Online shopping last year was up 55 percent over the previous year for holiday shoppers as many time-crunched Santas and gift givers tried to save themselves time and money online. Many of us running online businesses run into the same scenario that brick-and-mortar stores face this time of the year--Black Friday! Yes, online stores generally have specific days of the year that they "run in the black," get out of the red (or hit the break even point) for the web development and maintenance costs all year, and sell enough goods or services to finally make it "into the black" and start showing a profit. This is particularly true if you sell products online and you have costs of goods sold, website maintenance, hosting costs and so on.

Many people who run web stores offer coupons all year. One way to create a coupon, particularly if you run an open-sourced product like Joomla, is to create a coupon code, tweet it and post it on Facebook and other social media venues (be sure to have your friends retweet it too!) so that "word gets out." Most coupons have expiration dates, and often they are set to Dec. 23.

But how can you dress up your store for the holidays? First, remember you have shoppers from all faiths. I'm not suggesting that you don't "show your Christmas spirit" if you are Christian and so on, but make your site festive. Google does a great job of this, turning its logo into a pumpkin for Halloween, a heart for Valentine's Day and so on. This is relatively easy and simple to do and should take your web designer an hour at most. Sometimes even changing the colors to holiday festive colors is enough to do the trick. If you're using a content management system, this is usually as easy as the flip of a switch on the back end.

What else can you do to get your site ready for the holidays? First, offer your money-back guarantee logo, big and bold, right there available on the home page. Make it easy for shoppers to get right to the store, and make it clear right at the top of the page what benefit they get from shopping with you. Expert advice, forums and discussion boards for support and so on. If you sell consulting services online, this is the time to add additional support materials as products because people don't generally buy consulting time as a gift for others. But, products from an expert? You bet.

If you're a small business, then you're competing with the buy.com's of the world sending out mass e-mails about $2 universal remote controls, and Amazon offering free products. So you'll want to consider a loss leader you can advertise and send out to your collection of names you've been saving all year, and then offer an upsell product or two, too. Follow the advice of the big names. Don't just send it out in a newsletter to your subscribers (and if you don't have them now, is the time to start collecting!) but tweet, post on Facebook and consider tools like ShopIt for Facebook as well. Include direct links to your products so that people interested can retweet and don't forget the hashtag that tells followers and non-followers what your product niche is. You may have several niches, and therefore several tweets with several hashtags.

Make shipping free for the holidays. Offer a no-hassle 90-day return policy. Offer to wrap and ship items directly to a third party. Offer gift certificates and gift cards to your online store, even if you're a consultant. If you have products, consider posting them on eBay as well because lots of buyers will automatically tune in there for deals, particularly on Black Friday when many eBay sellers schedule their listings. Offer online downloads of products if they're available. Offer personal gift guides, free advice and consulting on which product might be best for the consumer. If you can afford it and have enough traffic, have someone available 24/7 to be available for live chat in case of credit card issues, payment processing problems or anything else that might come up during a transaction. Make sure you're using Secure Socket Layer and an SSL Certificate for all payment transactions, and consider accepting PayPal. As sellers on eBay receive funds from buyers, they may find themselves paying out of PayPal to fund their Christmas shopping.

While you are at it, you will see more visitors to your site, so optimize your blogs, your affiliate links and all of the ways you earn residual income on your website. Happy Holidays!