The fourth quarter of the year is the time when service businesses can hit their yearly goals, even if they’ve not been on target earlier in the year. With Black Friday / Cyber Monday, holiday spending and end-of-year budgets all in the mix, the rewards can be great, but you need to be prepared.

To help you make the most of the fourth quarter, here are some steps you can put in place to maximise your sales and avoid overwhelm, so that when the holidays start, you can relax and enjoy a break.

REVIEW EXISTING CLIENTS AND COMMITMENTS

CLIENTS: The first step in getting ready for the fourth quarter is to look at your existing workload and commitments. Check the client work you already have booked in or that is likely to book. Contact potential clients who have said they want work done at some point and let them know this is their window to book in with their deposit before the year ends. Given you are about to launch promotional plans, your availability is likely to become extremely limited and your clients will appreciate giving them a heads-up now so they can plan too. You might even add in an early bird bonus to galvanise them.

CALENDAR: Also look at your calendar for personal commitments. Now would be a good time to check with family and others in your household about their expectations for the fourth quarter, especially plans for late December and into the new year.

PERSONAL: Are there any tasks you need to do – either personal or business – that you want to complete before the fourth quarter to have them out of the way? This could be anything from a dental check-up to bringing your paperwork up to date. Think of it as clearing the runway!

The goal of this is to assess your workload and to proactively manage your clients and maximise your revenue from existing clients.

YOUR CALENDAR AND DEADLINES

Now you’re going to find out where the other ‘edges’ are in your fourth quarter and define some of your own.

DEADLINES

  • Check with your main suppliers, delivery firms or any other businesses you work with on their holiday deadlines. Put them in your calendar.
  • Based on these, set your own client deadlines with time for you to do your work and including a cushion to cover epic courier failures, mistakes and illness. Add these to your calendar.
  • Tell existing clients about your deadlines, preferably everywhere: social media platforms, social media profiles, newsletters or a one-off email to current clients.

BLACK FRIDAY / CYBER MONDAY DATES

Black Friday 2023 is Friday November 24. Mark this and Cyber Monday on Monday November 27 on your calendar.  Even if you don’t run any Black Friday promotions, this period affects spending patterns, social media ‘noise’ and ad costs, in the 10 days or more leading up to this promotional long weekend.

PLAN THE FOURTH QUARTER

Now that you know the landscape for the final three months or more of the year, you can plan. Big picture planning for most small service-based businesses is best on a few sheets of paper so you can see how everything fits together. I’ve designed a free printable planner of Q4 for 2023 which you can DOWNLOAD HERE. (No email needed).

Choose the promotions you’re going to run, if any. You may already be close to fully booked (go you!) and your main job here is to manage client expectations. If not, then look at your financial goals and plan one or more promotions that could meet those goals, given your availability.

For instance, if you are a yoga teacher who is going to run a Black Friday offer on yearly online class memberships, you might team up with a local artist to create a limited edition yoga mat: those signing up for the year receive one. To do this, you would need to find an artist, set up the commission and have at least one yoga mat printed so that you can check quality and use it to promote your offer. Then you promote it for a week or two leading up to Black Friday.

There are a HUGE number of advantages to being this organised.  For a start, you’re so much more likely to hit your revenue goals. You’re less likely to be overwhelmed and it means you can take advantage of early bird specials or bulk discounts on printing marketing pieces or telling the local newspaper about your yoga mat commission and arranging a photo shoot of you, the artist and the yoga mat.

SUPPLIES CHECK

What are all the supplies you could need for this quarter? Check printer ink, sticky tape, Sharpies, bubble wrap, brown paper, labels, scissors, batteries. Either check everything now and order or make a note on your calendar when you are going to do this.

If you usually give your suppliers a little extra something at Christmas, now would be a good time to schedule that, perhaps even using Black Friday discounts.

Ditto, if you send holiday or New Year cards, schedule in time for those which could include: planning, shooting, designing, ordering, writing and addressing.

INBOX CLEAR-OUT

An inbox is not a task list. So if you have hundreds or thousands of emails in there that want actioning, move them to a sub-folder so you don’t get drawn in every time you go to your inbox.

Going forward, you’re going to empty your inbox daily Monday to Friday or whatever your business week is. Check your inbox between one and three times a day and close it at other times. This will allow you to concentrate on the big chunks of work you need to get through without email being a distraction.

Answer anything that you can do inside a couple of minutes and for anything that will take longer, turn it into a task. Copy and paste the relevant piece of the email to the task. If you have a system that links emails like LightBlue or Daylite, that’s fabulous.

Once you’ve either replied or turned the email into a task, file the email in a sub-folder. Given that you can search for the email by content or sender, you could just have one sub-folder for ‘dealt with’ emails.

This system of handling email is based on David Allen’s Getting Things Done. It’s a fabulous book for managing your business and life generally – perhaps a holiday read?

You also need to go through your current inbox for the past month or so and triage it: either respond inside a few minutes or turn into a task. You do not want one of these coming back in a few weeks to trip you up when you’re at your busiest. Schedule your triage session in your calendar in the next few days if you can’t do this today.

BEING EFFICIENT

When you’re planning your client projects, it can be useful to keep the notes and thoughts for each project in a separate folder. Breaking down projects helps prevent overwhelm and keeps them on track.

For instance, ‘do album’ may include:
– Request favourites from client / choose favourites
– Import image folder into album design software
– Check size of album + number of pages
– Design album
– Export design as double-page spreads
– Resize spreads and save for web
– Upload to online review software, write intro blurb, publish.
– Email client with link, next steps and album deadlines.

For sets of repeating tasks such as the steps in designing an album, it can be helpful to keep a list of them which you print and tick off. Electronic task managers can have their own versions of this; for instance, Daylite has activity sets.

Although you may know all the steps, remembering them in the right order can take up space in your head that you may want for other things.

GETTING HELP

If it looks as if you have too much on your plate, there are a few things you can do.

One is to truly look at how efficient you are. For instance, designing albums and making album changes all on one day is more efficient than doing an hour a day for the week. This is because when you switch context between different tasks, it takes us time to adjust from one to the next.

This means that a one-minute email in the midst of album design is more like a five to 10-minute email as you lose your train of thought on the album. There is also something intrinsically rewarding with getting something as complex as an album design done in just one or two concentrated sittings without distractions.

If you are being efficient, then what support could you get? Concentrate on removing or reducing tasks that suck your willpower. For one person, this could be using social media hashtags, for another, it could be the thought of what to cook for dinner. Social media management or food boxes with recipes such as Hello Fresh might help.

Also keep in mind services such as Fiverr and Upwork for online business tasks and Helping Hands and local teenagers/parents to deal with physical ones such as packing orders and post office runs. Try to get your support set up before you need it.

Schedule time in your calendar for you too. This includes time off, family/friends time and workouts.  You can download a free printable planner of your 2018 fourth quarter I’ve designed just for you – no email needed HERE

NEXT STEPS

You should now have a calendar with important dates and deadlines and a set of projects, each of which contains tasks. These two pieces can help you stay on top of this quarter like a boss. Check your projects each week – it will probably take you less than 30 minutes – to make sure that everything is progressing as it should be: clients or suppliers have responded to emails and nothing you were meant to do has fallen through the cracks.

We’re all human and things WILL get lost along the way, but the weekly checks will bring you back on course quickly and help you plan your tasks for the week. Don’t forget, you can download a free printable planner of 2023 fourth quarter I’ve designed just for you here. 

I hope this helps you plan your fourth quarter success, staying sane and delivering a great service to your clients.