The holiday season offers a huge opportunity for retailers of all sizes, but the competition for customers has never been more intense. With major chains and digital stores offering major sales and doing whatever they can to lure in shoppers, smaller players can easily be forgotten.

As a small business owner, you have to make sure both that you're ready for the season and that your customers know what you have to offer. That means taking steps now to prepare for a season that kicks in as soon as Thanksgiving week. 

People carry shopping bags.

Start preparing for the holiday season now. Image source: Getty Images.

1. Control your inventory

One of the biggest mistakes a retailer can make is not having enough inventory to stock shelves during the holiday season. Use last year's sales and other historical data to figure out how much you need. Know which suppliers can restock you quickly during the season if sales exceed expectations, and have a backup plan when possible.

The holidays are also a time when you want to devote a small amount of shelf space to hard-to-move inventory. Consumers are looking for deals, and that gives you an opportunity to get rid of inventory that might otherwise be a total loss.

2. Have a staffing plan

In many cases, the holidays require more workers. You may be busier than usual, be open for longer hours, and need more help after you close to prepare for the next day.

The labor market is very tight, so have a plan. Talk with your existing staff about working extra hours, and start now if you need to hire additional people (and consider what perks you can offer to entice them to pick you over a larger retailer).

3. Activate your customer base

While you certainly want to attract new shoppers during the holiday season, the bulk of your sales will likely come from your regular audience. Communicate your seasonal plans to your customers. Use your email list, post signage in your store, and make sure your website is up to date.

Consider offering special sales for your best customers. You might offer your regulars better pricing on the weekend before Black Friday, or you might just extend certain specials to them  throughout the season. Be welcoming and make your customers feel like part of your extended family.

Leave it all on the table

The big retailers will be doing everything they can to sell as much as possible. You need to do the same, though that does not mean just copying what they do.

Opening on Thanksgiving, for example, may not make sense if your store isn't located where the big retailers are. That does not mean, however, that you should not consider extra hours. Open early and keep the doors open until the customers are ready to leave.

Be flexible and willing to adapt to meet customer demands. Go the extra mile when it comes to treating people well, and make sure you offer the personalized service that bigger retailers may struggle to give.