The small business survival guide to Christmas

Raj Sond, general manager of First Data, gives us his small business survival guide for Christmas.

Christmas often creeps up on us and before we’ve realised it the festivities of the season are well underway. What this means for many SMEs is Christmas songs on loop, masses of shoppers in an already overcrowded store, not to mention all the extra hours put in to serve the Christmas shopping masses.

With increasing staff holidays, supplier closures, and staff party costs, it’s no surprise that SME retailers can feel super stressed rather than super festive.

It’s demoralising yet understandable that many of the UK’s SMEs find themselves under so much pressure of Christmas time. However, with some precise planning well ahead of time businesses could get involved with the yuletide merriment.

First Data conducted research revealing the struggles SMEs face over the Christmas period – with almost a quarter (23 per cent) of them admitting they do not enjoy the festivities at all – and can provide the following advice to ‘survive’ Christmas.

How prepared are you?

According to our research, a massive 53 per cent of SMEs make no business plans for the Christmas period whatsoever. During the peak season for retailers, it’s alarming that businesses aren’t preparing more methodically in advance of the season.

Having plans in place for staffing, supplies and increased activity will mean the difference between a prosperous trading period and falling into the red for many SMEs.

Thanks to the ‘Black Friday effect’ British shoppers now expect to see some sort of money-saving promotions or offers in the weeks and days before Christmas.

Ever a savvy bargain hunter, the British consumer is always shopping around for the best deal rather than remaining loyal to a particular retailer. If you are to offer your customers the competitive promotions they’re hunting for, then you must plan ahead of time.

In order to be really affective with your promotional offerings, do some analysis into your trading history. You’re going to have to use the right software to do so, but this is valuable technology for businesses small and large.

In doing so, you’re highly likely to spot trends from previous Christmas seasons – did specific products sell particularly well? A quick look into your data will help you to provide the right promotions that will ultimately increase sales, you’ll also be able to order the right stock in good time.

Does Christmas make you stressed?

Stress levels will be intrinsically linked to how well you have planned ahead of time. Getting your Christmas ducks in row in mid-summer (really!) will stand you in good stead for when the festive season kicks off – which seems to be increasingly earlier every year.

Manage your own stress levels and make your work life easier by employing technology to help you run business operations. Technology will help you with accounts, staffing, stock and customer data.

For example, if you have access to live stock levels, you’ll be able to see when certain items are running low, without manually sifting through items in your stock cupboard, making sure that you place your orders with suppliers ahead of time.

Our research revealed that over one fifth (21 per cent) of independent retailers struggle with managing increased holiday requests from staff. Undeniably, it’s common for your workforce to want to spend the festive period with family and friends, just as much as you do, and being the store owner can often mean you’re playing Scrooge when it comes to allowing holiday for your staff.

But by getting your post-Christmas preparations in place, less time will be required from your staff pre-Christmas to rearrange the shop floor, decorations and promotions.

You could also incentivise staff if they are performing well – if you can see which of your staff are selling the most, or are receiving the most tips you could offer them first choice of festive holiday dates.

Feeling overworked?

Like it or not, at the end of the year we can all feel as though we deserve a break. SME retailers have to work the hardest at this time of year, undoubtedly, and the pace can feel relentless. You need to give yourself time to wind down or face burning out at the most significant season for your business. Where there is the will, there’s a way.

There are technologies you can implement that allow remote working, even for small businesses, so you can spend time with your loved ones. Failing that, you can revert to spending long nights in the shop working out how to boost sales and keep track of stock levels!

Implementing a management platform, or investing in an EPOS (Electronic Point of Sale), provides visibility over all of the transactions you are processing. If you have oversight over sales volumes of scented candles, for example, you could add on an offer on from the comfort of your sofa.

Whether it’s sitting down to watch a festive film, heading out to watch a carol concert or catching up on your own Christmas shopping list, balancing your work and personal life is vital to ensure you make the most of the festive season. Our data shows for the 18 per cent of those who don’t enjoy Christmas, say it’s because they struggle to prioritise the business over family.

By investing in technology, you eradicate multiple stress sources quickly. Tech can really support your entire business function and free up more of your time enabling you to enjoy your time with family and friends.

Raj Sond is general manager First Data.

See also: How small businesses can keep employees motivated at Christmas

Top tips to cope with Christmas for small business owners

With staff dropping their work rate and the danger of the Christmas party getting out of hand, the festive period can leave small business owners with a major headache. Use this guide to ease the pain.

