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9 Keys to prepare your small business for a profitable holiday season

Expert in residence guide by Melio - Illustration

Rhonda Abrams is one of America’s leading small business experts. Her business plan guide, Successful Business Plan: Secrets & Strategies, was named one of the 100 best business strategy books of all time. She has also started, built, and sold four businesses. She was educated at UCLA and Harvard University and lives in Palo Alto, CA.


Rhonda Abrams, one of the foremost experts on small business, entrepreneurship, and business planning, joined Melio for an exclusive webinar. She shared her top tips for small business owners leading up to the holiday season. Check out the webinar below to learn what steps you can take to prepare for this crucial time and how you can make it your most successful holiday season yet!

Watch the full webinar recording

9 keys for SMBs

We’ve summarized Rhonda Abrams’s top takeaways from the webinar:

Key #1: Start early

Holiday shopping begins early, with 56% of shopping done in October, according to a recent survey from McKinsey. You want to make sure to capture that bulk of people who are out there thinking “what am I going to do about the holidays?” Don’t wait until December or even November to start prepping—by then it may be too late.

Key #2: Get your holiday email out early

It’s smart to send out your holiday emails early. This way, you’ll be top of mind for existing customers. You can offer early bird discounts or holiday specials, encourage your email listserv to book services early, or invite them to customer appreciation events in store (more on that later).

Key #3: Bundle, bundle, bundle

There are a lot of reasons to bundle, or group multiple goods and/or services together. First of all, when you sell more than one thing at a time, you make more money. Even if you make less per item, the sale per customer goes up. Bundles have the additional benefit of being unique, which makes it harder for people on the internet to compete with you. Finally, shoppers love them–you are removing the burden of choice and creating something that customers want and need.

Bundles are not just for retail businesses. Companies can bundle their services together as a special package. For example, an attorney can offer a suite of services to clients: a combination of estate planning, will, trust, power of attorney, etc. You can bundle hospitality, offering shoppers a gift of dinner and a theater show plus a one night hotel stay. There is room for creativity; see if you can find a way to put more than one product together.

Key #4: Remember other holidays

There are more holidays than just Christmas between October 1 and January 1, such as Halloween, Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, and Kwanza. These holidays are a great way to engage with people. Consider sending out Thanksgiving cards instead of Christmas cards—your card will be the first one they see. Small Business Saturday, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, is a great opportunity to remind people that shopping locally keeps your money local and your neighborhood vibrant.

Key #5: Sell more—retail

Hosting events and bringing people into your place of business is a great way for retail businesses to up their revenue. For example, one of Abrams’s favorite events is an annual holiday party at her local bookstore in December. They provide wine and live music and offer a discount on book purchases. Not only is it a great event for the customers, it’s the bookstore’s single biggest sales day of the year.

Key #6: Sell more—services & hospitality

If you’re in the hospitality business right now, especially food and beverage, you can capitalize on this time of year by marketing to companies hosting holiday parties. You can offer special menus, bundling, or catering. If you’re a service business that is not busy at this time, such as accounting or consulting, think about ways you can stay visible at this time. Make sure your business cards are up to date and go to every holiday party you can; it’s a great opportunity to get out there and network.

Key #7: Sell more online

You have a lot of flexibility for ways to sell more online. One thing you can do is “decorate” your website or social media for the holidays with holiday-themed colors or graphics. You can create special web pages in your site for specific bundles or pages.

Key #8: Accept & use credit card

Every business should accept credit cards. For one thing, customers like using them. Lots of people no longer carry cash on them, and instead use their credit cards or an online wallet. Additionally, you get your money faster—when you send out an invoice it often takes 30 days to get paid, or even 45, 60, or 90 days. 

Though there are associated fees, it’s better to have 100% of your payments completed with small fees vs. needing to chase down a percentage of outstanding payments. 

If you use credit cards wisely, they are less expensive in some ways and are so flexible. Abrams built her own business using credit cards to manage cash flow before she even had a line of credit at a bank.

Key #9: Make the peak season last

Finally, take the success from your holiday season and bring it to your business all year long. There are some tried-and-true ways to make these gains last: capture as much customers’ information as you can. Find incentives for customers to give their email address, such as drawings that people can win things from, or loyalty rewards programs.

It’s also great to ask people to follow your business on social media and engage with them on those platforms. Finally, don’t let too much time go by in January before you follow up with your customers; keep the momentum going.

The importance of a successful holiday season

The holiday season is a great way to connect with existing and prospective customers. Use this time wisely to set yourself up for a strong start to the new year. Wishing you a happy–and SUCCESSFUL–holiday season!

*This guide is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as financial advice.
**Melio does not provide legal, tax or accounting advice, and you should consult with a professional advisor before making any financial decisions.