Halloween Tips for Small Business: “The Heartbeat of Main Street,” Episode 11
Is your business making the most of the season? Tune in to the latest podcast episode from “The Heartbeat of Main Street” to find out. No tricks – just treats and must-have tips from Small Business Community contributor, Steve Strauss.
“The Heartbeat of Main Street” delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that have an impact on revenue creation for small business owners.
The series is hosted by ForbesBooks, and more information can be accessed through a dedicated home page. New episodes will appear regularly on the Small Business Community podcast page. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.
Narrator: Welcome to "The Heartbeat of Main Street," with ForbesBooks at forbesbooks.com, and Bank of America at bankofamerica.com.
Gregg Stebben: I am here, on "The Heartbeat of Main Street," with ForbesBooks and Bank of America, with Steve Strauss. He's the best-selling author of the book Small Business Bible and just wrote an article for USA Today called Tricky Halloween Season Can Be a Treat for Small Businesses. First of all, Steve, tell us about the story. For how long has Halloween been a significant holiday for small businesses?
Steve Strauss: Well, first of all, Gregg, thank you for having me. Great to be here. Love the show and happy to be on it. Yeah, I was talking to my editor and we were talking about upcoming events. I always try to make the column timely. I've been writing it for a long time, and Halloween was a little ways away. When you start talking about Halloween, it turns out Halloween has changed significantly, especially in the last 10 years or so. Look, not to date myself too much, but it will never be the holiday it was when we, as kids, ran rampant over hills and dales.
Gregg Stebben: And made our own costumes out of junk in the garage or what have you.
Steve Strauss: Right. Yeah, it's increasingly interestingly become an adult holiday in a lot of ways. I saw this one statistic that said since 2009, Halloween spending by adults has doubled from about four billion to almost 10 billion, actually almost tripled. Last year half of all adults bought Halloween costumes. And I love this stat, twenty percent of us plan on outfitting our pets in Halloween costumes, so it's definitely changed.
Gregg Stebben: Well and the whole pet market, that's a whole other conversation we could have because
Steve Strauss: Right
Gregg Stebben: That is a fast growing market as well, I understand.
Steve Strauss: Absolutely, so yeah I think it's definitely changed and it's for the small business person, that presents an opportunity, and that's what we tried to cover in that column.
Gregg Stebben: Well, so my first question for you, Steve, given how much Halloween spending is growing particularly among adults, here's my big question, how come I'm getting invited to the wrong parties?
Steve Strauss: I don't know. You'd have to ask yourself that question.
Gregg Stebben: So, then in all seriousness, I mean there's a chart in USA Today with your article that shows, spending in 2005, $3.3 billion in 2005, and 2018 projected $9 billion, so tripling in 13 years. That's a pretty exciting market, if I own a small business or I'm an entrepreneur, I want to take advantage of that so what kinds of things do I need to know? And I'm glad you published this a little early. You mentioned it being a little early, but the fact that its early gives me a little time as a small business owner to actually take advantage of the lessons in your article, and maybe not plan something that's a bad idea. So let's talk about some good ideas first.
Steve Strauss: Sure, there really are all sorts of things. It's just the idea of getting into the holiday spirit, and this is a great holiday because, it's a nondenominational holiday. Who doesn't like Halloween, right? Decorating the store or even the office in some Halloween decorations, for example is a really easy thing to do. Adding a little orange and black to the windows, or putting pumpkins on the stoop, whatever the case may be. You know just adding Halloween.
Gregg Stebben: Right, and going to a party store to find great decorations is also, it's an hour of time, but it's going to make a big difference.
