need to look past holiday parties and Christmas cards to focus on strategies to keep your brand in front of consumers.

Take advantage of state-wide tax breaks

Seventeen states will hold a sales tax holiday in 2021, down from a peak of 19 in 2010, but above last year’s 16. Use this opportunity to promote your most popular products. Target high cost items or services for maximum consumer tax savings.

Pay attention to the calendar

Holiday shopping is a year-round event for some. Capitalize on some of the lesser-known days to capture business outside of the traditional days. The SmartBiz Blog has published a comprehensive calendar of observations by month: Marketing Calendar 2021: When to Promote Your Business.

Before you tackle Black Friday or Christmas, take a look at lesser-known dates that could be ripe for a low-cost marketing push. For example, Get to Know Your Customers Day is October 18th, Singles’ Day is November 11, and Cyber Monday is on November 30.

Shore up your supply sources

Running out of merchandise can be a business owner’s worst nightmare during the holiday season. Although you can issue rain checks or offer discounts for delayed orders, the critical buying moment has most likely passed. The 2020 coronavirus pandemic can lead to shipping delays or even the inability to get a product. Scout out alternate suppliers and prepare to negotiate, just in case.

Strengthen your website

More and more people are opting to shop online despite certain businesses reopening bricks and mortar locations across the U.S. Now is a great time to start a list and review your business website. Here are areas to concentrate on:

  • Links - Are your links live or do they lead to an error page? Ensure that your links go where they should.
  • Speed - Small Business Trends reports conversions fall by 20% for every second delay to load your web page. Review these best practices from Imagine Monkey to make sure your site is performing as it should: Seven Ways to Make Your Website Faster in 2020.
  • Refresh images - If it’s been a while since you switched out photos, take some time to refresh now. To spark engagement with your customers, forgo the stock images and include photos of you, your employees, and your products. Have an office dog? Feature them too – people love pets.
  • Check business info - Your hours of operation, location, or ordering and delivery processes may have changed due to the economic shut down. Double check and correct any information that’s not right. Most important? Make sure your contact information is accurate.
  • Include reviews - Nothing is stronger than word-of-mouth recommendations. If you have stellar reviews on Yelp, Google, or other reputable review platforms, feature them prominently.
  • Include links to Social Media channels - Consumers are taking to social media to learn more about a business and their offerings. Don’t miss an opportunity to educate, entertain, and inform – make links to Facebook, Instagram, etc. clearly visible.

Communicate creatively

It’s always important to keep engaged with your current and potential customers but this year it’s critical. Here are ideas to help you keep the connection:

Newsletter – Start with an enticing subject line and include information your target audience will find interested. During the pandemic, a short feature about how your business has been impacted and your plans to rebuild can be especially meaningful. Let customers know you are there for them during these turbulent times without pushing a hard sell. Of course, you should highlight your offerings, just make sure to put it in context with these unusual times. As with any customer communication, be sure to include a call-to-action (CTA) like a visit to your website, liking you on social media channels, or taking advantage of a discount code.

Email – An email address is a powerful communication tool that every small business should value. When you contact current and potential clients and customers via email, be sure to acknowledge the current landscape. Things are different and your customers are likely facing their own unique struggles. Once you’ve developed the copy, create a clear and concise look and message.

There are several easy steps you can take to improve the look, tone and voice of your emails:

  • Add your logo
  • Use custom colors and consistent fonts
  • Add images
  • Break content into short easy-to-read paragraphs

Mail holiday cards – Snail mail is not dead! People get excited to receive something that’s not junk mail or a bill. Craft a heartfelt message wishing your customers well during the holidays and into 2021. This strategy can even help you enjoy the holiday as well.

Telephone outreach – If you have a customer list that includes phone numbers, put it to use. Call or text customers to let them know that you’re up and running for the holidays. Invite them to visit your website or contact you for information or ordering.

Follow-up – Don’t let your efforts go to waste. These days, consumers are peppered with messaging from all kinds of brands. Follow up to acknowledge an inquiry, purchase, or customer service issue. Let customers know you care.

Personalization - Whether you have a hundred or a handful of loyal customers, remember that each one is an individual person or business. If your customers have different needs and purchasing patterns, sending the same marketing materials to each one isn't likely to help your clients or your business. Instead, get to know your customer types and find out what makes each one tick. Then, customize your marketing message. Your customers will be more likely to open your emails and respond positively to your marketing campaigns.

Use social media

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other high-profile social media platforms have affordable advertising options available for small businesses. Put some of your budget dollars towards localized ads or boosting posts. Some creative ways to use social media include:

Polls - Today, audience polls are integrated features on most major social media networks. Get your audience engaged by asking easy-to-answer questions. The questions could be centered around your industry and targeted to your demographic.

Launch a contest - The number one rule of contests is to keep it simple. You can have participants take action – like providing a correct answer or sharing a photo, or you could do a more traditional giveaway.

Support a cause - There are many in need these days. Choose a charity to support and donate a portion of proceeds from each product or service sold to them. It’s not only a tax write-off. Giving back helps you, your employees, and your customers feel good.

Host an online event

Hosting a holiday party is going to look very different this year. In the past, you might have hosted a client dinner or a customer happy hour. This year, consider sending out a Zoom invite to bring together the audience you want to reach. With everyone stuck at home, the opportunity to get together can be a creative way to keep your brand top-of-mind. Keep the gathering short and sweet. If appropriate, offer attendees a special discount or another type of great deal for attending. Offer to wrap gifts or consider a 20% discount or free shipping. A small gesture can keep your customers coming to you for gifts throughout the year.

Take care of your employees

Your employees are likely feeling the stress of the economic downturn, coronavirus pandemic, and the approaching holidays. Make sure to pay attention to their needs during this time. Although you’re likely operating in a remote environment, there are creative ways to stay connected and support your team. Check out our article, Workplace Morale Boosters: Try 15 Fun Ideas, to help you craft activities to help you and your workers survive the 2020 holiday season.