Going Solo: in business, Christmas comes early

10 min read
Matthew Pattinson

It’s getting to that time of year when Christmas is ever-present. During the Christmas period (which spans across any month with a ‘ber’ in it), shoppers in the UK typically spend between £350 and £400 each on presents. And that figure is rising, especially for online retailers.

Christmas: the online sales bonanza

In 2019, online sellers clocked-up £1.8 billion in December and - importantly - almost as much in November. Both figures are a leap of almost 10% on the year before. There’s every reason to suspect, therefore, that this Yuletide Season online sales will top £2 billion a month in November and December.

Basically, once Halloween and Bonfire Night are out of the way, everyone has their sights set on Christmas.

So, in the frantic scramble of high street and online retailers to hoover the money out of shoppers’ pockets, the little guys can get trampled underfoot. How, then, does a solo enterprise or micro-business make the most of the opportunities Christmas presents?

You start early!

Christmas: plan, plan, then plan some more

We’ve written before about the importance of taking care of yourself at this most hectic of times. Well, one of the key ways you can do that is to plan your Christmas campaign well in advance and spread out the workload. This reduces the stress and increases the likelihood of success. So, if you aren’t already on with your plan, there’s no time like the (Christmas) present!

The first thing you need is a cunning Christmas plan! We go into that in some detail here. But you can’t plan if you don’t know who you’re planning for.

1 - Marketing Personas

That’s why it’s a great idea - all year round - to build up some Marketing Personas. When you’re starting out, you may only have the vaguest idea who your customers are, but you’ll quickly learn. Customers will make sure you understand what they like about what you do and - just as helpfully - what they don’t like.

This means you’ll have a more evolved understanding of the products and services to offer, and have a much clearer vision of how to market them.

There’s a detailed step-by-step guide here to what goes into creating great Marketing Personas but, in essence, they are sketches of ‘composite customers’, so that you can see the kind of people you’re dealing with and understand what motivates them to patronise your business.

2 - It’s good to talk

A fully-rounded Marketing Persona will include specific and factual information you’ve derived from your research, but it will also rely on your one-to-one experience of dealing with your customers.

The best kind of publicity you can get is word of mouth - everyone knows that - but the best kind of market research you can do is, likewise, verbal. Engage in conversation with your customers. If you don’t speak to them on the phone or meet them face-to-face, ask them some follow-up questions online.

There’s no shame in offering a discount voucher (with a use by date, obviously) to people who offer you some decent, detailed feedback about what they liked about your products and services - and, equally important, you need them to tell you if there’s something they don’t like.

3 - Google Analytics

Understanding your customers’ behaviour is the Holy Grail of knowing how to sell to them. Google Analytics can be your best friend, because it can give you so much information about your customers, not least in how they find and travel around your site.

If you’re new to the notion of Analytics, Google offers detailed guidance on how to set up your website (your ‘property’) and make the most of the information you can harvest.

These two techniques will give you the basic data you need to start building your Christmas Marketing Plan.

You need to establish:

  • What your customers want and need for Christmas.
  • How you can provide for those wants and needs.
  • If and where your products fail to provide for these wants and needs.
  • Which social media channels work best for drawing these customers to your business.

All of this helps you to identify your niche.

4 - Mission Statement

Using this information, you should be able to compose a Christmas Mission Statement. Let’s say you make jewellery - your research could lead you to write a Mission Statement like, “We provide bespoke, handmade jewellery for customers who are prepared to spend a little extra for quality. They won’t be buying for themselves, so they will focus on mid-priced gifts rather than expensive once-in-a-lifetime items. They will want the assurance of being able to return that gift if it doesn’t fit / doesn’t suit. They find me through Facebook posts and through browsing Etsy”.

5 - Aim for the goal

You can now use this information to set some goals. Just telling yourself “I want to sell more stuff” isn’t very helpful, because it’s too vague. It’s time to break out those SMART goals that you probably haven’t used since college.

SMART Goals are:

  • Specific (be precise and detailed in what you want to achieve)
  • Measurable (decide how you are going to measure success - are you going to count the money taken or number of new customers earned, for example)
  • Achievable (set yourself goals that will motivate you, but which aren’t insanely ambitious - you’re not going to unseat Amazon as the biggest online retailer just yet)
  • Relevant and Realistic (Make sure that your actions are to the benefit of your specific goal)
  • Time-bound (set yourself a deadline and stick to it)

And there’s loads more guidance on this, here.

