No one ever thinks about Santa as an experienced business owner, but he’s been running a successful enterprise for centuries. So before the holiday crunch, I sat down with Santa over a cup of hot chocolate and asked for his small business start-up advice. I also asked for a red Tesla. I’ll see if Santa comes through with the Tesla soon, but you can learn from this great entrepreneur now.
Find a niche. “When we started out,” Santa explained, “I wanted to deliver a gift to every person on the planet. Mrs. Claus wisely advised that I was thinking too big. ‘Don’t try to be all things to all people,’ she said. ‘Focus on a smaller group.’ We settled on children who celebrate Christmas and were well-behaved.” Like Santa, your start-up has a better chance of success if you focus on a specific market segment, or niche.
Start lean. “When I started out, I had dreams of developing all kinds of toys but no cash,” said Santa. “Being cash-strapped actually worked in our favor. It forced me to focus on launching one core product first–just basic wooden blocks. But that established my reputation. Over time, we expanded, based on learning from real customers. When you start out, get your product or service out the door and later make improvements. And wooden blocks are still a hit, especially with our youngest demographic.”
Develop a business plan. Part of Santa’s wild success stems from his ability to plan, follow through, and, when necessary, change course. “When kids started playing on digital devices,” said Santa, “I lost weight, I was so worried. How was my workshop going to survive?” Santa sat down and came up with a plan. He hired a team of tech elves to develop electronic devices and apps. He’s been so successful, that both Mattel and Hasbro gave Santa buy-out offers. “I don’t want to sell out, and I’m already a spokesman for Coca-Cola.”
Watch your cash flow. “We do 100 percent of our business December 24th,” said Santa. “But we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars months before that. We buy materials in August, the elves start crafting toys in September, and I pay a ton of overtime in December. I have to board the reindeer year round, Rudolph’s nose keeps shorting out, and vet bills are crazy. Thank goodness for the Affordable Reindeer Act.”
Santa’s cash flow suggestions for start-ups:
- Make cash projections of when money will come in and go out
- Don’t keep too much inventory—which ties up money—on hand
- Get a line of credit to pay for expenses when income lags
- Save during high-income periods
Think green. “Up here in the North Pole, we’re already living with climate change,” lamented Santa. “It’s not just the polar bear population that’s shrinking but my beloved reindeer too. In your start-up, seek renewable energy sources, low-waste or no-waste production methods, ways to reduce shipping use and expenses. You’ll save money, the environment, and protect Santa’s future. There’s a reason they put coal only in bad children’s stockings.”
Get help. Most people don’t realize that Mrs. Claus is not only Santa’s wife but also his CTO (chief toy officer). He relies on her, his team of well-trained elves, and of course, his reindeer.
You can’t do everything yourself, especially as your start-up grows. You have to hire good people and trust them to do their jobs. You don’t have to completely relinquish the reins—only Santa gets to fly the sleigh —but you do have to delegate at some point.
Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2016
This article originally ran in USA Today on December 14, 2016