Steve Strauss: Well yeah, and then you're creating kind of a culture and a vibe around your store, that it's a fun place to be. Of course this applies to a retail store, for sure. But it can also apply to an office, also the other advantage of it is besides getting your customers excited, and maybe giving them a reason to come shop with you if you want to start stocking supplies that are maybe a little Halloween, or beyond that you can just create a culture in your office that allows people to have fun. So maybe some of your employees dress up, and you have some decorations in the office, and people who come in to your office also are in the holiday spirit. It creates a nice, happy thing. People like happy offices, and happy offices create happy employees, and happy employees create happy customers. Happy customers are repeat customers. So it works all the way around.
Gregg Stebben: What a beautiful recipe you've come up with there.
You know, I was actually visiting a friend who is in the medical services, so in a sense retail, in the sense that they have medical professionals and clients or patients come to visit, and what they were doing that I thought was really fascinating is, they're having the medical staff and the office staff have a pumpkin carving contest, and the clients get to vote in advance on who will carve the best pumpkin.
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Steve Strauss: So that's a great idea. I love that idea. And aside from making it festive, and fun for the customers and all of those things, it does double duty as something that you can post on your social. You know, you have this great pumpkin carving contest and then next thing you know it's on your Instagram page, or on your Facebook page, and you're getting a little more love that way from it as well, I suppose.
Gregg Stebben: Well, and in fact they're even leveraging it in social media before Halloween and before the pumpkin carving contest because, they're promoting it in social media now. And people are actually betting, and it's becoming a rivalry and so this kind of good-natured competition, which is also great in social media to build some anticipation, and excitement, and get attention. So it's worked out really well for them, and I think even the people in the contest who are carving the pumpkins are kind of sharing little teases of their designs, and things like that, so it's got a lot of leverage leading up to Halloween, and then of course they'll have the leverage afterwards, and the engagement with the customer.
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Steve Strauss: I think that word that you just used, engagement is so key. When we talk about social media, and we talk about using social media to promote your business and get some attention to your business, the word we use is engagement. Well what is engagement? You don't want to just tell people oh I'm having a sale. You don't want to just talk about your business. But if you're having a contest it's a nice thing to be sharing, and doing. Posting the pumpkins or posting the costume contest, and while people are paying attention to you it's not show off-y, it's not salesy, and so it really works to create some social media love, I think.
Gregg Stebben: Yeah and the interesting thing about this contest is it's actually two contests, because there's the pumpkin carving contest and then they're getting the patients, or the customers involved by letting them, in a sense, bet on who the winner will be in advance, so that's another contest. So everybody has a way of winning here. So, if I'm kind of a curmudgeonly person and I own a small business, does it say something about me or have a negative impact if I do nothing for Halloween, and encourage nothing, either for my customers in my store or amongst my employees, even if we're in an office setting?
Steve Strauss: I don't think it says something negative about you, but I think you're missing really a great opportunity. There is so much competition now for people's attention in the small business world. I'm going to say there's 30 million businesses in the United States, 99% are small businesses and that's not even looking at the online world. That's not even looking at the competition you face, you know, the internet. And then getting people's attention and getting them to find, and choose you is increasingly challenging for the small business person. So a holiday like Halloween presents you with an opportunity to standout a little bit.
To get some attention, as we were just talking about, to get people to pay attention to you, notice you. And if you really want to do it right and you have the kind of store that lends itself to this, then you start stocking some Halloween treats, or themed items, or themed products, and then you're creating another profit center out of the Halloween holiday. So it's an opportunity. I don't think anyone's going to think bad of you if you don't do Halloween at your store, but they'll think better of you if you do. That's how I see it. Would you agree, disagree?
Gregg Stebben: Well I think that's really well said. I mean it is a lost opportunity, and in business can you afford to lose opportunity? Especially given the amount of money and enthusiasm we talked about, $3.3 billion in 2005 up to $9 billion in spending in 2018.
