biz ladies: tips for selling during the holidays

Today’s Biz Ladies post comes from illustrator Emily W. Martin. With the recent release of her new book, The Black Apple’s Paper Doll Primer, Emily knows how to push product for the holidays. Today she shares with us some of her personal tips for selling during the holiday season, all while keeping yourself in the holiday spirit! Thanks, Emily, for this wonderful post! — Stephanie

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Everyone in the business of selling things, from the littlest businesses to the biggest mega-retail-chains, is hit with a bit of madness from late November to late December. I’ve noticed, though, through my own experience and from observing my friends, that when one is the proprietor or proprietress of a cottage industry, our holiday challenges and woes can be rather unique. And so, in the interest of keeping the season merry rather than scary, here are a few observations and bits of advice for selling during the holiday season.

1. Dream It Up

Start imagining the upcoming season as far in advance as is practical and possible. For some people, this starts as early as the following January! Ideally, what would you like to sell? How much? Will you need extra help? It might feel a bit weird to have sugarplums dancing in your head when you’re not feeling very festive, but you have to at least start thinking about how you’d like your next holiday selling season to go.

2. A Stitch in Time

I must admit, this is a rule I’m not the best at following myself, but the earlier you can get started on provisions and working/making, the better off you’ll be. Whether this is making and stockpiling your best-selling wares, applying to and gearing up for holiday shows or sending things to the printer, it’ll make a difference. You’ll be so happy when the hustle and bustle of November and December come that you spent some of the lazy month of August getting your ducks in a row!

And planning/working ahead is also key to tip #3 . . .

3. Made By You, Especially for the Holidays

It’s only my opinion, or course, but I think it’s more exciting for your customers and more fun for you if you get into the holiday spirit at least a bit with your wares. This is an area where you must, must be working months before the holiday season. Even if you don’t plan to make a whole new line for the holiday, consider offering holiday cards or tags if you’re a designer or print-maker, peppermint and ginger-y scented concoctions for soap and perfume makers or stockings or small ornaments if you’re a stitcher. Plus, it’s a nice challenge to create something especially for the winter holidays and to apply your own sensibility to the classic themes and iconography of the season.

4. Squirrel Away Supplies

Make sure you have plenty of supplies (both for making your product and for shipping it out) on hand, enough to get you through the season. Make sure you also have enough of the supplies provided by the USPS (e.g., Priority mailers, stickers) if you use them, because they can get scarce around the holidays. It’ll help keep things moving along smoothly, and save your sanity!

5. Start Spreading the News

Even a luddite like me has an easy time getting the word out via the Internets about holiday events, new products, sales and the like. I prefer to use my blog as the means of sharing news, but there are about a zillion other ways to communicate to your customers and potential customers. Whatever you use, your e-newsletter, Twitter feed, Facebook page or blog should keep all interested parties looped about the particulars of what you’re planning for your business during the holidays. And try to start early (well, appropriately early — probably not August). You want to give people enough time to plan, make and receive their orders!

6. Consider a Sale

What about offering a jolly little sale or discount in your shop for a day or two? Or if you’re advertising during the holidays, include a coupon code buyers can use when visiting your store. It’s a nice way to kick off the shopping season and it’ll delight loyal and new customers alike.

7. Everybody Likes Presents

Think up an extra little something that you can include at events or with holiday orders — just make sure it’s practical to ship with the items you sell (e.g., it’s probably best to avoid sending tiny bottles of perfume if you sell paper goods). It’s always nice to give out little gifts this time of year, especially to thank those who support what you do.

8. Double-Time

If all goes according to plan, and you have a bang-up busy holiday rush, you’ll really need to plan on doing at least twice as much work as usual. This is especially true when it comes to packing and shipping. Plan to ship at least twice as often as usual, and this will help you keep your head above water. And be aware of the shipping deadlines, so you can answer your customer’s questions about what mail will/won’t make it there for December 25th.

9. Keep Your Wits About You

This is important all through the year, of course, but it’s especially important to remember when working with customers during the holiday shopping season. As best as you can, try to be cheerful, polite and generally have grace when met with grouchiness. Just remember that even the loveliest, most polite person can get a little impatient or frazzled when it comes to holiday shopping, shipping, etc. — that goes for customers and shop-owners.

10. Make Time for Gingerbread & Mistletoe

I have been known to say on more than one occasion that while it is wonderful to be able to make your own schedule and essentially be able to work whenever, the drawback is you can work whenever. There is often no delineation between work and home — no “finishing your shift” and no boss telling you to go home for the day or to enjoy your time off. There’s just you, some half-empty Chinese take-out boxes and 14-hour work days.

During the holidays, it’s especially important to be absolutely sure you take some time to do the things you want to do. Make cookies, put up a tree, be with the ones you love, listen to the Charlie Brown Christmas album — make the time for whatever it is that makes you happy. If working 14-hour days straight through December 25th makes you happy, then by all means, keep going and be a little worker-elf! But if not, don’t be afraid to take a little break from your shop (online or brick-and-mortar) for a few days or a week — whatever you need. By hook or by crook, just make sure you’re able to enjoy the season!

