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The Skills SMBs Need to Succeed
in an Unusual Holiday Season
By now, it goes without saying that this year has been one of the most challenging years in living memory for business owners and operators.
Between pandemic-driven operational restrictions and a widespread recession, it hasn't been easy for many businesses to stay afloat. But for those that have, we're starting to close in on a holiday season that promises to be unlike any before it. And that means time is growing short for them to prepare to execute a holiday business plan that will work under the present circumstances.
But before that can happen, those business owners and managers need to understand what it's going to take to succeed in this difficult sales environment. More than that – they need to know what skills they're going to need to develop or hire to acquire if they wish to make the most of the holiday season. Here's a rundown of what they need to do, and which skills are essential to their efforts.
Solidify an Online Presence
This year, with an unpredictable public health crisis in full swing during the holiday shopping season, businesses cannot know how their in-person retail operations will function through the end of the year. In some places, conditions might dictate that they can't remain open at all. For that reason, now is the time for all businesses to solidify their online presence to maintain a viable sales channel through the end of the year.
For businesses without an existing online store, step one is getting one set up. Fortunately, there are now countless ways to do this, ranging from simple plug-and-play solutions up to fully-customizable branded portals. For those choosing the former, not too much skill is required, provided the business already has a brand identity with an associated logo and color scheme.
But for those who opt to go all-in to create a customized online store that breaks out of the cookie-cutter mold and makes a serious play for consumers' attention, the following skills are essential:
- Basic and Intermediate Web Design Skills
- Graphic Design Skills
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Skills
In the interest of time, businesses should probably hire or outsource the work involved in creating a customized online store. That doesn't mean business owners should abandon efforts to add the above skills to their repertoire because they'll still come in handy as the need to maintain and update their online store arises going forward. And in any case, they should also make efforts to load-test the resulting website to make sure it won't buckle under the increased holiday shopping traffic.
Sharpen Inventory Management
Under ordinary circumstances, most businesses prepare for the holiday rush by stocking extra units of popular items to meet the anticipated holiday demand. But most of those assumptions are based on data from previous holiday seasons, and so they aren't likely to hold up amid a pandemic. On top of that, businesses that are already struggling financially may not wish to risk pre-ordering too much inventory just in case they are unable to drive enough sales volume to justify it.
The solution is for them to alter the way they handle inventory management. The best current option is something that's known as Rapid Demand Response (RDR) forecasting. But using it isn't something that every business will be able to do. Those that can tend to be the kinds of businesses that have rich real-time data streams available that capture their sales performance – which includes online retailers.
At a minimum, businesses will need to have people on staff with a solid understanding of data analytics and some experience with machine learning. As those are part of the growing data skills employers should have already been seeking for their workforce, that may not be a high hurdle. But for businesses that can't get an RDR process up and running fast enough, a good alternative may be to create a back-order system that allows shoppers to purchase out-of-stock items which can be direct-shipped to them when available. For obvious reasons, though, that should be the option of last resort.
Create and Execute a Holiday Marketing Plan
Once again, the shifting retail realities that businesses find themselves in right now mean they can't rely on tried-and-true marketing plans to bring in holiday sales this year. For one thing, they must put some more muscle behind their online stores this year if they hope to keep their sales steady while in-person shopping remains a questionable activity.
That means business owners are going to have to take crash courses in digital marketing if they don't already have employees with the right skills in place. In particular, though, they will need the following skills to execute a viable digital marketing strategy this year:
- Copywriting Skills – to create and refine the language used in their multi-channel digital campaigns
- Web Analytics Skills – to be able to measure the results of ongoing digital marketing campaigns
- Conversion Rate Optimization Skills – to make sure that every new sales lead generated by campaigns has the best chance of converting into a paying customer. One often-neglected thing is the landing pages. If the money is tight, there are a lot of good Leadpages alternatives that get the job done at a fraction of a cost.
Most importantly, businesses need to get started on their digital campaigns much earlier this year than they normally would. Without a lengthy online retail track record to build on, most businesses will take a bit of time to hit their online sales stride and that's not something they want to go through at the peak of the holiday shopping season.
The Bottom Line
Business owners and operators that had the foresight to build some or all of the above-mentioned skills in the past will find themselves much better able to adapt to the challenges that this holiday season has in store for them. Those that didn't, however, shouldn't give up.
There are plenty of talented professionals out there that would make valuable additions to any business's team in the run up to the holidays. But it's important to go out and get those individuals onboard and ready to work immediately, lest there be chaos that can erode consumers' brand trust in the business. And the clock is already ticking – so however they manage to get the necessary work done, now's the time to start doing it.
About the Author
Philip Piletic: My primary focus is a fusion of technology, small business, and marketing. I’m a writer, marketing consultant and guest author at several authority websites. You can reach me over LinkedIn.