Consumer Reports (www.consumerreports.org) did a poll the other day, which tells us that 76% of Americans will cut spending over this holiday season. This means that purchases, travel, parties, gifts, cards and all the related ways we spend at this time of year will be down quite a bit. The poll also points out that about 6% of us (that's roughly 12 million) still owe credit card debt from last Christmas!
Consumers get savvy in tight times – that's a fact you can take to the bank. What else will you be taking to the bank over the holiday season, though? As an entrepreneur, you have several advantages over large, lumbering, inflexible businesses. Use these advantages wisely, and you can thrive in the upcoming holiday season that everyone says will be tough.
- Stay close to your customers and listen very carefully to what they need. In tight times, people shift their spending somewhat to things they really need rather than fulfilling wants. I guarantee you have the opportunity to listen better than 90% of large businesses. Listen and learn – and create a program or a product that answers the needs you hear.
- Offer unique, personalized service that no big-box store can hope to match. Deliver, wrap, offer a wish list sign-up, send e-mail messages with “hints” to friends and family. Have more than one special event which you publicize well, with door prizes that make it worth the customer's time to come by. Offer a small gift if your customer brings a friend. Have live music to set an open and relaxed mood – which offers a gig to a local pianist or other musicians who might be hurting. If you don't have a store-front, point out that you can help with gift lists via e-commerce, which helps your customer save time and gas money. Collaborate with other entrepreneurs to put together packages and cross-market to each other's customers.
- Offer your products and services in new ways. If you're a coach, pull together an hour-long session focused on the New Year and offer it on a gift card. Use your e-zine to point out that friends and family want VALUE in gifts, which your expertise can provide. Offer services to people outside your normal target – advice to kids or elders, for example.
Ask for the referral – ask customers to pass along your name and the unique things you have to offer. Word of mouth advertising is the best you can get, and the cheapest, too!
Use the mantra “listen, create, respond” with every customer and every potential customer. Your willingness to be unique and creative will show and will naturally attract people to you. These tips and your own attitude will create a holiday season in which your business thrives.