6 tips for a stress-free holiday season
Pumpkins are on display everywhere, reminding us the holiday season is underway. There’s no turning back now that the big box stores have hauled out the fake trees and Christmas decorations.
For most small business owners, holidays mean headaches: key employees take off for vacation. Plus, you need to deal with year-end financial reports, performance reviews and, unless your business sells Christmas trees, a potential slowdown in sales.
So, that’s why I’ve come up with these practical tips to avoid holiday stress:
1. Ask everyone to put in their vacation requests now, if they haven’t already submitted them. Buy or make a big wall calendar and note who is in the office and who is out between now and the end of the year. Be sure to schedule your own time off. This year, Christmas falls on a Wednesday, which makes it tough. Many companies will close early on Dec. 24 to provide a two-day holiday. Once you know who is going to be out of the office, figure out who will cover for whom and give employees time to train each other to complete critical tasks. Cross training employees makes sense. You can’t rely on one person to be there all the time or stay forever, especially if what they do is critical to your business.
2. Determine what kind of gift, if any, you want to present to your best customers. Early-bird discounts abound, so take advantage of them, especially if you plan to order a customized gift with your company logo imprinted on it. (Chocolate bars?) I’m a big fan of food gifts. Everyone loves food, and a gift basket filled with goodies is a sure hit. Splurge on a beautiful holiday card—paper, not electronic. Send Thanksgiving cards if you want to beat the holiday rush. I like those fold-out cards attached to a yearly calendar so recipients are less likely to throw it away. Be sure to include all your company’s contact information, including your website, on holiday cards.
3. Depending on what your business does, consider hosting a holiday open house. It’s a good way to get your customers and prospective customers in the door. Buy a variety of appetizers and sweets at a club store. Serve beverages (non-alcoholic are best). Offer informal tours of the office or manufacturing area, if possible. If it’s not feasible to invite customers or clients to your office, produce a short video holiday message with your smartphone and post it on your website. Depending on what you do, you can wear festive hats and wish viewers ‘happy holidays.’
4. Even if you aren’t having a holiday party, schedule a year-end office cleanup. Now is the time to clear out the storage areas, toss out the stacks of paper and hire a professional crew to deep-clean the carpets, floors and break room or kitchen. Donate surplus furniture or equipment to charity and take a tax deduction. Give employees time on the clock to clean up their work areas. Reward them for their efforts with new green plants, desk-top organizers or other perks to encourage participation.
5. Start conducting year-end performance reviews now. Letting employees know what they need to do to improve may encourage them to end the year on a more positive note. If possible, meet with people outside the office. Before the meetings, spend some time alone thinking about each person and their work style. Make detailed notes about their strengths and weaknesses. If someone is creating serious problems, be sure to document everything in writing. Consult a local labor attorney to find out how to legally terminate an employee in your state.
6. Spend some time thinking about what went right and what went wrong this year. Did you lose a big customer or client? Can you reach out to repair the relationship? Did a vendor or supplier let you down? Should you be expanding your network of suppliers to avoid problems or delays? Review your marketing and advertising campaigns. What worked and what didn’t? What can you do differently in 2014 to boost sales? What are you doing to promote your business to new customers? Finally, meet with your key advisors over a holiday lunch. I rely on my CPA and my attorney to keep me out of trouble. They know me and my business well and have never steered me wrong.