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How small business owners can get financing for their holiday and end-of-year expenses.

The holidays are the most expensive time of year for many small businesses. Even though the economy is picking up, many are still recovering from the pandemic downturn, cash flow is weak, budgets are tight and bank accounts are near empty. The business owners in our network are looking for ways to do the holidays as usual after two highly unusual years.

In this article, we’ll provide an overview of the most common things small businesses spend money on during the holiday season, how to purchase or do them cost effectively and the best financing options to pay for them if you need to borrow money.

Marketing

Marketing is typically one of the biggest expenses for small businesses during the month of December. It’s tough to break through all the holiday clutter and get noticed.

Still, it’s possible to market your products or services in a cost-effective way to drive holiday traffic.

  • Website. Most small business owners are able to update their websites on their own or with a little help from family and friends. Take a few minutes to feature your holiday offers on your home page. Visitors who are coming to your site should be able to see them right away and easily act on them.
  • Social media. One of the most cost-effective ways to reach the people in your target audience is through social media. This is true whether your business is a local or national one. All you have to do is add your credit card number to your social account and you can get started advertising right away.
  • Email marketing. Your top customers — and likely top holiday prospects — are probably on your email list. And email is basically a free form of marketing. Send the people on your list emails that include tips on how to use your products and services during the holidays and gifting ideas along with special offers and coupons.
  • Public relations. Most local news outlets like to help the small businesses in their area, especially if they’re unique. A little outreach could earn you a mention on television or a local news site that could generate a lot of activity.
  • Signage and flyers. Depending on your type of business and location, signage and flyers could get you more bang for your buck than high tech marketing options.
  • Events. If your business has a unique holiday twist, participating in a holiday market could be a smart move. You’ll have to pay for a space, but it will put you in front of people who care about the holidays.

Work with your team and get creative to come up with some cost-effective ways to generate additional holiday business.

Events

The holidays are all about getting together. Whether it’s a holiday party for employees or customer open houses, events can get pricey. Still, you don’t have to break the bank. Most customers will be happy with a homemade treat and hot cocoa on a cold day. Employees may be willing to show off their cooking skills at a potluck. You may even be able to trade the goods and services your business offers for things like food, beverages, and venues.

Whatever you do, don’t cancel these kinds of events completely. You may question the return on your investment in them, but they go a long way toward building good will with customers and employees.

Tip: Booking early, last minute or at odd times could save you money on event venues and refreshments. Some places offer discounts for booking early because they like knowing they’re going to have a full calendar prior to the holidays. Most will take dollars off if you fill seats on an odd day or time or take the place of a canceled event.

Gifts

The holidays are all about giving. It’s a smart idea to show appreciation to employees, contractors, and vendors by giving them a meaningful gift. Much like events, gifts may not pay off right away, but they’re a necessary part of doing business because they show you value your business relationships and all that these people have done to contribute to your success during the last year.

Presents don’t have to be expensive. Giving something people care about is more important than running up your business credit cards buying expensive stuff.

Equipment

The holiday rush often requires that businesses need to invest in equipment to handle increased demand.

  • Restaurants might need to add kitchen tools, dishes, and glassware.
  • Brick and mortar retailers could require some additional point of sale systems or display units.
  • Online retailers might have to buy some additional packing equipment.
  • Holiday deliveries could necessitate renting or purchasing additional vehicles.

In many cases, businesses must finally get the equipment that broke down during the year repaired prior to the holidays.

Purchases and repairs can be costly. Make sure you’ll get a reasonable return on your equipment purchase, rental, and repair costs. Consider everything, including loan interest payments, if you decide to get financing.

Tip: The end of the year can be a good time to make large equipment purchases. Check with your accountant to find out if there are any tax benefits in doing so.

Inventory

Many types of businesses have to increase their inventory at year end to keep up with demand. This is typically a smart move, especially in a year like this when people are actively shopping, and product supply is limited. If you can get access to inventory at a time like this, it could make sense, even if you have to take out a short-term loan to do so. Just take time to figure out whether you can make a profit on the goods if you have to add the value of interest payments onto their costs.

Tip: Think through all aspects of purchasing more inventory, especially if you borrow money to do it. Of course, demand and prices are high this holiday season, but you could still end up with shelves of items in January and you’ll have to cover their costs.

