Massachusetts

The holiday forecast is bright for small businesses run by women. A new survey from American Express finds that women business owners expect strong sales in the coming weeks, and they believe this success will set the tone for 2017.

The American Express Holiday Growth Pulse, a survey of more than 1,500 small and midsize businesses, finds that the vast majority of women-owned businesses — 87 percent — expect this year’s holiday sales to equal or exceed last year’s. The holiday season typically accounts for about 20 percent of all respondents’ annual sales; more than a third of women say these sales will fuel their growth in the new year. While the top measure of holiday season success for men is adding new customers, women polled have their eyes on dual achievements: adding new customers and reaching a certain sales target.

Other noteworthy takeaways from the survey include:

Growth is the number-one goal
Small businesses have their sights firmly set on growth, and the focus is particularly strong among women business owners. Seventy-seven percent say growth is their top priority, compared to 74 percent of small companies overall. In addition, more than half (56 percent) of women business owners expect their company to grow in the next quarter, with 9 percent saying they’ll expand “in leaps and bounds.”

Businesses lean on promotions
Women-owned firms will emphasize sales and promotions to capture holiday sales, with nearly half (48 percent) saying they will need to be more aggressive in this area. Of the women-owned companies that plan to offer discounts this season, more than one-third say they’ll start offering them earlier this year than last. To promote their deals and engage customers, 65 percent will tap social media, with Facebook being the most popular platform.

Women-owned firms spend more conservatively
As they anticipate a successful holiday season, women business owners plan to thank their customers with gifts and reward employees with parties and bonuses. However, they appear to be taking a more economical approach to gifts and events than men.

Nearly three-quarters (71 percent) of women business owners plan to buy holiday gifts for their customers, and say they’ll spend a total of $3,300 on average. (Men, by comparison, say they will spend $10,400.) More than two-thirds of women will host a holiday party or get-together; they expect to spend $2,160 on average, compared to $3,650 among men. Meanwhile, 80 percent of women business owners plan to give bonuses to employees, the same share as small business owners overall.

Economy, productivity are top concerns
Despite their sunny outlook, women business owners worry about factors that could hamper their growth prospects. The slowing economy ranked highest, with nearly three in 10 citing this as a concern. Employee productivity and data security are greater concerns during the holidays than at any other time of the year. Staffing is one area where some women-owned firms intend to invest: 14 percent plan to bring on employees for the holidays, and one-third of those say they will pay their holiday staff more than last year.

Savvy business owners know that the steps they take to prepare for the holidays can lay the groundwork for future success. Improving efforts now to attract and engage customers can help achieve those growth objectives.

To learn more about the American Express Holiday Growth Pulse, visit http://about.americanexpress.com/news/pr/2016/retailers-strong-sales-this-holiday-season.aspx.

Alice Bredin is an internationally renowned small business expert and the founder of Bredin Inc., a marketing consultancy that helps Fortune 500 firms develop profitable relationships with small and medium businesses. She has advised millions of business owners over the last 20 years through her books, syndicated newspaper column, radio commentary and forums.

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