Image credit: Keep The Momentum by Chris Piascik
Happy New Year! (Okay, so we’re officially past the mid-point of January, but still 2013 is fresh & shiny & full of possibility!)
Hope you had a successful 2012 holiday season and you’re gearing up for an even better 2013! We, happily, had our best year yet in our little online shop… and, fingers crossed, 2013 will be even better. But, how to make it so?
One of the best lessons I’ve learnt since opening Omiyage 2.5 years ago, is not losing the momentum. There are hot spots throughout the year where shoppers are eager to spend, and low points where it feels like you’re tweeting your awesome special into the wind.
So, how do you navigate the peaks and valleys of the year and keep your momentum going through the slow times? Here are 7 tips for making the best of the year!
1. Map out the high points of the year
There’s a reason they say holidays are too commercialized these days, it’s because we’re hardwired to spend spend spend for special occasions. You may not love Valentine’s Day, but your customers might. Think ahead (think way way ahead if you’re planning to pitch to magazines) and offer your customers a solution to their holiday gift hunt. This may mean new products, special editions of things, or simply changing product descriptions to include holiday keywords.
Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Back to School, Halloween, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years
2. Don’t turn your back on sale season
Other than major holidays, there are certain times of the year when customers are in the mood to spend – Sale seasons! You might not love them. They tend to fall during precious family/holiday time and you might want to ignore them altogether. I urge you not to. Even a small discount could mean big sales.
This Boxing Week I was in the mood to buy – I had plenty of sales rolling in and wanted to treat myself to a little something. So, off I went to Etsy to browse through my favourites, looking for a deal or two (or three). Perhaps a pair of earrings, maybe my favourite holiday cards were on sale… But, almost every shop I wanted to buy from was either on vacation or wasn’t offering a special. So I didn’t buy and I bet I wasn’t alone. I ended up spending that money on new sheets from a big retailer – now both the money and the urge to buy are gone.
You should have enough wiggle room in your pricing (especially if you’re pricing your items for wholesale) to offer a decent discount to your customers without putting yourself in the poorhouse. Don’t try to compete with the big retailers – they make their money in volume and can offer huge discounts. That being said, I have found that 10% off is rarely a motivator (unless you’re selling high end goods). A discount in the region of 15-25% usually grabs the attention of potential customers.
Back to School, Black Friday/Cyber Monday, Boxing Week, End of Season sales
3. Take your vacation in low season, but don’t close your shop
We all need a little downtime. Some time to relax, refresh, have a little fun. And, perhaps, self-employed people need it most of all. It’s ever-so-hard to separate self from business and regular office hours are pretty much unheard of. So, please, take a vacation. But, please, don’t close your shop!
I know, you don’t want to have to worry about it, you want to put it out of your mind while you’re away. But here’s a little story for you – last summer (end of July to early August – deep in the mid-winter of internet land) we took a 10 day vacation. Computer off, packed up, left the building. But the shop stayed open – open with notices everywhere that we were on vacation and wouldn’t be shipping or answering emails for 10 days. And, in the midst of, what I was sure would be a sale-less week and a half, orders poured in. One of our tape sets had been featured in Canadian Living without notice – a totally amazing surprise – but, had we closed the shop, it also would have been a lost opportunity. You never know when your product is going to be featured in a magazine or on a blog or when someone is going to spread the word about how amazing you are… if someone clicks over to check out your goods and there’s nothing to see, chances are pretty good that they won’t be back. It’s so hard, in the midst of all the internet noise, to get potential customers in the door, it’s really important to make sure that the door is open when they get there.
4. Fill the slow spots with exciting products and promotions
It may take a year or two, but before long, you’ll be able to map out the highs and lows of your year. Why not fill the slow times with a little excitement? Not only will it help to keep your sales up, but also your spirits.
Celebrate milestones with your customers. Throw your shop a birthday party each year with giveaways, special items and promotions. It’s fun, it gets people talking and who doesn’t love a party – virtual or not?
Launching new offerings or limited editions in a usually dry month can help you from hitting a slump. For example – Jessika launched her Happy Healthy Entrepreneur 2013 Planner during her usual slow season to a fantastic response (but seriously, do you have yours yet?). I sell Lucky Bags in January and July – 2 super slow months for online retail – customers get excited about them, I get sales and avoid the slump.
5. New designs bring your existing customers back and new customers in
Whether you plan seasonal collections or simply special products for the various holidays, changing up your product line and introducing new products are surefire ways to garner interest and, hopefully, sales.
Keeping things fresh keeps your customers coming back to see what’s new. It gives you an angle for pitching to bloggers vs pitching something which has already been written about. And it keeps you feeling fresh and inspired. Try seasonal collections, special editions, or even limited time colour offers of your most popular products.
