The holiday season presents small business owners with a unique set of opportunities and challenges. With Thanksgiving right around the corner, how have you prepared?

Tales from Holiday Marketing Hell

I once coached a small business owner who wanted to get extra patrons into his restaurant over the holiday season. My suggestion was that we work the PR angle – schmooze the local TV restaurant critic and try to get my friend’s restaurant reviewed on air. So, we crafted a clever email, stroked the critic’s ego a little bit, followed up (gently), and bang! It worked. One Wednesday night a few weeks before Thanksgiving, the guy quietly slipped into the restaurant. From what I heard, he seemed to have a nice meal.

And then things got real. The critic went on TV the next week and gave my client’s restaurant a glowing, five-star review.

Great news, right?

Wrong. Oh, so very wrong.

That night, and throughout the pre-holiday weekend, the place was slammed. The only thing was, my client was wholly unprepared for the onslaught. He hadn’t increased his food inventory, didn’t have enough help on hand, and lines formed out the door. Customer service that weekend was an oxymoron. Food arrived cold, or late, or wrong. People got mad and left.

What should have been a golden opportunity became an unmitigated disaster. Instead of impressing people, he unimpressed them. True, he got word-of-mouth marketing, but the wrong kind at the wrong time (luckily, this was the era before social media). It actually took him a few months to dig out of that hole.

Avoid Drowning Your Sorrows in Eggnog

Again, the holiday season presents both opportunities and challenges. Do it right, and you can make a lot of money. But do it wrong and you could end up drowning your sorrows in a big ol’ glass of eggnog.

This is all the more true when it comes to Thanksgiving. Not only is the Friday after turkey day – Black Friday – the traditional start of the holiday shopping season, the following Saturday has gained importance too. It’s Small Business Saturday.

So, how can you prepare? What can you do to make sure your small business Thanksgiving is a joyous one?

Four things you can start doing right now:

1. Ramp up your marketing.

As you well know, there is a lot of advertising and marketing starting right about now. You don’t want your business to be an afterthought. You need to compete. You need to market your business. What can you do?

Lots of things:
  • Have an unexpected sale. Everyone is looking to stretch their holiday shopping dollar, so help them do so. But here’s the ticket: Don’t do the expected. Let everyone else compete for Black Friday sales. You can have a Turkey Tuesday sale, or a Magic Monday sale, or whatever.
  • Have a contest. Use email marketing and your Facebook page to promote a Thanksgiving-themed customer contest. Have a “guess the weight of the giant squash” contest, or a pumpkin pie eating contest. Have a Thanksgiving-themed costume contest. Winners can get free products from your store – or, even more in the holiday spirit – a pre-determined amount can be donated in their name to a local charity.
  • Support a charity. Speaking of, what about donating in-kind goods or a portion of all sales made during your Turkey Tuesday sale to local charities, food banks and the like? It’s kind to do, builds your brand, and creates goodwill within your community.
  • Sell gift cards. Gift cards are now the most popular gift in America. So, for starters, by selling gift cards on Black Friday and Small Business Saturday, you are giving customers what they want. Moreover, gift cards expand your reach because they are given by people who love your store to people who may not know it so well.
2. Get your store ready.

Spruce the place up. Add a coat of fresh paint, do a deep clean, and make it shiny for the influx of people who will soon be coming your way.

Probably more importantly, think about how you might be able to make your store a Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Small Business Saturday destination. These days, with online competition steep, the smart entrepreneur will make sure the physical experience of coming into his or her store is something that can’t be matched by pointing and clicking. Set up a free gift-wrapping station, or what about serving hot cocoa and cookies?

3. Get your website and social channels ready.

Freshen up your Facebook page. Add new content and videos. Also, make sure your website is up to date. Your About page should be current, contact info and hours should be accurate, and content across the site should be fresh. Update any product or service descriptions with seasonal specials.

4. Get your staffing ready.

It is a good idea to check in with your team now and see what schedule constraints they may have during the holidays. Find out when they may not be available, and schedule around that wherever possible.

And finally, be sure that to build in some time off for yourself. Remember you’re the boss. Don’t be a turkey!

Special Thanks to Our Guest Author – Steve Strauss

Steve Strauss ImageBetween being USA TODAY’s small business columnist, the author of 17 books including the best-selling Small Business Bible, and a popular media personality, maybe it is no surprise that Steve Strauss is often called “the country’s leading small business expert.”

Steve’s Podcast: Small Business with Steve Strauss