I hope this is at least a little bit helpful! Wishing you the loveliest, coziest winter holidays,

Emily W. Martin

  1. suzanne says:

    This is terrific advice!!! Thank you Emily!

  2. Tina says:

    Great article! thank you for sharing.

  3. Heather says:

    Such a good “problem” to have :) Thanks for all the good advice on how to cope! And yes.. I will be planning better for next years Holiday rush :)

  4. Debbie says:

    Thank you so much. Loved reading this article. I’m new at all this and love reading ENCOURAGING articles like this one.

  5. nathalie says:

    Lovely tips. Thanks!

  6. Stephanie says:

    This is wonderful advice! I really need to follow it for next year… I feel like the holiday season really snuck up on me this time around. I had all these grand ideas for jewelry with a holiday motif, and none of it came to fruition. I already have some fantastic ideas for next year, and this time I’m not going to procrastinate!

  7. Ashley G says:

    great and truthful advice from one of the hardest workers I know!

  8. Inge says:

    Great advice Emily. This is such a wonderful time of year, so anything I can do to make sure everyone enjoys it, including myself, I’ll be more than happy to do!

  9. Christine says:

    This is really key info. for the Holidays and I am going to make an effort to follow some of your sage advice for next year. You are indeed one of the hardest workers and you make it all look so effortless..I’m always amazed by that:)

  10. Esti says:

    Thanks for the tips. This is a very helpful and mind opening article.

  11. excellent tips, and very practical too. i KNEW i should have started holiday planning earlier! :) it can be quite the challenge while working a “regular” job but one can only use that as an excuse for so long. thank you for sharing.

  12. Brooke says:

    Great tips! No matter how much I try to plan, the holidays always seem to sneak up on me. I need to remember #10 in particular!

  13. A lovely collection of hints…. we are so new we could only wish to be that busy, but will stash this away for next year. Thankyou Emily.

  14. I really liked your article.I am just establishing an online presence now. But I have your article bookmarked and a ready reference for jingling bells in January. : D

  15. Just what I needed to read… Thanks ! Xx

  16. emily- fantastic post and very good advice indeed!

  17. ruhi mehta says:

    Thank you! Great advise!

  18. Sam says:

    Very, very good! Many thanks!

  19. Rachel H. says:

    Thanks!!! Great Read!

  20. lou says:

    thank you for the good advice. i just started my shop but will keep your tips in mind for next year. :-)

  21. Rose Kute says:

    Thanks for the awesome advice.
    I am more prepared then last yr but I am taking notes so next year I will be even more prepared. :o)

  22. Candice says:

    I’m just getting started in my paper goods shop, and saving this excellent advice! Thanks for sharing!

  23. Thanks for the wonderful tips! So glad I discovered you! Nikki xxx

  24. Great article! Just one addition:

    11. If you live in a different country to most of your customers, be prepared for a short, sharp holiday selling season!

    My sales have massively picked up in the last fortnight or so, but the UK deadline for posting to the US is on Friday :(

  25. That’s all good advice. I’ve been doing this for five years now, and I’m still amazed at how quickly the time running up to Christmas disappears. Something else I’d say is to keep your customers up to date with any sudden changes, such as the weather we’ve been experiencing in the UK which is having a knock-on effect on deliveries.

  26. I learned the hard way this year about needing to start making things pre-holiday season. I’ll be following these tips for sure for the next time around. :D

  27. Alison S says:

    Such good simple tips to follow. A little planning goes a long way. I am already thinking about the next season.

  28. I wish I had come across this sooner. Like RandomlyGenerated said, as a Canadian seller I’ve been crazy busy the last couple weeks and it should all end this Friday when the shipping deadlines end. I think I coped pretty well, but it would have been a lot easier if I was more prepared and did more work in advance. Next year, I will not procrastinate!

  29. This Christmas season is my first selling handmade books and journals. I am so grateful to you for this post, Emily. Thank you!

  30. susan says:

    Emily is a gem! I don’t have my own business right now, but this advice (especially about preparing ahead) rings true for me as I, a mother of four, have to prepare for the holidays. And, if I do ever run my own small cottage business someday, I know Emily’s advice will come in handy.

  31. Wonderful advice Emily, you definitely know what you are talking about! I did all of this last season and my sales were awesome, but this year, we moved 4 times in the past 6 months, so I just didn’t have the time or energy, so it’s pretty slow around the shop.

  32. Orissa says:

    Thanks Emily. Great tips for ‘Creatives’ preparing for and surviving the silly season. As always love Biz Ladies.

  33. kay says:

    Wonderful practical advice , thank you !

  34. Jenny says:

    Wonderful informative article. Thank you!

  35. Jenny says:

    Thank you for your insight much appreciated!

  36. Such a lovely, unpretentious holiday wake-up call. Thanks!


  37. Sherrie says:

    Great reminders & advice. It seems like the holidays are off in the distance somewhere until they are right on top of us. Emily’s advice concerning squirreling away supplies like USPS mailers down to needing to work double time are all quite helpful. Thanks!


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