Until 2010, that weekend between Black Friday and Cyber Monday was kind of a dead zone. No big shopping specials, half the NFL had already played its games, and nobody had much motivation to move because they’d just consumed their body weight in poultry.
American Express changed all that.
On November 27, 2010, AmEx began Small Business Saturday, a day designated for Americans to shop at small, local businesses during the height of a recession. One writer from the Tampa Bay Times said it had gained “about as much traction as a free Bernie Madoff campaign.” But over the years, Jeff Harrington has been proven wrong.
According to the National Federation of Independent Businesses, in 2015 over 95 million people patronized small businesses on Small Business Saturday, spending an estimated $16.2 billion. Or $16.2 billion more than any free Bernie Madoff campaign.
In 2011, the day was formally recognized by the U.S. Senate, and since then it has become a major retail holiday and a rallying point for local communities. With a retail pie that’s expected to reach $20 billion in coming years, every small business can find a way to be a part of Small Business Saturday. It’s just an issue of making the most of the people around you.
Change Up Your Social Media
Twitter has become as much a part of Small Business Saturday as clothing discounts and two-for-one appetizers. In 2011 it gave free ads to small businesses to promote the holiday, and in 2015 nearly a million tweets were sent in relation to it. This means getting your Twitter game on point well in advance of November 26 is crucial. If you haven’t amassed any kind of following yet, now is the time to start.
It might seem logical to start promoting your Small Business Saturday sales on social media, but this day isn’t so much about finding the best prices, as it is shopping at the businesses you like. If you’re a retailer, instead of focusing on what you’re selling, make your social media about who you are. Make videos that tell your story, or share pictures or news stories related to your business that interest you. If shoppers find a connection prior to Small Business Saturday, you’ll be one of the businesses they opt to patronize.
Use social media to show your followers and fans why small businesses are so much cooler than big ones. Take the time to communicate with people individually – especially your regular customers – and tell them you hope they stop by the store November 26. If you’re having an event, promote that on your channels, and get as many people from the community involved as you can.
Partner with Other Businesses
Small Business Saturday can become a daylong event if promoted correctly. For example, if you know a local coffee shop or restaurant is offering a Small Business Saturday brunch special, open early and have merchandise outside, specifically branded for the holiday. American Express will actually custom make “Shop Small” marketing items like balloons and other decorations for free if you contact them here. When people see you’re part of the community-wide celebration, they may just stop in on their way back from a meal.
If Small Business Saturday is approached as a team effort, the community will be more likely to come out. Have each business in the area offer something special to get people in the door, so when someone goes to a retail shop they enjoy, they walk by a gym or hair salon and see other specials. See if local bars and restaurants will offer up a free drink if you have a receipt from a participating business. The possibilities here are only limited by your creativity, and since this day is about community pride, you’ve got a captive audience.
If You Don’t Run a Retail Store
Granted, auto mechanics and tax preparers might not seem like the ideal candidates for Small Business Saturday action, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take the day to introduce yourself to the community. Offering free classes in the basics of your profession on Small Business Saturday will give you exposure on a day when everyone is thinking about shopping local. So, promote an hour where you teach the basics of preventive car maintenance, or simple tax deductions, or lawn care, and you may find those same people coming back to you when they need more help.
Gyms, salons and spas can also get people through their doors on Small Business Saturday. Offering up free classes like yoga, kickboxing, or even Zumba is a great way to give back. Spas and salons can offer discounts if people come in for service, and bigger discounts if they buy services as holiday gifts.
You can also partner with other small businesses on social media. For example, swap posts with another local business to encourage people to visit you both. A salon might partner with a clothing store for a sort of “treat yourself” promotion between the two. Or a restaurant might pair with a dog grooming shop to show pictures of pampered pooches lounging at outdoor tables. The key is getting everyone to work together, to capitalize on the excitement.
Small Business Saturday might not yet have the mania around it that Black Friday does. But that’s probably a good thing. Because when people realize shopping at a small business is a much nicer experience than lining up outside Best Buy in 20-degree weather, more of them will come out for Small Business Saturday. And if you start planning now, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be at the top of everyone’s list.