Man working on wrapping gifts at his desk while on the phone.
Small business owners can find themselves facing distinct challenges during the holidays and into the new year. Mastercard offer their top hacks to help tackle those challenges. — Getty Images/Maria Symchych-Navrotska

The hustle and bustle of the holiday season is over, and small business owners are gearing up to put their 2024 plans into action for the year ahead.

CO— spoke with Mastercard partners Rahama Wright, founder of Shea Yeleen; Talia Boone, founder and CEO of Postal Petals; and Mandy Bowman, Founder and CEO of Official Black Wall Street, to discuss their top strategies for starting off the year strong. Here are their seven recommended hacks for tackling challenges head-on and setting your small business up for success in 2024.

Be proactive about staffing needs

Many small businesses struggle with recruiting short-term staff during busier times of the year. Temporary stores like retail pop-up shops that target customers are often the most challenging to staff. To overcome this staffing challenge, Wright says her skincare business has taken a proactive approach, including engaging brand owners within her network.

“Recognizing the shared interest in the success of the pop-up events, we extend invitations to fellow local brands to collaborate on staffing,” Wright said. “By fostering a collaborative community, we leverage the networks and resources of these brand owners to secure additional support during the busy holiday season.”

Don’t overlook public relations as a marketing strategy

The value of traditional PR strategies as a marketing tool is something small business owners should take advantage of, especially as the year winds down. Boone, who has a background in public relations, explained that her DIY floral arrangement business has found a lot of success through positive press coverage, or earned media.

“[We] use those hits to drum up additional interest through our social media platforms and … email marketing campaigns,” Boone added. “It’s a slow drip, but we’re constantly getting really solid press coverage … [and] that gives us … the legitimacy or credibility that any new consumer would typically look for, but a small, growing business may not have right away.”

For small businesses that may be struggling to generate press coverage, Boone suggested companies take advantage of tools like HARO (Help a Reporter Out) or Qwoted, where businesses can pitch directly to press outlets for coverage.

“[These strategies allow] you to kind of get at least in the game without even having to hire a professional publicist and it could start you … getting press hits in media outlets that can be really helpful to drive traffic to your website,” Boone said.

Leverage storytelling in your marketing campaigns

Storytelling is at the core of Official Black Wall Street’s most successful marketing campaigns, especially on social media platforms. Bowman said her company used visually appealing content on Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, and other channels to showcase the Black-owned brands in its holiday gift guide this past season.

“Instead of just showcasing the product, we gave a snapshot of the brand's founding story and the owner's accomplishments to create a deeper connection between our audience and the featured brands,” she added. “By leveraging storytelling through our social media campaign, we not only raised awareness about the brands in our gift guide but also increased support and interest in our platform.”

Strive for consistency and support in customer interactions

Consistency is key when it comes to interacting with your customers. Whether that consistent communication is through monthly newsletters, follow-ups about product/service satisfaction, or a pleasant conversation at your brick-and-mortar, customers will appreciate your hands-on approach in ensuring they have the best experience interacting with your business.

“Regular and dependable communication with your customers is fundamental for building a strong and enduring relationship with your business,” Wright explained. “Whether it's through daily or weekly connections, the crucial element is maintaining a consistent presence.”

Through consistency, Wright said you will be able to reinforce your small business’s commitment to customer satisfaction, as well as establish trust and reliability with your customer base.

Similarly, Boone said her business consistently engages with its customers during the design process to help them feel supported in their creative endeavors.

“We're constantly sending out emails when our clients buy boxes [and] … following up with them with tips and tricks for how to design flowers and how to further vase life,” Boone said. “We try to make it as attainable as possible … so that it doesn't feel as overwhelming as it may initially feel when they're beginning to do something that they haven't done before.”

Regular and dependable communication with your customers is fundamental for building a strong and enduring relationship with your business. Whether it's through daily or weekly connections, the crucial element is maintaining a consistent presence.

Rahama Wright, founder, Shea Yeleen

Let customer preferences and relationships drive your business

Active listening is a fundamental part of good customer service, and Bowman’s business does this by gathering feedback from its community through social media, surveys, and direct feedback channels. What’s more important, however, is following through on those insights and feedback to improve the customer experience.“By understanding [our customers’] needs and preferences, we tailor our services to better serve them,” said Bowman. “Additionally, implementing loyalty programs, exclusive promotions, and personalized communication helps strengthen the bond with our customers and encourages repeat business, ultimately contributing to long-term success.”

Use historical data and robust tracking systems when setting your goals for the new year

Identifying goals for the new year and putting in the work now to attain those goals should be at the forefront of every small business owner’s mind right now.

“At Shea Yeleen, setting goals is a process that involves a combination of strategic planning, data-driven insights, and the implementation of robust tracking systems,” Wright explained. “The importance of being data-driven and establishing effective tracking mechanisms cannot be overstated.”

For Wright, accomplishing goals is based on these four principles:

  • Strategic planning: Align your business goals with your overall mission and vision. Break down those goals into specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) objectives. With this method, goals are well-defined and directly contribute to the overall success of the business.
  • Data-driven decision-making: Analyze historical performance data, market trends, and customer insights to inform your goals. A data-driven approach allows your business to set realistic and informed targets while considering the internal capabilities and external market conditions.
  • Tracking systems: Tracking systems and project management tools allow small businesses to organize, track, and manage their work in one place. Collaboration and project management on these types of platforms allow staff to create tasks, assign them to team members, set due dates, and monitor progress along the way.
  • Regular performance reviews: Regular performance reviews allow progress to be tracked against established goals. These reviews should include a detailed analysis of the data collected, which will allow businesses to identify areas that need improvement as well as where they are finding success.

Set your ‘North Star,’ but break down goals into smaller, more manageable steps

Setting a “North Star” goal for your business to follow is ultimately the driving force for all elements of growth, Boone said. That includes all of the small goals along the way.

I know … all of the different … elements of the growth trajectory for us,” she said. “But when I'm setting the goals — what we're going to do at the end of this week, this month, this quarter, this year — I usually will stop to think about what is the most attainable based on where we are now.”

Boone said her vision for her small business is so big that it can often feel overwhelming if she doesn’t cut it down into these digestible pieces.

“It starts to get really granular and what that does is also [help us in] reevaluating based on new opportunities,” she said. “We're constantly looking at it saying, ‘OK, how can we adjust to make sure that we're meeting these goals within the timeframe that we're talking about?’ We're constantly checking that road map to see where we are. Do we need more gas? Is the check engine light on? Is the car overheating?”

Boone said this process of continual check-ins is how she and her team stay on track toward their ultimate North Star.

“If you … just start moving towards that goal, but you never stop to check to make sure that you have the fuel and everything that you need to get there, you're just working for no reason,” Boone said. “You may come to find out that a small pivot 100 miles back would have saved you a lot of time and energy.”

Get the support you need to help achieve your business goals with resources from Mastercard's small business community.