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posted: 11/12/2012 6:00 AM

Stay home one day. See how staff responds

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Do-it-yourself thoughts to share while waiting for the last leaf to fall from the tree:

• The little things count, especially in holiday retailing.

Target, Nordstrom and similar chains have promised to match prices with Amazon and other online retailers, but you can compete without damaging the company bank account. Here are two simple ideas that will help your store stand out:

Work a deal with a local bakery or chocolate shop and offer Holiday Sweets -- punch and cookies for example -- every afternoon. Put a sign in the window. Email your customers.

Sell games and other toys in bulky boxes? "Now let me help you carry these gifts to your car" is a pleasant close to the sale that will impress grandmothers -- and Moms shopping with little kids. That's another sign and another email, but you have to tell people what you're doing.

• Stay home one day. All day. Read a book. Have lunch with your spouse. Shop. Nap. Don't call in and don't take a call from the office. See how well they do without you.

• Have coffee with your key vendors. Probe their thoughts on the coming year; the marketplace; product or service innovations, and how they're doing (to judge whether you should look for new sources).

• Don't overstress about Twitter, Facebook and other social media. Instead, recognize that small business marketing really hasn't changed, even though the marketing message delivery channels have.

The basics still matter. Pick a marketing target: Current customers. Ones who haven't bought for a while. Prospects. Suppliers. You could, and likely will, have several target audiences, each with a different message.

Determine what you want to say. Offer a special reward for your top customers? Send a we-haven't-seen-you-lately message that includes an offer intended to generate a response?

Then think about message delivery. Newsletters we once spent hours -- and lots of dollars -- designing, printing and mailing now go instantly via email, but the essential content remains information that relates to the reader and sales suggestions. Postcards offering deals now are PDFs attached to an email. TV commercials now go on YouTube or on websites, but require the same attention to graphics and message.

You get the idea: First the need. Then the audience and the message. Next comes the medium, remembering that in many situations traditional media still offer the best option.

• Take an hour or two, maybe a long lunch, during the holidays and talk with your senior managers. Get their thoughts on your business' strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

• Talk to some different people, consultants and advisers you read or hear about. Illinois Small Business Development Centers offer seminars. So does SCORE. So do chambers of commerce. Find a topic and show up.

Then make 2013 the year you've been waiting for.

• Jim Kendall welcomes comments at 2012 121 Marketing Resources, Inc.

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