It’s that time a year again. It’s a little colder or a lot colder and folks are getting ready for the holidays.

Regardless of whether you own a retail shop, you are a lawyer, an accountant, or in the service industry, this may be the busy season for you.

Nevertheless, like many small business owners, you’re probably not ready for it. You knew it was coming. It happens the same time every year, but for some reason, it catches you unprepared.

So, why not make this year different? Here are seven action steps you can implement right now to help prepare for the chaos.

Don’t get left out in the cold – prepare now for your busy season    Tweet This

1. Stop and Make a Plan

Before anything else, stop and plan out the next few weeks.

Resist the temptation to dive in and start working. Think of yourself as a lumberjack who has a quota of trees to chop down every day. According to the late author and time management guru, Dr. Stephen R. Covey, if you “begin with the end in mind,” it is much easier to develop a pathway to success.

What exactly do you want to accomplish this busy season? Write down these objectives and goals and make sure they meet the S.M.A.R.T criteria (they must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-sensitive). You will find that simply creating this list will relieve much of your stress.

2.  Be Proactive About Decreasing Your Stress

Think back to previous seasons.

Do you have clients who typically wait until the last minute to use your services or place an order with you? Take the initiative to contact them now. Perhaps even offer them a bonus for making their purchases sooner rather than later.

View this step as a way of trying to make their life easier. You might be surprised at the number of customers who act on your offer while boosting your revenue and decreasing your stress.

3. Take Care of Yourself

Start preparing now for how you can help minimize the mental and physical stress on your body. Consider making use of food or meal delivery services.

You might explore a service like BlueApron or another similar type of service in your area. You can arrange for help with household tasks and errands (TaskRabbit provides various types of personal support services). Schedule appointments with yourself to rest and re-group.

According to a study conducted by the Wright-Patterson Medical Center in Dayton, Ohio, 87 percent of the money they analyzed was contaminated with disease and infection causing bacteria. So, if you handle cash, keep a bottle of hand sanitizer nearby. Taking simple precautions to take care of yourself can help you stay healthy and strong in the coming months.

4. Train Your Employees Now

Take some time now to train your staff on how they can contribute to a successful season.

Of course, this includes freshening up on their customer service skills, but it needs to be much more than that. You want to work on making them effective and efficient sales people and customer advocates.

Encourage your team members to invite prospects to join your VIP club or loyalty program. (Getting prospects on your email list gives you more opportunities to market to them in the future.) Teach your team how to offer upsells without coming across as scripted or pushy.

Try some role-playing exercises and make them fun. Above all else, teach them by example. Ask your employees to observe as you interact with customers. Afterwards, request their feedback and comments.

5. Do Not Sell Yourself Short

This time of year, it’s easy for entrepreneurs to fall into the discount trap.

Inevitably, the big box stores and franchises will offer substantial discounts. However, instead of focusing on their campaigns, drill drown and concentrate on the personal touch and customer service you provide.

Many of your prospective—and existing customers—are willing to pay a little extra to avoid the crowds. Benefit from your status as a local enterprise. Many consumers take pride in and are actively looking to support small businesses.

Take the opportunity now to send a personalized card to thank customers for their business and let them know you appreciate them. A service like SendOutCards or Bond can help you automate the process while still delivering a personal touch.

6. Give Your Online Presence a Checkup

Site – When was the last time you updated your website? How does it look on a mobile device?

It doesn’t matter how beautiful your site looks, if it doesn’t automatically resize on smaller screens it can deliver a negative user experience. Similarly, if your company is active in social media, you can use those platforms to promote special offers, products, or services.

Give potential customers a reason to purchase from you earlier. Make sure you provide an incentive for website visitors to give you their name and email address. You can develop a stronger connection with prospects by offering a coupon, a promotion, or a piece of free content in exchange for their contact information. Then consider delivering the incentive with pre-set, automated emails.

Online Reputation – Did you know that 88 percent people trust online reviews as much as personal reviews? Only 12 percent of people don’t read reviews before making a purchase? To many potential customers, their first impression of your business will occur before they ever meet you.

Be proactive about your online reputation.

Remember those clients with whom you are building a relationship? Ask them to leave you a review that is positive and specific to the problem that you helped them solve. It may surprise you how many of your fans will be willing to support you in this way.

The key is to speak up and ask happy customers to write a review. Perhaps the only reason they haven’t done so already is because you have not yet made the request. Remember also to ask them for referrals.  It’s a great way to let your customers give you a special gift during the busy season.

 7. Guard Your Money

In the midst of busy season success, don’t forget that lean months are likely right around the corner.

Avoid unnecessary spending, and be careful not to overestimate your inventory needs. Don’t overcommit to advertising, and put off buying new software and equipment until the rush is over.

Likewise, try to remember that with taxes and other expenses, saving one dollar is really like making two. Also, avoid using up credit simply because it is available. Unnecessary credit use can often throw entrepreneurs into the “feast or famine” cycle.

By implementing these seven steps, you can help ensure this year’s busy season will be one of your best.

You can experience the benefits of increased sales without added fuss and burnout. Your employees will know what is expected of them, you can have several new customers, and you can be financially prepared for the slow season.

The clock is ticking, and you must get started. Get the ball rolling today and maintain momentum throughout the rest of the year.

Photo Credit: nick.jackson, Twenty20