A majority of small business owners are looking forward to a happy holiday shopping season. With Small Business Saturday just around the corner, a new poll from my company, Manta, found that 52 percent of business owners are expecting an increase in sales this year.
That optimism, however, is not translating into holiday hiring plans. The same poll found that just 18 percent of small business owners plan to hire seasonal employees this year; of those who do plan to hire, 67 percent say they will pay the same or lower wages than in the past.
This represents a sharp decline in hiring plans compared to recent years. Last year, 28 percent of small business owners planned on hiring for the anticipated holiday rush, and in 2015, 23 percent of entrepreneurs said they would hire seasonal help.
It seems counterintuitive: The stock market has been hitting record highs all year. The economy is growing at its fastest pace in years. The consensus among companies big and small is that things are looking good.
But if sales are looking up, why is holiday hiring down?
The answer is simply that America's entrepreneurs have gotten used to doing more with less. Following the last recession and snail's-pace recovery, belt-tightening became the new normal. Small business owners learned that they don't need to hire, even with a busy holiday season ahead. They've made do with fewer employees, and things have been fine.
So, in the spirit of a lean but successful holiday shopping season, here are five ways that owners can prepare for Small Business Saturday and market their businesses on a budget.
Join forces with other local shops.
Every business in your community depends on the support of local customers. Work with your chamber of commerce, local trade group or neighborhood business association to co-promote events, collaborate on marketing efforts, and make Small Business Saturday a success for everyone. Increased awareness and foot traffic will benefit the entire community.
Celebrate with special seasonal events.
Too many business owners fall into the trap of deep discounts and holiday sales--attracting lots of one-time bargain hunters at the expense of long-term profitability. Instead, give your loyal customers an incentive to visit by making your store a holiday destination without slashing prices. Schedule a special open house, invite carolers or entertainers from a local school, and serve complimentary hot chocolate and cookies.
Pay it forward with your favorite charity.
You can celebrate the spirit of the season and make a difference in your community by teaming up with a local charity to encourage holiday giving. For example, you could accept donations at your shop for a winter coat drive or food pantry collection. You can use your marketing channels to request contributions from your customers, and ask your charitable partner to let its social followers and newsletter subscribers know they can make donations at your business.
Spread the word on social media platforms.
Social media marketing can be an effective and affordable way to let your followers know about holiday events, holiday hours, and any special merchandise you're stocking for the season. You can get extra mileage out of your posts by using the official hashtag #ShopSmall to join the conversation with other local stores and customers who are participating in Small Business Saturday.
Encourage return visits in the new year.
After all of the excitement of the holidays, January can be a lonely month for small business owners. You can encourage your customers to return in the new year with a special bounce-back reward. For example, if they spend $200 in November or December, they receive a $25 gift card to redeem in January. It's a good reward for your best customers and a reminder that you appreciate their support all year round.