Christmas can be a mixed blessing for small business owners and entrepreneurs. It’s the only time of year that most people will fully switch off from work pressures, as new inquiries slow and trading levels dwindle. On the other hand, some aspects of modern businesses will still require maintenance and support. It’s especially important to remain active on social media when other inbound inquiry routes are closed, and to launch ecommerce advertising campaigns on Boxing Day ahead of competitors.
Although technology means we never fully switch off from the workplace, IT can also automate and streamline administrative tasks during holiday periods. In this article, we consider some of the key responsibilities business owners face in terms of maintaining their companies throughout Christmas. We also profile scheduling software and automation tools that are capable of keeping the lights on, even when nobody’s home…
The challenge: It’s essential that websites remain operational during a period of comparatively low engagement by staff. A WordPress site that gets hacked and spammed on Christmas Eve will require attention long before everyone returns to work in January. It’s also important to ensure that a site can cope with traffic spikes, rather than being forced offline or delivering inconsistent page loading times.
The solution: Check whether any policies or protections such as antivirus packages will expire on New Year’s Eve. Ensure that WordPress sites have the latest versions of security plugins like Wordfence or Jetpack enabled, scheduling software updates for low-traffic periods. It’s also highly advisable to employ a dependable hosting company like 100TB, whose secure data centers are manned and protected every day of the year. We can easily handle sudden spikes in bandwidth, piping content to global audiences with minimal latency.
The challenge: Few of us want to be writing a tweet while carving the turkey, or drafting Facebook stories as the in-laws arrive. Yet consumers will spend increased amounts of time on social media in the absence of work and childcare commitments. Maintaining a steady presence in blogs and social profiles over Christmas is crucial for supporting brand awareness and maintaining interest among followers.
The solution: Write social content and blogs in advance. Then use scheduling software like Buffer to publish entries at strategic points throughout the holidays. Audiences will have no idea this content hasn’t been produced live, especially if it mentions events happening as the posts appear in people’s timelines such as New Year celebrations.
The challenge: As the bedrock of modern business, email is vital to the success of companies. Yet endless push notifications on mobile devices may become oppressive, especially at a time of year when other people are able to leave work in the office. Returning to an inbox full of unread messages is also a chore few people relish in January. Also, customers who get in touch on Christmas Eve won’t appreciate being ignored until January rolls around.
The solution: December is the wrong time to be launching email marketing campaigns, so lower inbound traffic levels by reducing the volume of outgoing messages. Bear in mind messages sent between Christmas and New Year will only achieve high levels of engagement if they’re directed to individuals, rather than companies.
Incoming messages should be met with automated out of office notifications, outlining when normal service will be resumed. Provide direct contact details in case of emergencies, but attempt to resolve inquiries by providing links to web pages that answer common questions like how to register an account or return an item.
The challenge: Some businesses can be safely left to tick over for ten days, but others require constant maintenance. It may be necessary to appoint a skeleton workforce to supervise activities over Christmas, which could become a source of resentment.
The solution: Every employee could make a case for taking an uninterrupted holiday, citing family commitments or tiredness. However, the show must go on. Consider asking staff to work one day each, letting them identify preferred dates in advance. Set the example by volunteering to work one day yourself, and offer incentives like double pay or two days in lieu in January.
Challenging weather and limited public transport make the festive period an optimal time to experiment with home working, wherever possible. Flexible hours may also help to soften the blow of having a long-awaited break interrupted. Tools like Slack and Trello help to manage projects remotely, and cloud-hosted documents like Google Docs enable people to work from anywhere. Finally, companies facing potential staffing shortages should avoid trying to attract new customers after early December, prioritizing existing obligations over acquiring new ones.
The challenge: Many firms are at their busiest in the weeks preceding and around Christmas, such as restaurants or delivery companies. If you’re going to run an ecommerce sale, your normal delivery partner might be overwhelmed with work. Any business is only as good as the intermediaries it relies on for successful order completions.
The solution: Sit down with partner organizations as soon as possible to discuss likely workloads and challenges throughout late December and early January. Choose partners who are honest about their resources and limitations, and form relationships based on customer service rather than cost. Undoing the damage of a bad customer experience is more expensive than doing things properly in the first place.
The challenge: Christmas Day typically sees the year’s highest streaming media volumes, as new devices are connected and families fragment to enjoy separate content. Surges in demand may strain the infrastructure of a media streaming service, compromising individual user experiences with latency and buffering. Problems may be experienced server side or client side.
The solution: Scalability should be a key attribute of any hosting partner, ensuring new servers can be opened up within a series of strategically positioned international data centers. Adaptive bitrates also help, encoding each chunk of programming at different qualities and automatically distributing the most appropriate quality for available bandwidth. Make sure that streaming services are powered by dynamic protocols like MPEG-DASH, and ensure multiple copies of popular files (and seasonal content) are available.
It’s crucial to ensure new customer registration systems are robust enough to cope with reactivating dormant accounts, identifying incorrect payment details or accepting multiple accounts at one address. This will be a new customer’s first experience of your brand, so projecting an air of professionalism and efficiency is absolutely critical.
The challenge: In certain industries, the period immediately before and after Christmas includes key trading days. Yet fulfilling last-minute orders can be hugely challenging, as the postal service and delivery firms creak under the strain. Stock levels often run out before a higher than usual volume of returns is received in the form of unwanted gifts and duplicate presents.
The solution: The best predictor of future events is past performance, so study available sales data from previous years. It might identify trends that can be pre-emptively tackled, or issues to be managed better. Drop shipping with multiple partners represents an effective way to prevent stocks running out.
It may be necessary to revise guaranteed delivery times - it’s always better to under promise and over deliver than the other way round. Don’t be afraid to set cutoff points for new orders, providing they’re trailed well in advance to avoid confusion. Returns can be streamlined by sending orders out with postage-paid address labels already printed, as part of a clearly worded returns policy. This should reduce the number of customers getting in touch over the holidays. Refunds can then be issued promptly in the New Year when financial institutions are trading normally again.
Irrespective of your business model or target audience, these are tips every entrepreneur and business owner should consider in the run-up to Christmas:
- Create a calendar, and share it among the workforce. Whether it’s in Outlook or Google Calendar, scheduling software should identify cutoff dates, final deadlines for accepting new work and periods of absence or office closure.
- Publicize opening times, and outline when people can contact you during the holidays. Put a flash on your homepage, and reiterate these dates/times via social media channels.
- Don’t leave accounts incomplete. Friday the 22nd will probably be most people’s last day in the office this year. Ensure any December invoices are submitted by this date, and preemptively settle balances due by the 31st to avoid issues in January.
- Make detailed notes on how your company performs over the holiday period. There will inevitably be lessons to learn for next year through statistical analysis or customer feedback. And while genuine mistakes are forgivable, few customers will accept a recurrence of the same problems in 2018.
- Finally, treat Christmas as an enforced period of absence. There’s little benefit in checking webmail on Christmas Day, or doing the accounts on New Year’s Eve. Don’t let clients push you into unseasonal working patterns, and make sure that important tasks are completed well in advance of the festive period. After a proper break from work, you’ll feel much more energized and enthusiastic when 2018 begins…