How to bring more jingle to your small business's coffers

By Reed Richardson


With the holidays fast approaching, some small business owners may find that they never got around to implementing those grand marketing plans they had conceived to boost sales at the end of the year. But never fear, it's still not too late to reconnect with your customers and drum up new sales. Here are some quick and easy marketing tactics that will let you do just that.


Traditional holiday cards still effective

While sending a piece of direct mail to a current customer at most other times of the year can come across as a thinly veiled marketing gimmick, mailing an old-fashioned "Season's Greetings" or "Happy New Year" card still retains a sense of authenticity and graciousness while achieving the goal of keeping your company top-of-mind. Adding a personalized note of thanks inside makes an even bigger positive impact. But for those small businesses who want to do more than just soft sell their relationship, including a special discount code toward additional business in 2010 can pay sales dividends in the new year and, as a bonus, identify good candidates for future direct mail pieces. Another low-cost, yet highly effective way to keep your largest customer or clients thinking of you involves sending them a 2010 calendar during the holidays. It's a practical gift that almost everybody ends up using and getting your company's name up on a client's office or cubicle wall can be some of the best bang-for-your-buck advertising there is.

Put up holiday decorations, instore and online

Don't forget your company's web presence when it comes to adding holiday flair, particularly if you are a small business e-tailer. By visually pairing up the holiday shopping season with your company's online storefront, you may lead current customers to view your products or services in a different light, perhaps leading to new gift purchases. Likewise, you might consider changing over the wallpaper on your company's Facebook or Twitter page, if you have one, to reflect the holiday season. If you're unsure as to what kind of holiday art would be appropriate online, a simple snapshot of the whole office staff holding a "Season's Greetings" sign or, if you're a solopreneur, a family photo in front of a Christmas tree works well.


Don't give up on holiday marketing too early

If you're a small business retailer looking to goose sales, make sure you position your company's holiday offers up at the top of your website and keep them up there through the entire holiday season. Despite the supposed Cyber Monday phenomenon, online sales actually peak in mid-December. Last year, four of the top nine busiest online holiday shopping days occurred the week before Christmas, according to data from ComScore. (Cyber Monday 2008-Dec. 1-was actually the third busiest web-shopping day behind Tuesday, Dec. 9 and Monday, Dec. 15.) And don't give up once the calendar hits Christmas, either. You can still roll out other marketing pitches tied to "post-Christmas sales," Kwanzaa (Dec. 26 through Jan. 1) or New Year's Day. You might even try a "Twelve Days of Christmas" campaign to feature a different product or service each day through Jan. 6.


"Act now!"

As with sales tied to any fixed date or event, there is a built-in sense of urgency to holiday marketing that small businesses can exploit. To prevent potential customers from abandoning a purchase because of fears or confusion about their gift not arriving in time, small business online retailers should clearly highlight their shipping policies and expected delivery dates on their website this time of year. A bold banner on your online front page stating "There's still time!" or "It's not too late!" (a phrase this article made use of in the first paragraph) can immediately overcome an important objection for last-minute holiday shoppers.


Other especially strong sales sweeteners for online holiday shoppers include free shipping and gift-wrapping, both of which often act as the tipping point when a customer is deciding between different online purchases. And whether you provide free shipping on any sale or only those that meet certain conditions-like purchases more than a certain dollar value-it's still a good idea to ensure that your "Free Shipping!" offer stays up on the screen, either as a banner or a sidebar, no matter where a customer navigates to on your webpage.


Offer something for everybody

Since the holidays prompt a lot of spending from ordinarily dormant customers, you don't want to turn those precious sales opportunities away due to a lack of different price points. As a result, it's a good idea to build multiple tiers of products or services that can fit almost any gift budget. If you're a small business retailer with products mostly clustered around $10, for example, you might want to bundle several of them together to create "holiday" gift packages that will fulfill the needs of people looking to spend more. On the other hand, if you run a service company with more high-end price points, you might instead market your services as part of a yearlong subscription. The benefits to this subscription model are two-fold: it lets your company advertise a lower, per-week or per-month price point and it inherently builds a repetitive, long-term relationship that increases customer loyalty and retention.


So, if you're a small business worried about slow sales so far this holiday season, don't give up hope, there's still time to implement a few simple marketing strategies that could provide you with a very Happy New Year come 2010.