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Holiday Checklist: 14 Areas A Small Business Should Focus on During the Holidays

small business holidaysSanta shouldn’t be the only one checking his list twice during the holidays. Small businesses need a holiday checklist too!

The holidays are one of most hectic times for small businesses. Some companies get almost half their yearly revenue during the holiday season.

Consider these statistics from SCORE about 2017 consumer spending on key holiday shopping days:

  • Thanksgiving: $2.9 billion
  • Black Friday: $5 billion
  • Small Business Saturday: $2.4 billion
  • Cyber Monday: $6.6 million

As the Cyber Monday sales show, e-commerce is growing. E-commerce sales were up 17.8% in 2017, and mobile commerce increased by 40%. At the same time, foot traffic in retail stores decreased by 7.5%. This means preparing your website for holiday traffic is as important as decorating your retail space.

Although your holiday plans should already be in full swing, use this checklist to ensure you haven’t forgotten anything important. After all, nobody wants to be on the naughty list!

1: Supplies and Inventory

Use data from previous years to order the extra supplies and inventory you’ll need during the busy holiday season. This means everything from toilet paper for the restroom to boxes and tape for shipping.

Most importantly, ensure that you have enough inventory—especially for in-demand products. Running out of stock during the holidays is a retailer’s worst nightmare.

Save money by placing your orders before the holiday rush begins. The earlier you order, the more money you’ll save.

2: Holiday Hours

By September, you should have determined your holiday hours. Are you extending your hours? Opening on days you would typically be closed? Don’t forget Small Business Saturday, which is on November 24 in 2018 and November 30 in 2019.

Your holiday hours determine your staffing needs and schedules so make these decisions early. Once you’ve decided on your holiday hours, publicize them everywhere—social media, your website, and online listings such as Yelp and Google My Business.

You may want to consider clearly readable holiday hours through custom vinyl decal printing with your company logo imprinted, with removable adhesive, which you can apply to your store window. Or you can print stickers to apply on customer’s bags or receipts of a reminder of when you’ll be open.

3: Holiday Staffing

Extended hours mean you’ll probably need seasonal staff for the holidays. Hire early so you have time to provide training before the holiday rush begins.

You’ll want to get commitments from your regular staff about their schedules during the holidays. Consider offering incentives for staff members who volunteer to work longer hours or on a holiday.

Ask your staff to submit requests for days off during November and December by October. This allows you to create a staffing schedule that accommodates as many requests as possible.

Recognize that working retail during the holidays is stressful and demanding. Get input from your staff about how your team can deal with the stress. Then put those suggestions into action!

4: Decorations

Decorating your retail space for the holidays can help increase the holiday spirit for both your employees and customers. Create a festive atmosphere with decorations and music that make your store a fun place to shop. Be sure to place special deals and hot items front and center to draw in foot traffic.

Don’t forget to “decorate” your website too! Many companies create a mini-site with holiday-themed versions of pages or that direct customers to holiday deals. If you use WordPress, holiday-themed plug-ins allow you to “dress up” your site for the holidays.

5: Giving Back

The holidays are about giving, and giving back to the less fortunate can boost the holiday spirit of your employees and customers.

Involve your staff by asking for suggestions of a charity that your company can help support. If possible, tie it into your business. For example, if you sell pet products, consider “adopting” a local animal shelter during the holidays.

Giving back can include collecting needed items or donating a percentage of sales to the cause you’ve chosen. You may want to consider printing stickers or creating custom vinyl decals to promote your charitable giving (e.g., a sticker for items that says “x% of the sale of this item will benefit xxx charity”).

Giving back gives your company a PR boost and builds goodwill.

6: Website and Mobile Readiness

With e-commerce and mobile commerce on the rise, make sure your website and mobile store are prepared for increased holiday traffic.

An essential part of this is ensuring your site loads quickly. Research shows that conversions fall by 20% for every second of delay. Talk to your hosting company or IT professional to determine whether your site can handle increased traffic without sacrificing speed.

