4 lessons from Black Friday/Cyber Monday for small businesses

After reading up on the near 30-percent increase in online sales on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, my partners and I decided to take a crack at selling some of our products through our website as bundled packages. Our standard practice is to meet with potential clients and help them design an online marketing package totally customized to their industry and niche market.

Lesson 1: You get what You ask for.

Being owners of an Internet marketing company, we are strong advocates of using the World Wide Web to streamline an effective marketing campaign. It should reach a global audience for a fraction of the cost you would spend on a traditional campaign using television, radio, and newspaper ads. Our target for Black Friday/Cyber Monday this year was to have 1 million hits to our site, so we threw it into overdrive with a massive SEO and social media strategy. We got our million hits and more. It was thrilling, but created some problems we did not foresee.

Lesson 2: Have your technology in place.

The first thing we should have added to our Black Friday and Cyber Monday battle plan was contacting our IT specialist and giving him a heads-up. It never occurred to us that he would need to have certain systems in place. We are Internet marketers, not cable guys. You can probably guess what happened - the sudden volume of traffic to our website set off every alarm we own in virtual space. People trying to make purchases through the site started experiencing crashes in the payment gateway that made them very frustrated. We estimate we lost about 75 potential sales as a result. We could track the number of times a person tried the system until they gave up. Next time, we will give our IT department advance warning.

Lesson 3: Keep enough people on staff.

When the payment gateway failed on our website, the phone started ringing. We had four people in the office, but only three phone lines open to receive calls. It was crazy. We got hundreds of phone calls. Our time was spent taking credit card payments over the phone or instructing people how to pay through our Paypal account. It literally took hours to retrieve all the voice mail messages and return the calls.

Lesson 4: People are smart and they will find you.

We did not limit our Black Friday/Cyber Monday marketing campaign to a wide area only - we also sent a few messages out to our local city market. When people in our area could not get through to us on the phone, they looked up our address and showed up at the door. Technically, our office was closed to the public for business on Friday and Monday, but our tiny reception area was mobbed with people asking questions about how to sign up.

Overall, Black Friday and Cyber Monday were a success because we generated about $5,000 in sales that otherwise would not have happened. With better organization, we could have done better. The biggest gain was the thousands of new contacts we collected that are now part of our warm market list for follow-up.


More from Robbi Gunter:

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