Colleen DeBaise quotes me in her story, With the Christmas Rush Over, It's Time for the Post-Mortem, during 2006 holiday season.
THE SEASON TO rack up holiday sales is over, and we know...you're tired. But it's not time for vacation yet. Savvy small-business owners are making a list, checking it twice, and planning a host of follow-up things to do, post-holiday.
Irina Patterson of Miami, for instance, is writing thank-you notes to all the customers who hired her during the holidays to twist balloons into Santas, reindeer and Christmas trees. Patterson, also known as the "Russian Queen of Balloons," sends pictures from the office parties, fundraisers and private events where she entertained. "Then, I remind all my customers that now is a good time to start planning for the next big holiday, Valentine's Day," she says.
For entrepreneurs like Patterson who rely on seasonal sales, the quiet time after the Christmas frenzy is the perfect time to look back, plan ahead and — most importantly — figure out how to win repeat business.
"This is a really important time to look at what worked best, and what can be improved," says Terri Lonier, founder of WorkingSolo.com in New Paltz, N.Y. "While many people think growth just happens organically, always look back and assess what has worked well and how you can maximize those wins." All it takes is proper planning. Here's how:
1) Do a post-mortem. Evaluate the past weeks, especially if you ran an aggressive holiday promotion. Did you hire enough staff? Did you stock enough inventory? Did you use technology effectively? "The biggest mistake that any business makes is not doing an after-action review," says Tom Bayer, a partner with Sikich LLP in Springfield, Ill., an accounting firm that works with small and midsize businesses. "You learn a lot, and that can be the basis for your planning for the future."
2) Watch your bottom line. The big question that business owners need to ask is: Did I make money this holiday season? "Sometimes you ramp up your overhead, labor and advertising — what did it cost you to sell a product during that period of time?" Bayer says. "Sometimes you find it's better not to spend all those costs."
3) Marketing seemed to really pay off, as you were flooded with customers. What now? Figure out the budget for next year, as the Christmas season — believe it or not — is only nine months away. "Holiday promotions always start in September, so it's a much shorter time frame than you think," says Lonier, of WorkingSolo.com.
4) Get in touch with customers, even the unhappy ones. The complaints about your sleigh-ride business, fruit-basket company or other seasonal enterprise can help you improve service next season. Got a lot of satisfied clients? Try to win their business other times of year, and offer discounts as incentive to place next season's orders ahead of time, advises Bayer.
5) Plan for the new year (after all, it starts next week). "Confirm your broad objectives and goals for 2007," says Andre Gien, director of strategic consulting with CBIZ Accounting, Tax and Advisory Services in Charlotte, N.C. As a jumpstart, write a 90-day plan identifying sales goals and marketing strategies through March. And figure out what to do with the cash surplus that's certainly come from the holidays. "If you can design your system to use as little of your cash as possible during the lean months, you are building wealth," he says.
After that, take a vacation — if you want to. Patterson, the balloon maker in Miami, claims she doesn't. "My whole life is like a vacation. I enjoy what I'm doing, and I live in the tropics," she says. "I truly don't need one."