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Understanding Christmas pressures for SMEs

15th December 2015

Christmas is a time of celebration and relaxation for most, but it can bring extra challenges for owners of small businesses.

From supplier closures to staff holidays, the festive season can put extra pressure on SMEs, resulting in many having to forgo the celebrations.

According to research from Zurich insurance almost half (49%) of decision makers say they have worked on Christmas Day, with a staggering one in five (18%) having actually gone into work. One in ten (9%) have missed their children’s nativity play due to work pressures, and 14% have not taken any annual leave at all this year.

Managing staff

There are 3 public holidays over Christmas and New Year, and many staff will want to take additional leave around these. Winter weather can also contribute to staff sick days and absence due to an inability to make it into work in severe conditions.

Reduced staff may account for much of the extra pressure decision makers feel during the festive period, making it especially important to manage staff numbers, workloads and tasks.

Most businesses will have annual leave policies that ensure enough people remain in work to keep the business functioning. It is also advisable to make an extra effort to ensure any important work is completed, especially if the office is closing for any period of time.

Cash flow issues

Christmas bonuses, overtime pay, and extra outgoings can all increase spending over the holiday season. With banks and other businesses also under-staffed or closing over the Christmas period, this can make it difficult to chase up payments from debtors, affecting cash flow and putting strain on a business’s balance sheet.

Supplier delays and customer communication

For some SMEs, especially those in retail, Christmas may be the busiest time of year. However, while some businesses may be looking to capitalise on an upturn in demand, their suppliers could be winding down. To make sure trading can continue at the intended pace, it is important to be aware of any supplier plans, and possibly stock up in advance.

Delivery companies will be especially busy, but it is crucial to ensure customer expectations are met for those sending products via post. Liaise with delivery companies and inform customers of the latest date that orders must be made in order to receive goods in time for Christmas.

SMEs should also make sure that advance warning is given of any office closures or reduced openings. As they say, it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it and managing customer expectations is vital to avoid potential issues.

Making information prominent on a business website and sending a customer email are both recommended.

Protecting business premises

Winter weather can bring added risks for properties including escape of water from frozen pipes. If there is a limited staff presence over Christmas and New Year, problems can go undetected and cause additional damage.

Businesses should take appropriate action, such as draining outside taps and keeping central heating at an ambient temperature, to avoid incidents. If any staff are working at the business premises over the festive period, SMEs should make sure they are aware of what to do if a leak occurs, such as the location of the property’s stop cock to shut off the water.

Businesses should also be aware of the heightened risk of theft. Thieves will know that many businesses close over Christmas, giving them ample opportunity to break in. Security systems should be tested, and it may be beneficial to put some lights on timers to simulate the presence of workers.

We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

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