Plan Ahead for Low-Stress Holidays Start thinking about the holidays long before they hit so you'll be cool and collected come December.

By Paige Arnof-Fenn

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

September means back to school, back to normal routines and the end of summer. After a few months of a slower pace for some, the fall can be a flurry of activity. All the networking groups that went on hiatus for the summer are having their monthly meetings again. Many retailers are starting to put out Halloween candy and costumes. You may not be ready to think about it yet, but the holidays are right around the corner--and it's not too early to start planning ahead.

Not to stress you out already, but for some holiday scheduling, you've already missed the boat. Every fall we hear from clients who want to be featured in holiday gift guides, those inserts or special sections that tell you about all the great gifts you can buy for the people on your list who have everything. Well, I'm sorry to tell you that most of those decisions get made over the summer--the lead times are months in advance. The good news is, there are plenty of other things you can start taking care of now that will make your holidays a lot less stressful.

Decide now whether you want to have a holiday party and if so, where. Maybe you'd prefer to do something different this year, like rent out a bowling alley or a miniature golf course for your team. There are a lot of creative options still available, before the mad rush of the season starts.

Creative holiday gift ideas for clients and colleagues are always tough to come up with at the last minute, so start brainstorming now. What will they appreciate most? A donation to a charity? A beautiful basket of food? A gift certificate to a place they enjoy? Giving unique presents can help your customers remember you in December and beyond. It's the thought that counts, so start thinking now.

Sending holiday cards this year? Get your address list ready now. Clean up your database, and confirm that all the info is still correct. Many greeting card and printing firms offer discounts if you order your cards early, so if you know how many and which design you'd like, beat the rush and order now. You'll also get a jump-start on the flood of holiday mail that hits clients if your cards are ready early.

Many organization offer volunteer programs, but if yours doesn't and you'd like to set something up, visit a local shelter, hospital or food bank to see if your team can do something to help over the holidays. It's a great way to give back to your community, and your staff will appreciate the fact that all they have to do is sign up to get involved. Everyone's lives are busy, but people do want to help others in need--especially around the holidays--so plan ahead and set up the program now.

The holidays don't have to be so crazy. You can frontload much of the work and decisions to the fall so you can actually enjoy the last month of the year. And remember that if you want to be in the gift guides next year, you'd better get going sooner than usual because those decisions get made in early summer. So here's to getting your fourth quarter off to a great start and giving yourself more time to actually enjoy the holidays. Back to school, back to work, back to having fun!

Wavy Line

Paige Arnof-Fenn is the founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls, a strategic-marketing consulting firm whose clients include Fortune 500 companies as well as early stage and emerging businesses.

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