Customers want to feel safe when shopping online. Therefore, ensure your site is using the latest security measures for online shopping.

If you haven’t done so recently, check to see that your checkout process is easy and user-friendly. Can customers easily change the items in their cart? Are shipping deadlines for the holidays clearly stated? Are holiday promotional codes working? Don’t let your customers uncover difficulties with your checkout process. Test your site and discover problems before they do.

7: Holiday Promotional Plan

Every small business should have a holiday promotional plan in place before the holidays arrive. The plan should include email marketing, digital ads, social media posts, and blog posts.

To reduce stress during the busy holiday season, preschedule as many posts as you can using programs such as HootSuite, Schedugram, and Buffer.

Post ideas include gift buying advice, upcoming sales, new products, and special discounts or promotions. WooCommerce created a guide for social media holiday campaigns filled with helpful tips and links.

8: Gift Guides

If your business sells products ideal for gift-giving, consider trying to get your products into a gift guide. In the run-up to and during the holidays, magazines, websites, and blogs publish holiday gift guides featuring unique and fun products for every type of person under the sun—from men who love cars to children who love dragons.

Getting your products into one of these gift guides is a fantastic way to get publicity and attract customers to your site or store. Reach out to journalists, writers, and bloggers responsible for creating these guides. Chances are they need material as much as you need promotion. If this isn’t in your comfort zone, a marketing consulting firm may be able to help.

9: Holiday Extras

Attract more buyers to your store or website by offering holiday “extras”—such as complimentary gift wrapping, free shipping, flexible payment options, or a generous return policy. If you have the resources to offer them, these extras appeal to harried shoppers and may lead them to choose your company over another.

10: Gift Cards

Did you know that gift cards are the second most popular gift at the holidays after clothing? If your business doesn’t offer gift cards, you’re missing out on potential revenue.

If you already offer gift cards, consider incentives such as “Buy a $25 gift card and get a $5 gift card for yourself.” Shoppers love these types of offers, and it encourages them to return to your store again.

11: Customer Service

Working retail during the holidays can be challenging. Tempers are short, customers can be rude, hours are long. Consider giving your staff a refresher course in customer service to prepare them for the stressful days ahead.

To make the training fun, try role-playing to review tips and techniques for dealing with difficult customers. Role-playing is an enjoyable but effective teaching method—and what retail person doesn’t want to pretend to be the world’s worst customer?

Another way to boost spirits is to have small treats to give customers to calm their nerves and tempers. Hot cider or candy canes are inexpensive but can help reduce stress if customers are facing long checkout lines. If you do mail order, consider putting a candy cane in each order as a special treat. These little touches can go a long way!

12: Rate Increases

If you have a service-based business, the start of the New Year is a common time to raise rates. You can turn this into a sales opportunity by notifying customers of the increased rates but offering them the old rates for any work contracted before the end of the year.

Consider printing stickers that say something like “Book Now to Get 2018 Rates in 2019!” Use these stickers on the notice or envelope notifying customers of the new rates.

13: New Customer Retention

Your holiday marketing shouldn’t stop with the arrival of the new year. Keep new customers by sending them a post-holiday “call to action.” This can include asking for an online review, encouraging them to subscribe to your email newsletter, or offering a discount for a future purchase. You worked hard to attract new customers during the holidays so be sure to nurture the relationship. Consider a gender-neutral approach, so that your business is all-inclusive and accepting of everyone.

14: What Worked and What Didn’t Work

Once the glitter and dust have settled and the holiday decoration are packed away for next year, you and your staff should analyze and assess what worked and what didn’t work so you can make improvements for next year.

Although you should enjoy a well-deserved break before doing this, don’t wait too long. You want to go through this exercise while everything is fresh in your mind.


Preparing your small business for the holidays is a massive and stressful undertaking. Planning will ensure you’re equipped to handle anything the season throws at you. Hopefully, this checklist will help you focus your efforts on the areas that count. Happy holidays!

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