We're talking with Steve Strauss, here on "The Heartbeat Of Main Street," with ForbesBooks and Bank of America. He's the bestselling author of The Small Business Bible, he's written 16 other books as well. He's USA Today's small business columnist, so you've certainly seen him there. He's also a keynote speaker, an entrepreneur, a thought leader, a spokesperson. He's at mrallbiz.com, @stevestrauss on Twitter and Steve Strauss on LinkedIn, as well @theselfemployed on Facebook. He's just recently written a story as one of his columns for USA Today, Tricky Halloween Season Can be a Treat for Small Businesses.
I want to change gears here a little bit, Steve, and I want to ask, what are the worst things you've seen or heard small businesses do to take advantage of Halloween? What could I do to really shoot myself in the foot, because I want to make sure I avoid that.
Steve Strauss: One thing you want to avoid doing is, people like to encourage costumes, for example, at the store, but you have to have, I think, a limit on what you allow and that's hard to do. You don't want to censor your employees and nevertheless, you don't want them to wear something to a costume contest, or maybe it's the week of Halloween and you're letting everyone dress up, and that seems really festive, and then all of a sudden they come into the store wearing something inappropriate. In whatever way, maybe it's political, or maybe it's religious, or maybe it doesn't look right, whatever the case may be. Then you don't want to have to reprimand your employee, or maybe you're not there and they're wearing this at the store and, your employees are a part of your brand.
Gregg Stebben: So, the lesson here is set ground rules for people so they understand that these things are great, these are off limits, this is why they're off limits, make it common sense and just tell them in advance so you don't have to correct them later.
Steve Strauss: Absolutely, and I do think that's the biggest mistake I've seen. Other mistakes people can make is not using social media right. Social media is a challenge for a lot of small businesses. They want to use it. They know they're supposed to use it. That message certainly has gotten through, but figuring out how to use it effectively during a holiday, like Halloween, it can be the challenge. So it's not as much of a mistake, as again when we were just talking about, lost opportunities. If you are doing something within your store to promote Halloween, maybe you even have a Halloween sale make sure you're using your social properly to get that message out there and, you're sharing your costume contest and things like that because it would be a waste to do those great things in the store in the other hand and, not share them and not get the social media attention you might be able to get out of it as well.
Gregg Stebben: I'm glad you brought up the use of social media because when you think about a holiday, like Halloween, it’s easy to imagine a retail store, or an office where people are working together so there's some physicality to it, but what tips can we offer to businesses that are online? Or even b-to-b businesses who might want to use this, not in a retail environment but with their customers even though their customers, maybe their customer are all remote. Are there things they can do as well? Starting probably with social media.
Steve Strauss: Absolutely, well let’s think about how we can use the online world to grow our business, and then how Halloween might play into that. So one thing you can do is, most of us have an e-newsletter, and if we’re good with our e-newsletter we're using the 80/20 rule, and the 80/20 rule in this case is you want to make 80% of your newsletter about your customer, about what they're thinking about, about what they're doing, or in this case maybe about Halloween and 20% about you and your sale and your business. If you use that ratio, then you can use Halloween in your e-newsletter, and maybe you create some Halloween themed sales, or maybe you have some Halloween themed content, or you found some content online that you just thought your customers might find interesting, you share it via your e-newsletter. And then you use a Halloween template for your e-newsletter and then you're all of a sudden part of the Halloween conversation.
I think that's really what we're talking about. We want to be part of the conversation, not be left out of the conversation. And it's not so hard to do online, you can update your website with some appropriate decorations or sales or products or things like that, but I really think the idea of using your e-newsletter as a way to get ahead, and get attention works really well.
Gregg Stebben: We're talking with Steve Strauss, he's the best-selling author of the Small Business Bible. He's also USA Today's small business columnist, and we're talking about a column he wrote for USA Today, Tricky Halloween Season Can be a Treat for Small Businesses. Steve, you actually gave me an interesting idea, which is, and this is probably more for someone in the b-to-b environment, but what you might do, is take your article from USA Today and send it to your customers with the idea of “hey did you know how big a market Halloween is? I wanted to make sure you saw this so you are thinking about how to take advantage of it for your business.”
