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Roast turkey, wrapped presents, and eggnog are all sure things during the holiday season, but what’s always a bit of a mystery is how this busy time of year will affect small businesses.

Rather than speculate, we went directly to the source (small businesses selling to consumers) and here’s what we learned:

Good days lie ahead

65 percent expect their 2013 revenues to exceed those of 2012. This is great news! We also learned that the second half of the year plays a big role in the overall success of many businesses, with 31 percent saying fall and winter are their biggest seasons and almost 60 percent stating that between a quarter and a half of their overall profits come from their biggest season.

It’s definitely clear that putting the time into developing a holiday promotion plan can pay dividends. And what’s even better is that more than half say that the new customers they attract during the holidays become repeat, loyal customers.

Small Business Saturday

More than one quarter of small businesses told us they’re participating in Small Business Saturday because of the increased awareness it creates for their store (79 percent), followed by the new customers it delivers (45 percent), and the quick boost in sales (43 percent).

As for planning ahead for the holidays, here’s the breakdown of when most get started:

  • 31 percent start 2-3 months in advance
  • 20 percent start 1 month in advance
  • 15 percent start more than 3 months in advance
  • 6 percent start 2-4 weeks in advance

The most surprising information we received is that 28 percent told us they do no advanced planning for the holidays. With all that’s at stake, this approach seems like a missed opportunity.

Customer loyalty is #1

While there’s a focus on bringing new customers in the door, 82 percent of small businesses told us that loyal customers are the number one way they grow their business.

As for how they earn that loyalty, the clear winner (90 percent) is by offering a great product or service, followed by keeping the lines of communication flowing by email (60 percent) and through social media channels (49 percent). Events are also important for creating face-to face time (47 percent) and value-added promotions play a role too (16 percent). The overarching message here is that creating customer engagement is key.

Bumps in the road

While optimism is in the air, we did hear about a few roadblocks. Here’s the breakdown:

  • 30 percent cited finding new customers as the biggest hurdle to achieving growth
  • 23 percent said lack of time
  • 16 percent stated the lagging economy
  • 10 percent said a lack of funds to invest in growth also presents challenges

There’s still time

While the clock is ticking, there’s still time to plan for success. Whether that’s creating a coupon offer that drives customer referrals, hosting a holiday event to create memorable face-to-face customer interactions, or simply writing an attention-grabbing email to let your customers know what your most popular holiday items are, there are effective ways to bring back your loyal customers, and attract new ones to your store.

The Constant Contact team loves data and we’ll be sure to continue sharing our findings with you. In the meantime, check out results from prior surveys.

That sums up what we’ve learned, but we’d love to hear from you! Tell us, are you planning to kick off the holiday season by participating in Small Business Saturday? Why or why not?

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