The holiday season is still months away and most of us are more focused on savoring the last moments of summer and preparing for the start of the school year. Business owners however, should be busy preparing their businesses now for the busiest shopping time of the year.

With as much as 40% of small business’ yearly sales coming in the last two months of the year, it’s never too early to start planning ahead. Being one of the first ones ready to go will help you get the early shoppers.

Don’t believe the misconception that the majority of Americans put off their gift shopping until the last minute. Surveys have found that many prefer to complete their holiday shopping before Thanksgiving weekend.

So, here are a few things you can do now to better ensure you’re ready for November and December.

Knock out the things you’ve been putting off

Whether it's remodeling your store, reworking your logo, adding ecommerce to your website, or streamlining your processes, if you entered 2022 with goals for your business that remain incomplete, get them done now. Otherwise, it’s more likely those same goals will carry over into 2023.

Review your website

Speaking of your website, give it a look over.

It’s important for customers to have a pleasant experience visiting you online, just like they would when visiting your brick and mortar.

Is it easy to navigate? Is it easy to find your most popular items? Are you on a server that can handle the increased holiday traffic? Does your ecommerce checkout work smoothly? Is your site inviting and up-to-date with all of your logos and branding? A good idea would be to have someone else – a friend or an employee – to take a look at the site to see if they spot any problems.

Also, if you don’t offer the option to buy online, you should consider doing so. Online shopping continues to increase every year. At this point, not offering the option is leaving money on the table.

Start planning your inventory

Inventory is going to continue to be hard to come by, so the earlier you can order, the better.

Not sure how much to buy? Start by looking at last year’s sales. It’s a good way to gauge what sold well and what didn’t, so you know what you need to have more of in stock, and what you can skip.

That said, a little over-ordering early might be a good thing, as it’s likely to be difficult – if not impossible – to restock items once we get into the busy season.

Start Ordering Supplies

Just like product inventory, it’s important to have the items you need to keep the business running.

Shopping bags, shipping and packaging supplies, receipt tape, branded gift cards, and even toilet paper and paper towels. You don’t want to run out of something in the middle of a busy shopping day. Check last year’s orders to get a good idea of what you will need.

 If this is your first year in business, talk to other business owners in your local network to get an idea of how much you might need.

Remember to order early to avoid rush shipping charges later in the season. Being prepared can help you meet your customers’ needs with ease. 

Put together a marketing strategy

While you don’t have to advertise for the holidays just yet, it’s important to have a strategy in place. 

Start putting together a calendar of promotions and sales. Have a plan for Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and especially the last week leading up to Christmas.

However you typically promote your business, be sure to have a digital strategy; social media, search engines, and email.

It’s important to know where your customers are most active and put the most effort and money into those media, whether this means Facebook ads, direct mail postcards, email campaigns, or traditional newspaper or radio advertising.

Once you have planned your promotions, go ahead and order anything you're going to need – including ad pieces and in-store signage – and create a calendar so you'll know exactly what you'll be launching when.

Review Your Social Media 

One place you’ll want to market your business; social media. At this point, just about everyone is on at least one platform, be it Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, or TikTok.

While it might seem like you need to be on all of them, stick to what you can handle and where you think you’ll get the most engagement. If you have old accounts you don’t plan to use anymore, delete them. You don’t want an unused account giving off the wrong idea about your business to someone looking.

Once you decide where to be, review your page. Do you have consistent branding and messaging across all platforms? What kind of posts do your clients respond to the most? Do you have an engaged audience?

If you haven’t been consistent in posting to your accounts recently, now is a good time to start. Getting people engaged with your social media accounts now means they will be loyal followers when you need them the most, during the holidays. 

Plan an event

Want an easy way to get people in the building? Hold an event!

It’s an easy way to connect with loyal or potential customers. Consider a private event for your most loyal customers as a way to reward them. To entice new customers, hold an “open house” that includes free food or giveaways.

Another good idea; partner with a local non-profit to hold a fundraiser. It will help introduce your business to a new audience. Plus, everyone loves community involvement.

Make your store a safe place to shop

No matter how you feel about the COVID-19 pandemic, there are still plenty of people who remain cautious while getting out and about.

Continue to offer free masks and hand sanitizer for those who would like it.

Also, offer alternatives for shoppers who aren’t comfortable with in-person shopping like curbside pickup and online shopping. If possible, try to offer contactless payment options at your store. 

Review your return policy

As business owners, you hope that all sales are final. But that’s just not reality. So what is the right return policy for a small business?

One that gives the customers what they want. That means the ability to return something and get their money back without a hassle. They want returning a product to be simple and fast.

Yes, a return policy like this can cost money, especially when customers have paid for their purchases with credit cards and you get stuck with the merchant account processing fee.

But, there are a few reasons this is the best policy:

First, did you know it costs five times as much to bring a new customer into your store as it does to deal with one unhappy customer's problem? Keeping a current customer happy is less expensive than replacing them with a new one.

 Second, customers talk and read reviews. An inconvenient return policy could keep new customers from visiting your store in the first place. Ninety percent of adult U.S. shoppers said that a convenient return policy was important when deciding to make a purchase according to a Newgistics poll.

You can have exceptions in your return policy. Just make sure they are published, printed, easily visible to customers, and fairly applied. 

Review your customer service

Similar to your return policy, it’s important your business is providing the kind of customer service people talk about. Not only that, you need to make sure that it’s a policy that is being followed by the entire staff.

Listen to your customers. They may have some really good ideas and offer insights on things you may not realize about your own business.

Deal with complaints. No one likes them, but if they are dealt with and corrected quickly, they can help lock in the customer’s loyalty and even help generate new business.

Take the extra step. Don’t just tell them where to find something in your store or online, show them. The extra care and effort can go a long way.

Boost your Employee Morale

The holidays can be a stressful time for everyone, including your employees. A good way to keep them coming into work happy is to reward them efforts and make work a fun place to be.

The most important thing is; include them in deciding how best to make them happy. Planning a big holiday party might seem like a great idea, but for many, it’s another obligation on an already busy schedule. Talk with them about what they would like, even if it means planning a get-together for after the new year.

Also, don’t just decorate for your holiday. Your staff – and your customers for that matter – might celebrate something other than Christmas. Incorporate what they celebrate in how to advertise, promote, and decorate to help them feel more included.

What’s most important is making sure they feel like their voices are heard.

Plan for future sales

Once the holidays are over, you still want to make sales. With customers usually going conservative during the month of January, it’s important to find ways to get them back in the store after Christmas.

Whether that’s post-holiday sales or handing out coupons during the holidays that take effect in January, find ways to remind customers to keep coming back even after the calendar turns to 2023.