Steve Strauss: Well I think that's a fine idea.
Gregg Stebben: I mean I thought you might. But in all seriousness sometimes our customers love it when they see we're thinking of them and we've identified something that can help them in their business, even though it has nothing to do with them buying something more from us.
Steve Strauss: Malcolm Gladwell has a name for what you're talking about, and it is connectors, and to be really good as a connector, to create tipping points in your business, means that you're going to be sharing information to your customers that have nothing to do with you, but has everything to do with them. So this idea that you just shared, whether it's my column or any column, or any kind of content to grow their business
Gregg Stebben: Let's stick with your column.
Steve Strauss: Great. I agree, that's a fine idea. You take my column and you share it with your customers, and here if you have a b-to-b business and here’s some ideas you can use in your business, well they're going to love you for that. And you can certainly do that and it makes a lot of sense, and it's going to create good will and good will goes a long way in a lot of ways.
Gregg Stebben: All right, so we're talking about Halloween it's kind of obvious, right? I mean it's a holiday that almost everybody gets excited about it. There's opportunity for a lot of participation and engagement, but I also want to kind of step back and talk theoretically about how do I think about, and identify other opportunities like this for my small business? You know Halloween's a national thing, and everybody's participating at the same time, so of course you, as the USA Today small business columnist, are going to write about it because it's a big deal. But sometimes there's local events or local news that we can take advantage of as well. Do you have any tips for people so that they can just hone their ears and eyes for watching for those opportunities, so they don't miss out on those?
Steve Strauss: Yeah, I think that's a really good point, and it's a matter of being tuned into your community, so if you're not part of the local Chamber of Commerce or business association, I think it would behoove you to do that, for all sorts of reasons. There's networking opportunities available, and there's business seminars that would be available, and you're going to learn about activities that you otherwise may not know about and then you can become part of that community. In the case of Halloween, here's one thing you can do, because kids now go to safe places to trick or treat, one idea you might want to think about is using your store or your office or your business to become part of that. So you team up with other businesses in your area and you decide you're going to be a Halloween go to place, and you're really going to decorate and you're going to hand out candy on October 31st, and you're going to be a destination.
And then you're going to one, work with other companies, other businesses, you're going to make those connections, that's great. Two, parents are going to love you and you're going to get the word out that you're going to be part of this community, and three, you're part of the community. So this idea of working with the community on a very local level certainly reaps a lot of benefits.
Gregg Stebben: And to that end, a friend of mine with some small children just told me that she took her kids over the weekend, so really early, to a trunk or treat.
Steve Strauss: What is a trunk or treat?
Gregg Stebben: I said "What is a trunk or treat?" Yeah I didn't know either, but it was at a, it was exactly following along with what you just said. A group of businesses opened up their parking lot for a trunk or treat and the idea here, this might be a local thing just in my community, but the kids and the parents each decorate the trunk of the car, that's the trunk, and then they fill it with candy, the kids show up in costumes and they all run from car to car to car to car, but it's in a sense been vetted for safety. It's a safe environment. You come and you park and there's no more cars. And I'm guessing it's all parents that know each other, or clients of the businesses so you're not worried about any candy problems or anything. And that would be a great opportunity for a company with a parking lot, and if you don't have a parking lot, you could certainly get together with other businesses and have a Halloween party that worked the same way but within your retail establishments.
Steve Strauss: That's a very clever idea.
Gregg Stebben: I wish I could claim it but, I'm just showing up to the next one for the candy.
Steve Strauss: You know my sweet grandfather just, apropos just a little bit, had in his trunk this box called the magic box, and whenever he would drive over to the house and we would see him, he would open up his trunk and we'd open the magic box, and the magic box was always full of candy. And it was never empty, and I guess at eight years old we never figured it out but we thought it was the greatest thing we ever knew. So we were trunk or treating all year long with my grandfather.
