The holidays can be an exciting time for small businesses, with opportunities to boost brand awareness and drive customer engagement. However, this year has certainly been unlike any other, and businesses across the country are having to adapt to major shifts in how people are shopping, gathering, and planning to celebrate the holidays in light of an unfolding public health crisis. 

As we head into an uncertain holiday season, it’s important to acknowledge the real challenges Covid-19 poses for your customers and clients, and to think thoughtfully about how your business will approach this time of year. While in normal years you might be thinking ahead to seasonal promotions and special holiday hours, this is the year to anticipate major changes in how people buy, shop, and engage with businesses across the board. 

Here are our tips for preparing for this anything-but-usual holiday season: 

1. Prepare for an online-first shopping experience

As consumers have shifted to doing much of their shopping online, even online grocery deliveries have surged as people have stayed home. This shift in behavior may prove to be permanent. If you typically do business in a physical location, or if you have a lot of in-person contact with customers, consider how you would transition to an online-first experience. Can your customers easily pay you and order products and services online? Do you have a plan for delivering physical goods to local customers? We’ve seen everything from bookstores to flower shops get creative with online orders and in-person deliveries during the first months of the pandemic, and these adaptations have proven pivotal for business survival.

If your business is already set up for online payments and billing, make sure your site can handle potential spikes in web traffic and that you can keep up with a surge in shipment demand to deliver what customers expect, when they expect it. PaySimple can help you set up a seamless online payment solution that lets customers do business with you from the safety of home, wherever they happen to be. With PaySimple, customers can pay you directly from your website and even set up recurring online payments. All of this can be easy, quick, and reliable with a partner like PaySimple on your side.

2. Let historic cashflow guide your strategy

This time of year often leaves a tangible mark on the books—whether that’s a surge in purchases or a lull in activity. This year, those contrasts will likely be even more stark. With customers facing financial uncertainty, they may be less willing to spend on some things than they have been in the past. According to Accenture, 40% of shoppers say they plan to spend less than they did last season.

In light of this uncertainty, it can help to have historic numbers to guide you. If you already know how your business has typically performed at this time of year, you can make smarter choices to capitalize on that natural gain (or dip) in cash flow. While that may not help address inevitable big-picture shifts in consumer behavior, it can at least help you make more strategic choices. Look back at your books and determine if the holiday season has historically been slow, busy, or relatively flat for your business. Based on that information, you can adjust your strategy accordingly. For example: 

  • If your cash flow has historically been low, it’s time to uncover hidden opportunities. Many service businesses tend to slow down over the holidays as customers turn their attention to more gift-wrappable purchases. Use this lull to your advantage by uncovering hidden opportunities to make the sale. For example, run a database search for one-time customers or inactive customers and send them a special introductory offer on a recurring service.
  • If your cash flow has historically been high, extend the momentum to the New Year. If the holiday season typically keeps you busy, push that momentum out to the New Year with special promotions for monthly or recurring billing services to start the year off strong.
  • If your cash flow has historically been flat, find ways to energize sales. Even if things tend to stay relatively steady for your business during the holiday season, you could harness the spirit of this time of year by enticing customers to bring friends and family into the fold. For example, offering a special gift for each referral may provide a tangible lift as customers who already love your services share the word with others. 

3. Set clear expectations and communicate them early and often

The holidays can be complicated for business owners—hours are often different, you or your staff may be taking time off, or you may all be working overtime just to ship orders and get things done! This year, there is a lot more for businesses to consider, including how they can create a safe shopping and working environment, promote social distancing, and support public health measures. A lot of businesses are adjusting their policies as health recommendations change or localities introduce different restrictions. 

With so many things in flux, it’s important to communicate clearly so that employees know the guidelines you expect them to follow and so customers know what to expect when they do business with you. Think ahead not only to policies like mask-wearing or social distancing, but also to adaptations — like curbside pickup or contactless payments — you may need to make in order to be responsive to changing conditions.

4. Look ahead to the next year now

At some point, 2020 will be behind us and we’ll be entering 2021 with the lessons learned along the way. Hopefully we will have learned to be more innovative, more adaptable, and more flexible, turning even the toughest setbacks into unique opportunities. This is the time to take the lessons learned from 2020 and use them to plan for 2021. Think ahead to how you’ll keep the holiday momentum going while adapting quickly to any changes in public health guidelines and shifting consumer behavior. For many businesses, the pandemic has been a catalyst for change and innovation. You may even discover your business pivoting in a direction you would otherwise not have considered. While this year has no doubt been a challenge, it may also prove to be a valuable lesson in resilience.

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