Staff

There are many costs associated with staffing during the holidays:

  • Additional temporary staffing to handle the holiday busy season
  • Holiday gifts and workplace events
  • Year-end bonuses and incentives
  • Additional benefits for the new year so your company can stay competitive.

Your employees are one area where you don’t want to skimp at the end of the year. They’re the lifeblood of your business, and during this time that’s flush with job opportunities, you can’t afford to lose them to more generous and attractive employers.

Discounts and promotions

While not technically an expense, holiday discounts and other promotions will cut into your profits, and you’ll have to cover the costs.

One way to limit this is by offering a free item with purchase. Consider using something you may have in inventory that isn’t selling. Of course, it can’t be an awful item no one will find attractive, but the pandemic period has left many businesses with nice items on their shelves that just didn’t move.

Another option is to offer promotions that bundle two highly profitable items at a reduced cost.

Returns

Returns are the bane of a retailer’s existence. And they do end up costing money. It’s unlikely that a returned item will be sold at its full price. So, the price reduction required to sell these items in January, February and March will have to be covered.

Additional holiday expenses

This is the small business version of the miscellaneous holiday expense list. Here are some other things you may have to pay for as the end of the year approaches:

  • Gas
  • Postage and shipping
  • Greeting cards and wrapping paper
  • Holiday decorations
  • IT support
  • Utilities (heating and additional electricity)
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Office supplies
  • Packing materials
  • Travel expenses
  • Taxes.

How to: Finance year end business expenses.

If you haven’t fully budgeted for your year-end expenses and you don’t have the working capital to pay them, or somethings popped up that you didn’t expect, here are the pros and cons of some of the ways you can finance them:

Credit cards

Credit cards can be a good way to pay for smaller business expenses like holiday dinners, entertainment, gifts and supplies. It’s a sound practice to pay off these charges quickly, so you limit the interest you have to pay to your credit card company. Never use credit cards to finance large purchases that will take you a long time to pay off. Their high interest rates make them a bad idea for bigger, longer term financing needs. A good rule of thumb is that credit cards should be used to pay for things you plan to pay off in two months, not two years.

Pro: Ideal for small incidental purchases that you plan to pay off quickly. Also helps you keep a record of business purchases.

Con: High interest rates can cost you a lot over the long haul. Also, if you don’t make your monthly payment on time, it can impact your credit score.

Tip: Always use a rewards credit card that offers perks like travel rewards that will benefit you or your business. It will help take some of the sting out of paying high interest rates.

Personal loan

Personal loans could be an option of last resort for paying holiday and end-of-year business expenses.

Pro: A personal loan may be the only way a business owner can get last-minute funding for holiday purchases.

Con: It’s never a good idea to mix business and personal finances. Doing so could harm your family’s financial security over the long term if your business has a downturn. Also, the personal finances of many business owners have been stretched thin because of the pandemic, making personal loan eligibility limited. You also may not qualify if you have a bad business credit rating or personal credit score.

Business line of credit

If you already have a business line of credit, it could be the ideal way to pay your year-end expenses. It gives you the ability to borrow money whenever you need it and pay it off over time.

Pro: This could be the best option for financing most holiday expenses.

Con: Like other loan options, if you don’t already have a business line of credit set up, it could be too late to get one to pay holiday expenses.

Small business loans

A business loan could be a reasonable option for paying holiday expenses. Depending on your personal and business credit history (you’ll be required to have good credit) you may be able to find one with a reasonable fixed interest rate and you should be able to take two years or more to pay it off.

Pro: A business loan is a sound option for companies to finance larger holiday and end-of-year expenses.

Con: You may not be able to get a business loan as quickly as you need to. The application process is often long, and it usually requires a credit check to determine your credit history. While some online lenders are able to complete this process in a day or two and deposit loan money in your checking account or savings account in one business day, other loan issuers, your bank or credits union could take weeks to complete the process.

Finally…

Before you take out any kind of loan or get financing, make sure you read all the fine print, including the total loan amount, origination fee, loan terms, repayment terms and if there are any penalties for making an early lump sum repayment. Prepayment penalties could end up costing as much as the interest you save for paying off your loan faster and in fewer installments. It will help prevent bad surprises in the new year. Also, get multiple loan offers so you can select the one with the best terms.

Tip: If you borrow during the holiday season, it could be a sign that your financial situation isn’t as good as it could be. Make it your new year’s resolution to look into debt consolidation and other financial products that can help get your business finances into better shape in the year ahead.

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