“Hey, business leaders – how you doin’ this holiday season?”
We asked this question in last week’s newsletter, expecting maybe a few dozen responses. Within three days, 150 small business leaders reached out. Here’s what they had to say:
At a glance
For 93% of these small businesses, this won’t be their first holiday season. On average, they’ve been in business for 12 years. And outliers like Skyline Electric Company have been in business for 60 and counting!
These companies currently have 11 to 25 employees on average. But the smallest teams we talked to had one employee, and the biggest had 250+ people on payroll.
They represent a wide range of industries (law, medical, retail, construction, tech, and so on).
And they’re looking to hire two more team members on average before the year ends. (Only 16% don’t plan to hire anyone in that timeframe.)
When asked what they’re most concerned about these next few months, 34% said work-life imbalance, 30% worker shortages, 22% ongoing supply chain troubles, and 14% COVID-19.
And they made special note that on top of these high-profile challenges, this holiday season feels a lot busier than in years past.
The busiest slow season yet
According to Jeannette Johnson, operations manager of Sadle Real Estate, the Oregon-based real estate agency “isn’t [experiencing] the normal seasonal slowdown.” Because of this, her team isn’t getting the time they need to rest before 2022.
Christine Greene, office manager at Edwards Concrete Company, echoed Jeannette’s observation. “[Quarter four] is usually our slow time, but we currently have more ongoing projects than in prior years.”
The companies that have slowed down, like Proof Pest Control, are taking advantage of the extra bandwidth. Most of them are currently working to streamline processes and strategize for next year.
“This is our slow season,” said Mariah Vera, their director of customer service at Proof Pest Control. “And we’re spending it cleaning up systems and reflecting on what we’ll do better next year.”
Similarly, All Star Rentals is kicking off its quarter one hiring initiatives now – rather than wait until early next year. Their service & ops director, Lisa McFadden, added that they “didn’t want to do this in years past.” But as the company continues to focus on work-life balance and adjust to new operating hours, this move felt inevitable.
Meaning, even companies that have slowed down or aren’t traditionally busy during the holidays are seeing growth.
Growth poses a new challenge
Sakis Triantafyllakis, product growth director at Orfium, said their SaaS solution has taken off. To keep up, their team will hit the 250+ employee mark before January (almost double their size compared to this time last year).
But this nonstop growth is posing new challenges for small businesses. Namely, hiring quality candidates during a worker shortage and ensuring the company can meet demands amid supply chain shortages.
Like beauty brand Moitie, some are ordering “buffer inventory” or extra products to reduce stockout risks and offset these challenges. Moitie also brought on additional customer service representatives to have on standby, just in case.
Ceallaigh Pender, the owner of Salvation Wellness, added an observation that customers seem to be “more overwhelmed, frazzled, and unprepared [this year]” – just to add to the other challenges. And that even for booming businesses, “it’s taking a lot more work to keep the ship afloat.”
What SMBs are prioritizing right now
Despite all this, the small business leaders we talked to were overwhelmingly positive heading into this holiday season. In fact, 86% of small business leaders feel their companies are prepared for whatever comes their way.
When preparing, their top priorities included:
- Promoting work-life balance and employee wellbeing (37%)
- Preparing for 2022 (37%)
- Serving customers (17%)
- Turning a profit (6%)
- Putting family first (3%)
This list is the result of many companies reevaluating their company’s expectations since going remote. This includes Kitchen Makeovers.
Jessica Bilmer, the remodeling company’s operations manager, told us there’s “less pressure to produce” compared to past holiday seasons. This is primarily due to increased attention to employee wellbeing and burnout.
In response, Kitchen Makeovers is fully shutting down for two weeks this December, so employees can disconnect and rest. And while this year-end strategy is new to them, it’s something other small businesses like WeCreate Media have been doing for years.
“We always give our team the week between Christmas and New Years off, paid,” Katie Fentress, president at WeCreate Media, said. “This shows our team that we want them to have time with their family and to unplug. It also shows our clients that we genuinely care about people.”
Not every SMB shuts down for the holidays
But not every small business or business leader can afford to offer extended time off like this, especially essential service providers.
For Wilderness Medical Staffing, executive assistant Corrinda Burke told us, “every year, [our company] struggles to fill holiday coverage for remote clients. But this year, it seems more and more providers are unwilling to cover the holiday needs and would rather be home with family.”
Autism Society of North Carolina faces similar challenges. “We have low staffing numbers,” their regional staffing specialist Helena F. Drennan said. “[And it’s been] difficult because those who are working are doing more to cover those positions that remain open.”
Ask your team what they need
One way companies have protected their employees during these staffing shortages is by openly asking what employees need.
Brad Nix, COO of real estate company Path & Post, stresses that you should ask every employee their personal and professional priorities. This will reveal how you can support team members and show your appreciation this holiday season.
The leadership team at marketing firm Miss Details recently asked staff and clients about this. And to Principal Tanya Gagnon’s surprise, most people voiced that they’d rather see employee bonuses or gifts than a holiday party. So, that’s what the company is planning.
Tanya said this transparency has left her feeling “less drained [because she’s] not running around, guessing what people want.”
Put what your team says to use
The trick, however, is to not let this information go to waste. For Tanya, this means setting clear expectations with both groups. For example, if Miss Details is extra busy or short-staffed, she lets staff and clients alike know.
“I’ve found that transparent communication allows your customers to show patience and understanding,” she reflected.
Ryan Hurlbut, the founder of Safe2Day, added that whatever your employees need this holiday season, don’t leave them getting what they need to chance.
For example, most employees need to take more time off during the holidays to prevent burnout. So, Ryan suggests asking everyone to “schedule time for family and themselves weeks out.”
Freedom Home Services takes this one step further. Once these requests are in, they coordinate the necessary coverage to ensure employees enjoy their time off. Plus, they document the processes in Trainual, the award-winning training tool, to make the handoff as seamless as possible.
Don’t forget to celebrate
But all that isn’t to say you should cancel your holiday celebrations. Instead, several small business leaders provide employees with what they need as well as celebrate with the team to preserve company culture this holiday season.
There are generally two ways these leaders are going about this: praise and parties.
For example, Medix Dental IT is asking their leadership team to take a few minutes to personally shout out the individuals on their team. And NetSupport Inc is taking every opportunity to celebrate with their team.
“We recently had a virtual Halloween Happy Hour, which seems like a small thing,” said Maggie Layfield, VP of sales at NetSupport. “But it’s not! Taking even an hour to be silly, play virtual games, and show off our costumes helped [our team] feel connected.”
All of that is a really long way of saying that we learned that the holidays will always be a bit unpredictable for small businesses. This year, especially so.
But if you keep your priorities straight (for many, that means setting up for next year and putting your people first), you’ll feel prepared no matter what the holidays throw your way.