Gregg Stebben: Little did your grandfather know that he invented trunk or treat.
Steve Strauss: Right.
Gregg Stebben: All right, we're talking with Steve Strauss. This is "The Heartbeat of Main Street" with ForbesBooks and Bank of America, he's the best-selling author of the Small Business Bible. He's USA Today's small business columnist. I want to ask one last question. You have such a deep background in small business, and I'm just wondering away from the subject of holidays and Halloween what is the single greatest piece of advice you could offer our listeners that you have learned about small business, that you wish everyone who was a small business owner knew and knew today?
Steve Strauss: I love that question and I'm going to give you an answer kind of like you couldn't take credit for trunk or treat I can't take credit for this tip, but it's nevertheless the best tip anyone ever gave me so. One of the first books I ever read when I was getting ready to start my first business and this is back when I was practicing law. I don't anymore.
Gregg Stebben: That came from left field. I wasn't expecting that.
Steve Strauss: Many years ago I came to my senses and I don't practice anymore, but my first business was my own law firm and at the time I was working at a big law firm in the big city, quote unquote, making the big bucks and I was big time unhappy. I really hated it, so I was trying to figure out how to venture off and start my own law firm.
So I read a book called Making a Living Without a Job, by a woman named Barbara Winter, and it kind of just gave me the blue print for how to leave the gig I was in and start what I really wanted to do which was be my own boss. And I love this book, and one of the things Barbara said in that book is you need to have multiple profit centers.
If you're going to be successful in your business whether you're going to be a solopreneur or you're going to have 50 people work for you, you need multiple profit centers. That is, it's kind of like a stock, you'd never just own one stock because that stock could go up and that stock could go down. You diversify your portfolio so that when one part of your portfolio might be down a little bit, the other part is up. The same idea is true in our businesses, You want three or four or five different ways of bringing money in the door, so in the case of my law firm I started out doing a wills and trust practice, and then I started doing a bankruptcy practice, then I started doing a little p.i. I did a little bit of everything, but when one part was down the other part was up and when that part was down the other part was up. And it kept money coming in the door all year long, and I think for any small business, I think it's one of the best things you can do, cause it's going to ensure your long term viability, it's going to keep your business more interesting and more creative for you, you're going to have a more diversified client base. So to me that's what I think works best. If I was going to give one tip, I think that's my favorite tip ever.
Gregg Stebben: And you know what's really fascinating about that, Steve Strauss, is here's multiple revenue streams. No, in all seriousness, I think
Steve Strauss: It's true.
Gregg Stebben: You model this right? Best-selling author Small Business Bible, he's written 16 other books, there's 17 streams of revenue. USA Today small business columnist, another stream of revenue. A global speaker, a keynote speaker, there's another source of revenue. Entrepreneur so you probably have your fingers in other pies, entrepreneurially speaking. You're also a spokesperson, so you have multiple ways of bringing money in under the umbrella of Steve Strauss. His website is mrallbiz.com it's M R A L L B I Z.com. You can find him on Twitter and LinkedIn @SteveStrauss on Facebook, oh you'll love this now that you heard what you just heard, the ex-lawyer is on Facebook @theselfemployed. It all makes so much sense now Steve. Thanks
Steve Strauss: I practice what I preach.
Gregg Stebben: Yeah thanks for joining us. Thanks for talking about Halloween and things we can do and things we should avoid within that holiday, and how to take advantage of other events and holidays around us. Thanks so much for being here.
Steve Strauss: My pleasure. Thanks for having me and keep up the great work.
Narrator: Thanks for listening to "The Heartbeat of Main Street" with ForbesBooks at forbesbooks.com and Bank of America at bankofamerica.com.
Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success. © Steven D. Strauss.
Bank of America, N.A. engages with Steve Strauss to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. Steve Strauss is a registered trademark, used pursuant to license. The third parties within articles are used under license from Steve Strauss. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.
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