weinstock / Pixabay

There’s a moment that strikes many of us in the fall, usually around October or perhaps even earlier, as we enter grocery or department stores: “The Christmas stuff is already out.”

Scoff if you will at jumping the gun on the holidays (“And the Christmas music is already on the radio!”) but there is value in businesses planning ahead and getting ready for these potentially lucrative times of the year.

We’re in the tail end of back-to-school season at the moment. Ideally small business owners have taken full advantage with well-thought-out sales and marketing campaigns.

Here’s a look at how businesses can make the most out of these seasonal opportunities.

Be prepared

Yes, the Boy Scouts have it right. Being prepared is essential, and small business owners will need to start planning for seasonal opportunities well in advance. This will take organization and brainstorming, especially for a new business. Don’t wait until the season is in full swing. Getting ahead of it can bring better results. Andrew Thomas, cofounder of SkyBell Video Doorbell, mentions the need to get started in a story by the Young Entrepreneur Council on smallbiztrends.com.

“It can really help to beat the noise by starting a seasonal campaign before everyone else,” he said. “For example, you might send out thank you notes a few weeks before Thanksgiving or send out promotions during the spring for products that are useful for the summer. Avoid fighting the noise by starting a bit before everyone else.”

Create a connection

Not all businesses are natural fits with seasonal sales opportunities. Back to school is a good example. But stores that don’t offer school supplies and clothing for kids and teens can get creative with sales and discounts. Susan Ward digs into this in a story for The Balance, recommending business owners “stretch your brain and forge the back to school connection.” Among her examples:

  • “Whether selling services or product, a nutrition-related business might offer information on preparing healthy school lunches or even a workshop.”
  • “A business selling cleaning products might market its products as great for cleaning dorm rooms and sell a special ‘studentpak’ of products.”
  • “A watch repair business might run a ‘be on time for school’ special.”
  • “A car detailing business could run a ‘clean it up for school’ promotion.”

Set the foundation

Small business owners won’t want to reinvent the wheel every time a seasonal opportunity rolls around. Laying the groundwork can make future seasons much easier to prepare for, and allow time for additional innovations. Nick Eubanks, founder of digital marketing agency I’m From the Future, advises developing “reusable assets” in the smallbiztrends.com story.

“If your business has the opportunity to capitalize on seasonal trends (which not all companies do), spend the time to design campaigns that develop assets that can be used for seasonal campaigns in the future,” he says. “These could be creative, websites, mini-apps, Facebook pages, email lists, etc. The main idea is to conceptualize these campaigns as investments rather than one-offs.”

Seek feedback

Getting comments from customers is always valuable, even when they’re not so fun to hear or read. And while it may not be top of mind amid the back-to-school frenzy or holiday shopping, learning more about the customer experience can pay dividends down the line. Gail Goodman writes about this for Entrepreneur.

“When it comes to earning referral business for next season, customer reviews are priceless,” she says. “Ask for reviews, testimonials and customer success stories from this past sales season to feature in your e-mail newsletter, on your company blog and on social media websites. Make them part of your ongoing story. Conduct a customer satisfaction survey to find out where your business excelled and where it needs improvement. Ask if there are other products and services customers would like from you so you can identify opportunities for business growth.”

Niche marketing

Stores that cater to a wide range of customers can naturally have an advantage when it comes to seasonal marketing. But more niche-oriented businesses can develop ways to capitalize on it as well, and that goes for opportunities beyond the obvious seasonal ones. Molly Thompson explores this for the Houston Chronicle, advising business owners to create special opportunities for customers.

“Sporting goods retailers might offer discounts on the local baseball team’s paraphernalia in the weeks preceding the team’s opening day game,” she writes. “Schedule a couples-only winery tour around Valentine’s Day and include an intimate dinner in the cost. Offer a free kid’s cone with the purchase of every adult cone on National Ice Cream Day. Italian restaurants might offer discounted specials for the Columbus Day weekend.”

Expand the reach

During back-to-school season, businesses can get creative and expand the scope of their sales opportunities. Ward advises businesses to keep the parents in mind, and that personal care businesses, gyms and restaurants can develop special promotions.

Additionally, the other side that is greatly affected by the back-to-school season is teachers. It can be valuable to create sales opportunities targeted to them, whether it’s through discounts or giveaways as a way to say thanks. Ward’s examples include:

  • “A car detailing business could offer a special package for teachers only.”
  • “An educational supply store could offer teachers memberships or discount cards.”
  • “A restaurant could offer teachers only a free dinner entrée during the first month of school.”
  • “A hair salon could offer teachers special discounts on services for a limited time.”

Create an annual plan

A new small business owner can find the first year or more to be a dizzying learning experience. The holiday season may be an eye-opener in terms of what to expect and how to maximize sales. Taking the first year into account should help the owner prepare for the next one. Thompson recommends developing an annual strategy plan, “to ensure you don’t overlook any potential seasonal marketing opportunities.”

“Depending on the nature of your company’s products or services, identify holidays or seasonal themes for which you might logically develop a marketing campaign or tie-in,” she explains. “Based on your marketing plan, schedule advance orders of extra inventory, delivery of display and decorating materials and additional staff if necessary. Plan for mailings or email notifications to your customer or client list in advance of special promotions, events and sales.”