Woman in Santa Hat Holding Sale SignThe holidays can have a way of sneaking up on you if you are not ready. With Labor Day, Halloween, and Thanksgiving all following on each other’s heels in quick succession, December will be here before you think. It can be aggravating to see Christmas decorations in the store before you’re ready for them, but they are a great reminder that planning ahead and preparation are your friends, especially when you are developing your holiday marketing plan.

Why do you need one?

You may be a Scrooge, but many of your customers are not. People revel in year-end celebrations and have come to expect promotions, discounts, gifts with purchase, and other freebies during this time of year. If you have a physical storefront, even a few strategic decorations can bring in more foot traffic. These holidays are a substantial part of our culture, so ignore them at your own risk.

If you decide to opt out on holiday marketing, make it a strategic decision, and communicate with your customers why you have chosen to do so. The rest of us will relax in the corner with a glass of wassail and prepare enticing holiday campaigns.

When should you start?

If you have already started working on your holiday marketing plan, you deserve a commendation. If you haven’t started, get on it. Just as you need to plan ahead to secure the lowest fares for holiday travel, the time to start bringing your holiday marketing plan resources together is now.

A thoughtfully structured campaign should develop organically. You can rush one out, but you will have to spend substantial resources in time and money to do things in a quickly. If you start now, you will save yourself some money and the headache of an accelerated production schedule.

What should you be your focus?

First define your target. For some businesses, goodwill and name recognition may be foremost as a goal. For others, increasing conversion and clickthrough rates is of the utmost importance. These objectives will be defined by your industry and depend on where your business fits in that industry continuum. It is important to delineate the purpose of your plan as that will influence what type of tactics you use to bring your plan to fruition.

Holiday-themed content should play a role in your digital presence. But it is important to remember that we live in a very pluralistic society, so take care to respectfully acknowledge the diversity of your clientele. Focusing too closely on one tradition may alienate potential clients, so play light on the rhetoric. Rather than use “Christmas” as a keyword in all your marketing, be more general by discussing “holidays.”

Who should help you?

Your targeted goal will help you define key roles in your holiday plan. Many sole proprietors will play most of those roles themselves. If you decide that a newsletter is the best way to bring information to your customers, this may be a good time to splurge on a redesign of your template or to hire a content writer to help you polish up your copy. If advertising may benefit you, this is perfect time to work with an agency (they don’t have to be big or located in a major city to do great work). Think about the jobs where you really need support or a new pair of eyes to get a fresh perspective and hire accordingly. The holidays are a great time to work with new faces if your company needs extra hands for the duration. You may find your next business partner among the seasonal help.

How should you use your holiday marketing plan?

Use it to expand your client base or strengthen your position in your industry. Every small business owner should have a plan tailored for this end-of-year period. Customers are out there seeking your service or product. Your plan should be a means to reaching new customers and solidifying established customers and it should excite you and your team to drive new business.

It can be tempting to see the holidays as a time to relax and rest, and you certainly should take time for those things, but if you can rally your team in support of a strong goal and work to accomplish it, your 2015 will be off to a stronger start.