While major retailers may dominate the discussion during the holiday season, small business owners can still find ways for their companies to win during this pivotal period. That's not always easy -- the big kids spend a lot of money -- but there are advantages that smaller companies can leverage to achieve holiday success.

As a small-business owner or manager, it's important to realize that you probably can't compete on the same playing field as your larger competitors. They can spend more on advertising, offer lower prices, and attract more customers.

To win, you have to play a different game. You have to lean into your strengths and do things the big companies can't do.

A woman crossing a street with several shopping bags

Even small business owners can do well during the holiday shopping season if they offer things the big names can't (or don't). Image source: Getty Images.

1. Lean into your customers

Yes, you want to reach a larger audience during the holiday season, but it's very important to make sure you take care of your regulars. Communicate with those customers and make sure you have the items they're looking for at fair prices. Talk to them and make them part of your outreach effort to bring in new people.

2. Offer a great experience

Shopping at big-box retailers during the holiday season can be unpleasant. Lines are long, crowds are big, and tempers can run hot. Offer something different. Make sure your store offers a bit of calm in the storm.

Make coffee. Serve homemade cookies. Make sure that every customer gets greeted and thanked. Be something different from the mall and the big-box stores and customers will appreciate that.

3. Go above and beyond

As a small business, you can offer service that's more personal than most larger retailers. Take the time to figure out what every person who walks through your door wants. Be welcoming and offer one-on-one help without being pushy or forcing the sale.

Make sure that people have a good experience and that they leave with an item or items that actually meets their needs. If for some reason you don't have what they want, send them to another small business that does.

4. Leverage social media

Just because you can't buy a ton of television commercials or flood peoples' mailboxes with sales flyers doesn't mean you can't reach your audience. Use your social-media feeds to communicate with your customers.

Be creative and try different things. Maybe one day you can offer 10% off to anyone who visits while bringing along someone who has never been in your store. The next day offer a selective sale, and the day after that promote that you have free doughnuts.

Keep your customers engaged and make it so they want to see what you have going on that day. That can drive repeat business and strengthen your connection to your customers.

Putting in the effort can lead to big success

The big stores will have expanded hours and extra staffing. You should do the same within the framework of what makes sense for your customers. That might mean opening on a day you're normally closed or extending your hours. It should always mean that closing time is fluid -- shut the doors when the last customer has left, and never usher anyone out.

You may want to plan on being in early to restock the shelves, and on being there late to keep things clean. This is a season where money can be made; you don't want to leave it on the table because your doors were closed or you didn't have the staff needed to make the sale.

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