Christmas: a seasonal strategy

Okay, so you know what you want to do, for whom you’re doing it and when, you just need to decide how you’re going to make your SMART goals happen!

There are so many ways to get noticed at Christmas.

1 - Diversify

You could launch new products that are specifically designed to address the needs of your niche. This can include involving Christmas colours (typically red and green) or snowy scenes, or reflect the warm and fuzzy family togetherness that Christmas brings about.

2 - Discount

You could also do what the big companies do - offer discounts. People have become suspicious of the bogof - buy one get one free - because it suggests that the usual price was too high to start with. Also, bogofs devalue your products and services. But there’s no reason why you can’t still encourage and reward multiple purchases. So, if you were our imaginary jeweller - you could sell rings at £10 each or two for £15. That’s a 25% discount - large enough to be generous but not so large that it bites hard into your profits.

3 - Pop-up

If you’re an entirely digital business, consider getting physical for a limited time. Pop-up shops at Christmas Markets, for example, can be a brilliant way to get your products in front of eager new eyeballs. And that face-to-face interaction with customers is invaluable market research.

4 - Package

You could put together gift sets. These can include a combination of items that you produce (either as a matter of course or - even better - especially for the season). They can also be a great way to encourage return custom - by including discount vouchers for services dated for the new year. Since these vouchers are part of a purchase, rather than being handed-out to anyone for free, you can afford to be generous and make them a gift worth having.

5 - Fomo

Fomo - or fear of missing out - is a concept that marketers have been aware of, and have been exploiting, for some time. If you’re selling a mass-produced product, it’s actually quite hard to generate this sense of fomo - which is why the same product will be packaged up differently in ‘limited editions’ or ‘collector’s editions’.

But, for you - running your small business - there genuinely is a limit to how many customers you can satisfy. So, stress the limited nature of your products in any marketing you do! The words “last few” are some of the most motivating in business!

6 - Freebie

It’s tough, when your margins are tight and your time is precious, to even contemplate giving away something for free. But there are ways you can make it pay.

For example, if people are leaving items in their online shopping basket after leaving your shop - it’s clear that they’re interested in those items, just not interested enough. So you could contact those shoppers and offer them the cheapest item in their basket for free if they buy the other items. This is more effective than offering freebies to people who aren’t necessarily going to become customers.

If appropriate for your business, you could offer free consultations or free quotes or even a free trial. You could schedule these for your quiet period (probably the new year), when they won’t be taking time away from paying customers.

Finally, don’t underestimate the value of free shipping. At the same time, you mustn’t underestimate the cost to your business - so do the maths carefully - but free postage can be a real encouragement for people to spend more with your business, since the money is going to you rather than to a courier.

Christmas marketing

Whatever else you do, you must market your business during the Christmas period.

Focus your marketing on the social media channels that your research has proven to be the most effective. There’s no point in putting a great offer where no-one will see it.

Use Christmas-themed email marketing too, if you have built-up a mailing list. This works best if you’re respectful of your clients (and you know who they are and what ticks their boxes, because you’ve created your Marketing Personas) and include an offer that is genuinely appealing. Even better, make it an offer that only the email recipients can claim (such as a time-limited discount code).

If you have premises - decorate them in Festive finery. A well-designed shop window display can be a real customer magnet at Christmas.

And don’t forget, your website is your shop window too - so don’t leave that out of the marketing mix.

Share holiday-themed content on your social media feeds. People don’t need reminding that it’s Christmas, but a few feel-good memes or some hogmanay how-tos are great ways of attracting customers’ attention to you. Make people feel good and they’ll feel good about spending money with you!

Christmas: is your website ready?

Don’t forget to make sure that your website is capable of coping with Christmas. If your marketing and offers work, you could experience a big increase in traffic. That’s clearly a great problem to have, but not if it makes your website fall over. Even a slow website can massively impact on your business, because customers have become accustomed to everything on the internet happening instantly.

So, make sure that your eCommerce hosting plan is fit for purpose. Further, we would recommend you invest in an Extended Validation SSL Certificate. This adds another layer of security to your site - especially helpful in assuring new and first-time customers that their information is secure and that they can trust you.

Put just a few of these suggestions into practice, and you’ll find that your chances of having a merry Christmas vastly improve. The sooner you can make your business Christmas-ready, the sooner you can start cashing-in on the season of goodwill.

So, ho-ho-go for it!

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