From Labor Day sales to Black Friday, business owners have plenty of occasions to ramp up their marketing and offer special discounts. But for entrepreneurs who own small businesses, there’s no single day as important as Small Business Saturday. It was created just for businesses like yours! SBS is also supported by your neighbors who shop small and take a vested interest in your success as part of their community. These are people who genuinely want small businesses in their communities to succeed — all you need to do is introduce them to your company and give them an excuse to #ShopSmall at your store.
A Brief History of Small Business Saturday
Although it focuses on small businesses, Small Business Saturday was actually created by one of the nation’s largest financial institutions — American Express. It was a bold move to make in 2010 with the recession in full swing — especially considering that most consumers more concerned with making ends meet than making a difference in the lives of local retailers. The idea itself was even bolder: naming the day after Black Friday and turning it into a national movement. Despite the odds, what started as one financial institution’s promotion became a national phenomenon. Years later, Small Business Saturday is bigger than ever.
Lisette Bernstein, Vice President of Small Business Saturday at American Express, told Forbes: “In only five years, Small Business Saturday has taken on a life of its own and it’s been very exciting to see how small business owners and communities have come together to own the day and make it special.”
And that sense of community is paying off for small businesses across the country. In 2014, 88 million consumers “shopped small” on SBS, spending a total of $14.3 billion dollars on independent restaurants and retailers, up over $300 million from 2013. However, the day’s growing popularity isn’t without its drawbacks. More and more business owners are recognizing the huge gains to be made on Small Business Saturday, and they’re not just slashing prices, they’re promoting their deals in incredibly unique and exciting new ways.
In other words, if you’re a small business owner looking to boost sales on SBS, a coupon in the weekly circular and a snazzy sandwich board outside your shop just won’t cut it. There’s major income potential to be had during Small Business Saturday, but to earn your share you’ll need to get creative.
Here are a few ways you can do just that, according to the experts:
1. Register for Small Business Saturday. Any small business can participate in SBS — it’s not mandatory to register for Small Business Saturday. For this reason, many business owners skip this step and miss out on plenty of perks in the process. Printable signage will let customers know they can “shop small” with you. Logos, infographics and digital banners show visitors to your website that you’re a SBS supporter as well. AMEX even offers email templates and social media posts for you to share. By registering as a vendor, you’ll also earn a spot on their nationwide Small Business map. Consumers can use it to search for dining, shopping, entertainment, travel and services all within their zip code.
Remember, all of these perks are completely free. Despite that fact, many business owners either aren’t aware of these incentives or wrongfully believe they aren’t worth their time. This is good news for you — it means you have less competition on the Shop Small map, and you’ll stand out even more.
2. Focus on people, not prices. A giant banner promising 50% off everything in your store might bring customers through the door, but it won’t give them an incentive to come back after the sale has ended. Repeat business should be your goal, and the best way to make it happen is by building solid relationships. Luckily, consumers who are shopping on Small Business Saturday actually value real human connections.
How can you turn a business transaction into a relationship? Richard Shapiro, founder and president of The Center For Client Retention recommends you start by training your employees weeks beforehand. “Teach associates to greet people like they would welcome a new neighbor into their home. Communicate to front-line staff how important it is to smile and connect with customers as people first. It’s more important to find out about the customer than to know what’s in your inventory.”
To get the conversation rolling, “Ask customers if they have ever been in your store or to your website before, whether they purchased something or not. If someone is new, tell them more about your business, the best places to park in the future, your hours, the type of merchandise you carry, how long you have been in business, other locations, return policies or even your customer experience philosophy. It will not only provide useful information, but more importantly, create a dialog and relationship.” Long after your shop small Saturday sale has ended, the connections you make will keep your parking lot full.
3. Narrow your sights on Facebook ads. If you already use paid Facebook advertising for your small business, you know how effective it can be for building your social following and driving traffic to your website. What you probably don’t know is that by leveraging that power through targeted ads, you can set yourself up for serious success on Small Business Saturday.
Chris Smith, Director of Strategy for idfive, recommends starting a Facebook ad campaign three days before Small Business Saturday and targeting it to friends of users who already like your business’s page and who live within a short drive of your store.
“Be sure to set your targeting parameters so that you aren’t targeting Facebook users who won’t be coming anywhere near your store,” says Smith. “I’ve seen plenty of well-meaning businesses that I would actually be interested in checking out target me on Facebook but when I view their pages I realize they’re 30 miles away or more.”
Remember that customers who are fans of Small Business Saturday will be shopping local, so if you’re not actively targeting local you’re kind of missing the whole point.
4. Tweet to Win. You should definitely be tweeting before, during and after Small Business Saturday. It’s so fast and easy to get your name out there and share valuable info that there’s really no excuse not to tweet daily. However, tweeting can sometimes feel like you’re shouting into a crowd. Implementing just a few strategies can help change that.
First, create a Twitter list and name it Small Business Saturday. Add @ShopSmall (run by AMEX) to the list and any small business groups or organizations in and around your area. Then add any accounts you can find for small businesses near you. Open your list and start interacting with users at least a week before SBS. Retweet their tips, favorite their photos and occasionally highlight a complementary, non-competing business by promoting its services in a tweet.
