Here in New England, the leaves on the trees have turned blazing colors. They're a brilliant reminder of the change of seasons, and their time is short. Soon they'll turn brown, dry up, fall off and get blown (or raked) away.

There's a metaphor here for businesses and organizations: You can head into the fourth quarter with your year-end goals in sight and your marketing plans blazing. But wait too long and your chance to make the most of this precious time on the calendar will be gone--just like the colorful leaves.

Fall Is the Moment of Truth for Your Business
Maybe you're a B2C retailer or franchise getting ready for the holiday sales season. Or, perhaps you're a nonprofit planning a major fundraising, volunteer and membership drive through the holidays. Maybe you're an entrepreneur or B2B operation hoping to boost your bottom line by December, get into your customers' 2010 plans, and start off January with new business in the pipeline. Whatever industry or sector you're in; fall is your last chance to plan how you're going to achieve your year-end goals.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What are my goals for the rest of the year?
  • What do I need to be ready for a great 2010?

Now's the time to get an accurate read on your customers and your market so you can create an integrated marketing plan before the holidays are upon us. Here are three ways to use e-mail marketing this fall to help you achieve your year-end goals and set the stage for success in the year to come.

No. 1: Get a fresh lead on your market. There's a level of uncertainty going into the holidays this year. Some news reports say the economy is showing signs of recovery. Is this true for your business or organization? Don't wait for the media to tell you when to poke your head up over the hedge. Go straight to your best source--your customers--for real-time information you can use for smart holiday planning.

  • Use your e-mail communications to ask your customers for feedback about their holiday thinking. Are there specific items they'd like you to carry? Are they looking for gift ideas? An online survey is a great way to target your offerings.
  • Ask customers to rank or list the three most important things (products, services, or benefits) they would like from you during the next six months. Ask them whether they're budgeting for your products for 2010.
  • Ask them how much they're planning to spend during the holidays.

Fine-tune your messages, offerings and price points based on how positive or cautious your customers are feeling as they head into the holidays.

No. 2: Re-engage your current customers. Reach out to your network with fresh content that re-connects your current audience with your business or association:

  • Include a link in your e-mail for a free report, FAQ document or tip sheet that shows customers how your business has responded to the economy and their needs this past year. Include suggestions for using your products or services during the holidays.
  • Ask readers to submit their best questions or success stories related to how they use your products or services. Tell them you'll publish and respond to the best submissions in an upcoming e-newsletter, and offer "winners" a fun gift (such as a pen or mug with your logo).
  • Encourage your audience to share their experiences riding out this economy and find solutions together, looking ahead to the holidays and a better new year.

No. 3: Refresh and expand your mailing list. Go back to the basics: Are you using all the traditional methods to gather new names for your e-mail list? These include a website sign up box, a sign-up sheet at your cash register, business cards with your website address and a line that says "sign up for my newsletter" and asking permission to add people to your mailing list when you meet them at networking and industry events. Engage your staff in the effort and make asking for sign-ups part of your daily practice. And don't forget to take advantage of social media opportunities:

  • Add newsletter sign-up links to your Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn pages. This will help drive traffic back to your website.
  • If your e-mail marketing service provider offers one, use an auto responder--also known as an automated sales assistant--to follow up with new subscribers. An auto responder is a series of e-mails automatically sent out on a schedule. They're used to provide new sign ups with the information you want all your customers to have.

This fall may indeed be the right time to put a more positive spin on the economy and your business. Talk to your customers; find out how they are feeling so you'll go into the holidays on the same page as them. Demonstrating that you care about and understand their concerns builds trust and customer loyalty now, through the holidays, and into what we all hope will be a brighter new year.