Apparently four out of five small businesses are not throwing the traditional Christmas party this year, due to worries about inappropriate behaviour (click here for more on this story). And now, further research, from YouGov on behalf of Investors in People, shows two-thirds of staff are believed to be less productive due to preoccupation with parties, presents and other festive concerns.

Wise women and men

‘Whilst it’s important to keep staff focused to ensure that the job gets done over the Christmas period, no one wants a Grinch for a manager,’ comments Ruth Spellman, Chief Executive of Investors in People UK. ‘The key to getting the best from your staff at a time when they may be distracted by planning for Christmas is to ensure that they continue to enjoy coming to work. Wise men and women understand that staff motivation is vital to all year round prosperity.’

Investors in People offers the following top tips to employers who want to get the best out of their staff during the Christmas period:

  • Promote healthy working by making time to check in with staff – make sure they are not struggling in to work with a nasty cold or flu, or suffering from lack of proper cover or support
  • Ensure that any extra time staff put in over Christmas is logged in their next review – and make sure that your employees know it has been noted
  • Don’t be a Scrooge – if you’re not awarding bonuses, why not at least give each member of staff working over Christmas a small festive gift as a token of appreciation. It need not cost you much but will show you recognise each employee’s commitment
  • Show your face – if you’re not prepared to put in the hours during the festive period, how can you expect your team to deliver?
  • Think outside the Christmas box – allow your staff to take an extra half-hour at lunchtime for present-buying and make up the time at the start or end of the day
  • Pay extra attention to those employees who work shifts during the Christmas period Bank Holidays – at a time when everyone else is celebrating with friends and family, it is important that managers keep staff motivated in their work.

Avoiding the party hangover

Shenanigans at office Christmas parties are legendary, whether they are drunken flings, altercations between colleagues or misuse of photocopiers, and, in these litigious times, employers can be forgiven for being a little wary. The advent of 24-hour drinking laws has brought further cause for concern.

‘Binge drinking impacts the health of the individual, but also the health of businesses,’ warns Pauline Pembry, Employment Services Manager for health solutions provider FirstAssist. ‘Up to 14 million days are lost each year in the UK due to alcohol-related problems, so it’s important that employers address their drink and drugs policy in time for Christmas parties and 24-hour licensing.’

Employment services firm Croner suggests that one in two parties end up with colleagues fighting, one in three with incidents of sexual harassment, and one in five with accidents involving employees.

‘With so many risks, some employers may be left wondering whether the Christmas party is worth the bother at all,’ says Richard Smith of Croner. ‘But there are a lot of simple, proactive measures that can reduce the risk of problems during and after the event.’

Below are some tips on reducing the risks of the Christmas party:

  • Make sure that you have sound disciplinary procedures in place at the outset and ensure employees are aware that they still apply during social occasions, which still count as a work activity. Tell staff beforehand that you want them to have fun but advise them of what constitutes unacceptable behaviour for employees and your own health and safety responsibilities
  • Carry out a risk assessment: inspect the venue to plan for drunken slips and trips, considering the safety of people going home after the event. It may even be worth considering any potential conflict between employees when arranging seating plans!
  • Employers and managers should go easy on the alcohol, to keep a clear eye on proceedings and set a good example
  • Consider limiting the volume of alcohol available – many people get carried away when free drinks are involved
  • Skip the mistletoe. Party flings can strain the workplace environment so it can be a good idea to outline a policy on relationships at work. Click here for more on this strategy.
  • If possible, hold the party on the eve of a non-working day, but if this isn’t possible inform staff that they should be fit to attend work the next day. However, a little understanding if staff end up feeling delicate the morning after may be required
  • Provide transport to and from the party and remind staff not to drink and drive
  • Avoid discussing matters such as promotion or salaries in such an informal environment. Off-the-cuff promises or comments can lead to trouble in the cold light of day
  • If providing food, ensure it is safe to eat. Buffets present a high risk of food poisoning. Food should not be left out at room temperature for more than 90 minutes and should be stored below 5°C.
  • If there are any complaints about behaviour, take them seriously and investigate thoroughly, employing disciplinary action if necessary

Owen Gough, SmallBusiness UK

Owen Gough

Owen was a reporter for Bonhill Group plc writing across the and titles before moving on to be a Digital Technology reporter for the

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