Sarah of My Childish had a great promotion in 2012 where she offered a special edition each month. Your customers might not buy every month, but I bet they’ll come back and see what you’ve cooked up this month. And not being forgotten is half the battle!
6. Send those newsletters out
I hate sending newsletters, and I bet I’m not alone in that. Every morning when I wake up and check my email, my inbox is filled with messages from big retailers. And, no, I don’t want to unsubscribe, because when I need a new pair of jeans or my vacuum cleaner is broken, I really will appreciate the coupon codes they deliver to me almost daily. So, when I go to send out a newsletter, I am aware of the email noise I am contributing to when I press send.
However, what your email newsletter does is remind your subscribers that you exist. Even if they don’t read it, and not everyone will, your business name simply popping up in their inbox is a great reminder. Consistent newsletters (but not too many of them – maybe one a month), special content and special promotions will ensure that your customers stay signed up and come back when they’re ready to buy.
That being said, DO NOT sign anyone up for newsletters without their permission.
7. Reward your loyal followers / customers and they’ll stay loyal
Giveaways, special promo codes, personal thank yous. There are many ways to make your customers feel appreciated.
I like to offer exclusive promo codes to my newsletter subscribers (maybe 5% more than what I offer everyone else) and giveaways to my social media followers. Little things which will help keep followers engaged.
This year, why not try out new ways to say thank you and engage with your customer base? Send handwritten thank you notes to your best customers – I bet they’ll love it! Hold surprise mini giveaways for your followers. Include a discount code or extra treat in the packages you send – I had fun with custom pencils one year and sometimes include a small package of washi tape, stickers or twine with outgoing orders. Small extras can make a big difference when it comes to loyalty – relationships are so important in the world of small business!
Do you have any tips for keeping sales up and your momentum going all year long?
Great article with some useful tips. I am not fully sold on offering a Sale. I actually find that this Sale thing has got out of hand (Black Friday, Boxing Week, Back to School). People will pay full price for a product they value! They always will. People will also always look for a deal and often enough are ONLY looking for deals. While I am not fully disagree with you, I think sales really do have a small place for handmade items. I love the idea of offering something special in the slow months/seasons. I am going to think on this one for our business (es) and see what we can come up with. Also agree with the newsletters. If you have great content, people will read and will pay attention.
@Natalie – thanks for your thoughtful comment. I agree that there’s a fine line between a sale working for your business and sale devaluing your products. Each business owner has to determine whether having a sale – and what kind of sale – works for them. I don’t think that habitually offering sales is necessarily a good thing – if your customers know that you regularly offer coupon codes, they’re not likely to ever buy at full price. But I do think that offering some sort of special during hot sales periods – when customers are hardwired to spend money – can be a good boost to your business.
Thanks to internet businesses crossing international borders, these sale periods have become a bigger “event’. In Canada, our major sale of the year was always Boxing Day/Week and Black Friday was just an American phenomenon we’d heard about. In just the past few years, we’ve seen Black Friday / Cyber Monday grow and grow and become a big event right here.
That being said, I think it’s important to remember that Black Friday shoppers and Boxing Week shoppers are different – a Black Friday shopper is probably shopping for gifts for someone else, a Boxing Week shopper is shopping for themselves. Not offering some sort of incentive to buy during these sale periods is likely to lose you some sales.
While I don’t think you should be giving your products away and devaluing your hard work, I think with healthy pricing practices, it’s a great idea to take advantage of sale seasons. It’s true that there are deal hunters who may only buy from you when your products are on sale, but they aren’t likely to be your main customers anyway, so why not embrace them when you do have a sale? You don’t have to put everything on sale – why not take these busy sale periods as an opportunity to clear out merchandise which isn’t selling? Or seasonal goods like Christmas ornaments or calendars?
This is some great advice! I’m constantly trying to remind myself that the slow months are necessary to make the busy months big. I love the idea of mapping out my year to see when I should expect to be busy, and when I can schedule time for those pesky projects that need doing. Thanks for the tips!
@Adriana – thanks for reading! It takes a couple of years to figure out the pattern, but it really does help to know when things will be slow – it makes it less of a letdown when your sales suddenly slump & you can choose to either try to drum up business or take some guilt-free time off. Wishing you a successful 2013!
I was halfway through reading this article and was thinking how useful it was and how I needed to follow these steps, then I saw you referenced me! Wow, thanks. My customers really enjoyed the monthly designs and would always stop by to see what was new. It also helped me figure out which designs people liked. There were a few designs that sold well and I’ve now included them in my permanent collection.
@sarah – I thought your monthly designs were so clever – and especially how you got your customers involved deciding what the new design for the month should be. Great way to keep them interested and to keep your business on their minds!
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