I'm not going to lie: the holiday season isn't much fun for the typical small business owner.
It's not that we don't enjoy the holidays. Or that we don't have that special Christmas spirit. It's just that the holidays are, well, kind of costly. Many of us shut down for a period of time. Shipments don't go out the door. Business gets interrupted. Key people go on vacation. There are holiday parties and other distractions. And of course, the holidays means year end bonuses too. It's all good and fun but let's face it: it's expensive.
My business started in 1994, which means I have survived 22 holiday seasons as a business owner. And I've watched hundreds of my clients do the same. So it should be no surprise that I've learned a few things not to do this time of year. As we enter the final two weeks of the year, let me share a few holiday do's and dont's that every small business owner should know.
Don't send out holiday emails. No one is reading your holiday email. Everyone knows that you used a free service, picked out a template, uploaded a spreadsheet and blasted out the message to a thousand people in your database. It's not personal and it's not worth the effort. Stay old school: send out a nice card. Have your key people sign it. Splurge a little and get a bigger than normal size with some type of old-time holiday scene with merry English people wearing top hats. Or get a card that's local to your area. If you're too cheap to send out a nice card then send out a simple thank you email to the clients and partners that really matter to you. Again, try to make this personal. No funny reindeer. No splashy graphics.
Don't worry about religion. I'm Jewish. I love Christmas. There, I said it: I love Christmas. I looked it up on the Internet and found that Christians believe that Jesus was born on December 25th. Why is this politically incorrect? Why would anyone have a problem with this? I love the holiday season. I love Santa. I love Will Ferrell in Elf. It's okay if you wish me a Merry Christmas. In fact, when non-Jewish people go to great pains to wish me a "happy holiday," it seems kind of strange to me. If someone gets offended because you wish them a Merry Christmas then that's their problem. Celebrate Christmas for what it is: a joyous event. Even if you have to endure that stupid Paul McCartney song a thousand times.
Decorate the office. I mean it. Do it up. Your office is a drab, boring, business-y, tedious place. This is the one time of year when you can actually make it fun and festive. Hang stockings from the walls and little white, green and red flickering lights everywhere. Have your employees bring in decorations. Ask them to participate. They're falling asleep at their desks anyway. Some of us aren't allowed (and don't even ask me why or God may smite me) to have a single Christmas decoration in our homes. So going into a decorated office really puts us in the spirit. Also, have a tree. And have a "secret Santa" gift-giving thing and make sure all gifts go under the tree. Trust me, your people may be grumpy old grown-ups on the outside with mortgages and deadlines and car payments. But on the inside they're still just nine years old. And even that long term employee in accounts payable will have a twinkle in her eye when she sees a little present waiting for her under the old Christmas tree.
Don't go overboard on the office party. Holiday parties outside of the office are a drunken, silly waste of time and money. If your people want to see each other after work they can do that at happy hour. Otherwise you have a lot of people in a fancy restaurant nibbling on overpriced hors d'oeuvres and drinking too much. Nothing ever good comes from this. The quiet guy from IT gets way too loaded and behaves so outrageously that people avoid him for months afterwards in the corridors. The girls over-dress and avoid the guy from IT. Everyone is checking out everyone else's spouse and wondering how that really nice girl can possibly be married to Jake from shipping.You make "the speech" and it seems awkward and out of place. And everyone leaves early to go to a more happening bar downtown. And that's if you're in New York. If your business happens to be located anywhere else in the country you're risking a lawsuit or at the minimum a very angry spouse when an employee gets behind the wheel after one two many hard lemonades. Most people aren't having a good time anyway. And then you're stuck with a giant bill.
Instead, do the office party right. Have it in your office. Cater it nicely. Do it during the day (preferably lunch time). Keep it internal -- no spouses or family members. Make it nice and friendly and warm and professional. And for God's sake do NOT serve alcohol. Especially to the guy from IT. You'll be less awkward making "the speech." Then give everyone the rest of the day off. Because that's the best gift you can give anyone...the opportunity to be away from work and with their family.
Shut down if you can. Of course you're closed Christmas Day and New Year's Day. But try to shut down for more. Give everyone a much needed rest. Use the time to hang out with your family and all the relatives who are visiting you from out of town. And after those five minutes are up, go to the office and walk around. Look at the empty desks and deserted warehouse and enjoy the quiet. Then think about all the things you can be doing to make more money next year. Clean things up. Jot down a few objectives. Blast your favorite Abba song over the loud speaker system. No one's going to hear! Many of my clients use Christmas to re-connect with their place of business. Alone. You'll be surprised at how many great thoughts come out of it.
Give. This is the one time of year to give. Embrace it. Use the holiday season as your primary means for saying thank you. To your employees (with bonuses... another topic for another day). To your customers (with a bottle of wine or a box of chocolates to the more deserving). And to charities. Have one or two charities that your business supports and use this time to contribute a little something more. The reason why Christmas is so special is because it's the end of the year and the start of a new year. It's a time to reflect on the past and make plans for the future. And it's a time to appreciate all that you have in your professional life: the employees who have helped you succeed, the customers who pay the bills, the suppliers who deliver the products you need and your partners who help you get your work done.Thank them. Give something to them. And be grateful.
Merry Christmas everyone.
A version of this blog appeared on Inc.com.