9 Ways to Properly Prepare Your Small Business for Q4
The end of the year can be one of the most stressful times for small businesses. The holidays will probably put real pressure on every part of your company’s supply chain — from the postal service to product availability to your own packaging operations. At the same time, you’ll need to carefully manage your marketing to take advantage of a slew of different events, like Christmas and Thanksgiving, that can be big moneymakers.
You’ll also need to think about the new year and how you’ll handle your operations going into the first quarter.
These nine tips and strategies will help you properly prepare your small business for the end of the year and prepare for Q1.
1. Prepare Your Supply Chain for the Holidays
Communicate with your suppliers early and often. If you have a good relationship with your vendors, they may be more willing to work with you and keep you supplied through the holidays. Be sure you provide them with good-enough forecasts on expected demand for the season.
If possible, start stocking up now — especially if you have struggled to handle the holiday season demand surge in the past. Be sure to take current projections into account — or start forecasting for the holiday season, if you haven’t already. Demand for a certain item isn’t guaranteed to be the same year to year.
2. Consider Holiday Packaging
If you plan to offer special holiday packaging — like gift wrap or cards — you should start ordering materials now. If you also plan to offer new promotions you haven’t in the past, like prewrapped packages or personalized notes, consider potential pitfalls. If you handle packaging and shipment in-house, do you have enough labor to handle this new kind of work?
3. Communicate With Your Payment Processors
You should also communicate with your credit card processor about forecasted demand for the end of the year. This may be difficult in years with unusual or hard-to-predict demand fluctuations — like when your business has grown significantly or major events have shaken up the market.
Spikes in demand can sometimes cause processors to flag transactions as fraudulent.You must communicate clearly leading up to the holidays, especially if you sell seasonal products or anticipate a significant boost in sales volume.
4. Plan Your Holiday Marketing
Planning your holiday marketing well in advance will help you secure printed materials and ensure smooth deployment of campaigns.
For example, if you want to incorporate lighted signs, which can stick out from your storefront and increase traffic, it may be worth ordering them before Q3 is over. Signage and marketing companies are facing the same demand spikes that your business will have to handle. Supply shocks can delay orders. Giving suppliers maximal lead time will help you get your signs on time and coordinate them with the rest of your marketing.
5. Keep on Top of Trends
What are your competitors doing with their marketing and offerings? Do you see any strategies — from inside or outside your niche — that you want to emulate?
The end of the year provides companies with an opportunity to get experimental with new offerings or marketing strategies. It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on how your competition is developing new products and advertising strategies, but Q4 can be an especially good time of year to stay on the lookout.
6. Prepare for Staff Vacation
Many employees also take vacations around or during Q4. The holiday season and end of the year is a great time to gather with family and friends and use up accrued vacation time. Staying in communication with your employees about holiday plans will help you prepare for any possible labor shortages or bottlenecks towards the end of the year.
You could request that staff give some additional notice for vacations and time off when possible. However, it may still be a good idea to prepare for potential short-notice absences regardless of employee plans.
7. Avoid Sitting on Stock
Even if you’re worried about stock shortages, it’s generally better to sell items if you have them. Waiting could help prevent customers from getting frustrated about product availability, but it could also mean you hold on to products that don’t sell.
It’s a good idea to plan for sudden demand surges, but avoid sitting on stock if you can help it.
8. Prepare for a Surge in Returns
An increase in sales will typically also mean more returns. Products given as gifts may also increase the number of returns your business will receive.
When possible, you should dedicate extra resources to handling this surge.
9. Don’t Forget About Q1
The holidays will cause the biggest demand surge you’ll probably see all year — but you need to prepare for Q1, as well. When forecasting the amount of stock you’ll need, don’t forget about the first few months of the new year. While demand likely won’t be nearly as high as Q4, it’s still possible to run into supply issues if you don’t plan.
Preparing for Q4 and Beyond
As the holiday season approaches, you’ll face the usual challenges — surges in sales, increased marketing, and labor or supply chain issues. Fortunately, planning for common Q4 roadblocks will help your business handle the end of the year with grace. Just be sure to prepare for Q1 as well. While not as intense as Q4, the first three months of the year aren’t typically a break for small businesses.
Lexie is a web designer and UX strategist. She loves taking her goldendoodle on long runs and checking out local flea markets. Visit her blog, Design Roast, and follow her on Twitter @lexieludesigner.