From the October 2007 issue of Entrepreneur

If you'll be on the frenzied front lines of the battle for holiday sales and market share, it'll take more than a cool head to earn peak sales. Advance planning is essential to achieving holiday goals. Just follow these eight important steps you can take right now to lay the groundwork for success in the coming months.

1. Plan for a unified message. Your holiday marketing can do more than win sales; it can also improve your company's position in the marketplace. Take time now to review and evaluate the messages in your advertisements, direct-mail campaigns, sales materials and on your website to be sure they present an effective, unified theme.

2. Choose customer incentives. To stand out from the crowd, your holiday promotions must incorporate strong incentives. Free shipping, free gift wrap, savings for current customers, sale prices, longer hours of operation and rebates are all examples of promotional hooks that may resonate with your audience. Make sure they meet or beat what's offered by your competitors to avoid a ho-hum reaction from customers.

3. Negotiate early for media. Fourth-quarter broadcast advertising inventories are among the tightest of the year. That means you may get shut out of the most desirable programming if you don't act fast. Get "avails" from your reps now and negotiate for the best rates on radio and TV time for the entire holiday season.

4. Tune up your website. With the majority of shoppers researching products online before buying, your website may be your most important tool this holiday season. Make sure it's ready for action. Close more sales by setting up specialized landing pages for shoppers who respond to your e-mail and online promotions.

5. Update customer and prospect lists. Support your direct-mail and e-mail campaigns by updating and organizing your in-house lists. Eliminate old addresses and merge/purge multiple lists to eliminate duplications, which can turn off your recipients. If your customer list is primarily made up of postal rather than online addresses, this is a good time to contact customers for permission to e-mail.

6. Prepare e-mail promotions. E-mails with relevant and appealing content can be sent to your permission-based list as often as every two weeks during the holidays. Consider offering customer rewards or gift cards. Create the copy and layout for all your holiday e-mail promotions in advance.

7. Thank your customers. For many B2B marketers, the holidays are an important time to show appreciation to customers or clients. This year, plan ahead, and order personalized gifts for your most important clients. You could also host a customer appreciation event and give out a goody bag with a special item.

8. Show you care. It's the season for giving, so why not adopt a cause or affiliate with a nonprofit and plan a holiday charity drive? Prepare a press list, invite members of the media to an event or write a press release--then follow up by phone to pitch stories related to your charitable work directly to key press. It's a win-win that can help those in need and increase your sales.

Contact marketing expert Kim T. Gordon, author of Maximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars: The Top 50 Ways to Grow Your Small Business, at smallbusinessnow.com. Her new e-book, Big Marketing Ideas for Small Budgets, is available exclusively from Entrepreneur atsmallbizbooks.com.