With fourth-quarter retail sales accounting for anywhere from one-fourth to one-third of a U.S. retailer's sales, it's important to plan far enough ahead to take advantage of this robust spending period.
This thinking also applies to other holidays that are important to your business. Whether your customers spend more for Christmas, Valentine's Day, Halloween, or any other occasion, you want to ensure marketing, inventory, staffing, and systems are in place well in advance so you can capitalize on holiday shopping.
A reverse calendar offers one of the best ways to maximize your holiday sales potential.
Advantages of a Reverse Calendar
With conventional forward planning, you run the risk of not acting soon enough. For example, as you map out tasks and the time required to complete them, you might discover that your timeline takes you out three months—but the holiday is in just two.
When planning backward from the occasion, you develop a more realistic timeline. After breaking down the necessary tasks and the time needed to complete them, you know precisely when to start those activities and won't be caught off guard.
“In my experience, reverse planning tends to give you a lot more respect for your deadline, and you have a better idea of how and where to allocate resources," says Trevor Larson, CEO of Nectar HR.
Creating Your Reverse Calendar
To create a reverse calendar, begin by asking, “When do holiday sales start?" Apply that to all holidays you know are important to your business as well as those you'd like to test for results. (For a list of fun, quirky occasions, check out the Holiday Insights monthly calendars.)
“When I'm creating a reverse calendar, I usually start by listing the finish date of a project," says Daivat Dholakia, director of operations for fleet-tracking software provider Force by Mojio. "Once I've got an outline, I start setting due dates in regular increments throughout the course of the project."
Once you've selected your holidays and dates, list the promotional tasks you'll use and the time needed to execute them. Get specific. For example, go beyond “post on Instagram" to include the number of images you want to share and how much time you'll need to create them.
Be careful not to underestimate how much time you need, though, whether that's for an email campaign or receiving inventory.
“The main thing to be careful of when reverse calendaring is making sure that you allow enough time for individual tasks and account for limited resources," says Ravi Parikh, who uses the reverse-calendar technique as CEO of RoverPass, a campground-management software provider. "Plan optimistically, but plan realistically."
John Ross, CEO of Test Prep Insight, learned the hard way to add an extra week to the timeline. “Our first year, we were very aggressive with our timelines and it almost bit us in the butt," he says. "Research, aggregating information, and implementation always take more time than you think."
Next, assign responsibilities and deadlines. “It's imperative that you and your team know who's responsible for what and when," says Matt Lally, founder of TheGiftYak.
A number of tools are available to help you incorporateyour holiday-prep activities and time they'll require into your calendar. Dholakia takes advantage of Google Calendar's alerts for reminders, using color coding for visualization. Larson prefers a Gantt chart, a type of planning calendar that's popular with project managers. Ross recommends a collaborative tool such as Asana or Airtable.
Lally favors Google Sheets because all team members have easy access. “It's interactive, allows everyone to contribute, and there is no sending files back and forth," he says. "You'll often see multiple teams in the document at varying times as they all align on the next steps to get ready for a sale."
This approach may seem counterintuitive at first, but with a reverse calendar for seasonal planning, you'll never miss out on holiday sales again.