marketing tips

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…for your customers, that is. However, for you, the small business owner, the run-up to the holiday sales season is likely a time of stress and anxiety heralded by the first appearance of Halloween decorations at your local drugstore. It seems like it happens earlier and earlier every year — we know.

The good news is that the National Retail Federation expects holiday sales to increase “a solid 3.6 percent” this year, and online sales to beat last year by 7 to 10 percent. Make the most of that boost with these seven essential small business tips for doing well (or at least surviving) during this year’s holiday sales.

What shoppers want and how they buy

We looked back at the 2015 holiday shopping numbers to see how our tips line up for this year, and what we found was actually a little surprising.

A 2015 poll of shoppers found the number one advertising method—aside from TV ads—was email sent directly from a business. Those emails account for 22 percent of all shoppers that made a purchase.

types of advertising
source: AdWeek

So, emails are important, but isn’t everybody just shopping online now? Well, no. The same poll found that 90 percent of shoppers make in-store purchases, with online purchases nipping at the brick-and-mortar’s heels at 77 percent.

Clearly, digital tools like email and online shopping are gaining ground in how individuals make purchases.

But — and we were a bit shocked by this — direct paper mail is enormously influential.

That’s right, the good ole’ snail mail is still mighty. Get this: almost 3 out of 4 shoppers will make a purchase with a coupon they’ve received in the mail.

Armed with this data, we refocused our tips to three areas: email marketing, in-store promotions, and direct mail.

7 holiday sales tips for small business

1. Build your email list

It is essential for you to be able to reach your customers. Great customer service doesn’t only happen in your business but happens at every touch point you have with existing and potential customers. Email marketing is one of the key places you can keep the conversation going with your customers. Use the holidays as a way to offer up promotions or discounts in exchange for signing up to your email list.

Just like building anything of value, an email list takes time and dedication. To get yours going, here are some simple and effective ways to develop a robust email list:

  • Create a “sign up” call to action on your Facebook business page.
  • Include a link to sign up for your newsletter in your personal email signature.
  • If you have a retail store, place a newsletter sign-up clipboard and a fishbowl for business cards next to every register.
  • Have your employees mention the newsletter and emphasize its benefits — exclusive discounts, events, educational information, reminders, and so on.
  • Edit your Twitter business profile to include a link to your email sign-up form.
  • Post an offer or photo of an item to giveaway on Instagram (or Twitter, or Facebook). Include a link asking people to sign up to participate.

2. Leverage existing customers

If you’ve been in business for a little while, you likely have quite a few loyal repeat customers. Holiday sales are great time to reward their patronage with exclusive offers on your goods and services. You can even take this a step further with your very dedicated customers by asking them to be your evangelists and share a promotional offer with their network. The key here is really to show your appreciation for their business by giving something special exclusively to a select few.

3. Recommend goods or services based on past purchases

Most of us have our own style, and particular tastes and types of services we regularly seek out. This is where good record keeping comes in.

Take a look at customer purchases over the last year — if you are a restaurant, look at the most popular items on your menu; if you’re a service provider, identify the most requested services or the services with the most questions. Do you see any patterns? If so, can you correlate specific goods or services sold with the person who purchased them? If you can do this, you have some very valuable information! Target these individuals with an email campaign offering them suggestions and even discounts on goods or services that are similar to their past purchases.

4. Use your email messaging effectively

Sending your customers the same kind of email week in and week out is a sure way to burn through your list and turn-off your customers. Rather, effective marketing needs to tell a story about your business and your customers. Make sure that you’re keeping your holiday sales marketing emails fresh over the season, and use a variety of the following types:

  • Welcome: establishing good relations with new customers.
  • Basic Promotional: incentivizing a customer to buy your product/service.
  • New Inventory: highlighting new item, service, or menu you’re offering.
  • Newsletter: sharing company news and brand awareness.
  • Product Advice: reviewing a new product/service.
  • Educational: providing industry knowledge to your customers.
  • Reorder: reminding customers that it’s time to re-order.
  • Testimonial: using customer feedback to show how great you are.
  • Survey: collecting information from your customers to improve service.

5. In-store events

You started a business, which means you’re creative and passionate. The holidays are a time to let that creativity run wild. We’ve seen everything from an in-store undead life-size zombie Santa (available for photos, of course) to a bar hosting an eggnog cocktail-making class. How about Pokemon elves with Santa this year?

It’s the holidays, after all so have fun!

6. Partner with a local non-profit

The holidays are a time of year when, despite the consumerism of Black Friday sales, there’s still a strong desire to give back to our communities. Take the edge off the season’s commercialization for your customers by partnering with a local non-profit to share some good tidings. Even if it’s something as simple as donating 1 percent of all sales to charity or giving a 10 percent discount to customers who bring in donations of food, clothing, or toys — every little bit helps.

7. Send a card

Who doesn’t like to get a card in the mail? Mail still feels personal in way that email just can’t compete with. There’s something about the time it takes to create, personalize, and deliver snail mail that makes us feel special. The holidays are the perfect time to leverage the post office with direct mail pieces to your current and prospective customers.

A personalized offer can go a long way. Almost three-quarters of shoppers in a recent survey said they “would be enticed by promotions or coupons to shop at a store they have not used in the last year” and that “highly relevant promotions” made it 47 percent more likely they’d shop in a particular store.

Your card can offer a in-store discount, just say thank you or wish them happy holidays, invite them to an exclusive holiday event, or even do all three on the same postcard. It’s really up to you and what you feel your customers will react most positively to.

A bonus of direct mail is just how easy it has become. You can design a professional, cool-looking piece of mail in minutes with free online tools like Canva. And, once you have your mail all ready to go, you can use the United States Postal Service (USPS), which offers competitive rates on bulk mailing. The USPS can even print them for you!

 

This post originally appeared here.

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