Next, create two streams in Hootsuite — one for #SmallBizSaturday and one for #ShopSmall. Watch these tweets over the week and notice which ones are getting the most interaction, and try to emulate what they’re doing right in your own way. You can spend just 15 minutes a day on Twitter and it’ll be worth your time (connecting with customers and other businesses is definitely worthwhile).
5. Become the place to be. If you think your competitors aren’t planning serious price cuts on Small Business Saturday, be prepared to be unpleasantly surprised. But while many of them are focusing on the bottom line, you can steal the spotlight by becoming THE place to be on Small Business Saturday. To do this, ReachLocal's Tiffany Monhollon recommends you host a special event.
“Events are a great way to drive business, so why not host something fun for local customers on Small Business Saturday? It could be as simple as offering treats, customer appreciation gifts, or drawings and door prizes for shoppers who leave their name and email address throughout the day. Events are also a great way for non-retail small businesses to generate buzz and traffic — for example, an automotive repair shop could offer a customer appreciation event that day and along with offering food or refreshments do a giveaway.”
Keep in mind that the first step in getting sales at a brick-and-mortar location is getting bodies through the door — and being the place to be is a great way to draw in that foot traffic!
6. Tap into your local network. Chances are, there are plenty of small businesses in your area that work within the same industry, but don’t sell the exact same products. Small Business Saturday is the perfect time to join forces with these business owners to make yourself more visible to consumers and to offer unique incentives that you might not be able to provide completely on your own. For example, say you’re a florist. You could work together with a local bakery, tuxedo rental, bridal boutique and photographer to host a huge giveaway that includes everything a couple would need for their big day.
If a giveaway isn’t your style, you can always offer discount incentives that link you to local businesses. Using our florist example, you could offer 20% off to anyone who shares a receipt showing they purchased something that day from the local bakery. If you get the bakery owner to offer the same incentive for people showing a receipt from your business, you’ll create a referral network that will help drive sales well beyond SBS.
No matter what kind of incentive you choose, make sure each business involved takes an active role in promoting it, both through prominent, easy-to-understand signage and by posts on their website and social media pages.
In this arena, size matters. So, do some detective work to find out which businesses in your area have the largest social media following. Even if you aren’t offering a linked sale, Chris Smith says, “If one store in your neighborhood has a larger Facebook audience than most of the others, ask them if they wouldn’t mind mentioning all of the other stores that are in your area (and offer to promote their Small Business Saturday sales in exchange).”
Remember, Small Business Saturday isn’t just about creating relationships with customers. It’s also the perfect time to connect with other business owners to build a strong network of mutual support — one that leads to more referred business and more opportunities down the road.
7. Share your skills. Creating linked sales and giveaways isn’t the only way to show you support other local businesses. Using your own area of expertise to provide value to business owners is a smart way to show your active support while also positioning yourself as a leader in your community and industry. Phil Foster, CEO of Love Energy Savings has this advice:
“Don’t use it as a way to plug or overtly sell your product. Small Business Saturday is a day to champion collaborative and mutual working relationships. If everyone chose to sell their product without providing any value it would not be as popular. If you have a skill or expertise that you can share with other small businesses, which would actually benefit them, that’s what you should bring, not a sales pitch.”
Think about what you might be able to provide to other businesses that would actually boost their own efforts. A copy center could offer one free banner or sign for every small business in the area. A bakery could deliver donuts to early morning workers to get them ready for the big day. What you provide doesn’t have to be a product or service — you can host a webinar explaining how to use Facebook ads to promote for Small Business Saturday or offer up any other topic on which you have actionable insights. No matter which route you choose, you’ll make a lasting impression on your peers.
And don't forget to promote what you're doing while you're doing it — your social media profiles should be updated several times during Small Business Saturday, to continually encourage your fans and followers to come in throughout the day. This is the perfect time to dust off your step and repeat backdrop and put it to work in your store. If you need more tips on what to do or how to get started, check out TCF's Complete Guide to Event-Based Marketing (there's lots of actionable info in there!).
Small Business Saturday, Great Business Every Day
When we look at the numbers alone, it’s clear that more and more customers are participating every year and they’re spending more each time they do. The climbing numbers show no sign of falling — if anything, they’re speeding up. That’s good news for you, not just for this year’s SBS, but for all of the Small Business Saturdays in your future. Since SBS isn’t going anywhere, you have an opportunity to track your success, tweak your strategy and do an even better job next year.
You can do plenty of things to gauge the efficacy of your different strategies. If you offer more than one coupon, make sure they each carry separate codes so you can check to see which was more effective (or even which means of distribution led to the most conversions). Brush up on Google Analytics and check social referrals to your website during SBS to see which social networks brought in the most traffic. And of course you can get some info the old fashioned way, simply by asking new customers, “How did you hear about us?”
Once Small Business Saturday has ended, don’t neglect your local network. Continue to interact with them on Facebook and Twitter, refer customers to them when possible and physically walk into these businesses yourself on a regular basis to do your shopping and talk to staff. Above all, genuinely do what you can to support local businesses in your area.
Have you participated in #SBS in the past? Have a strategy that worked especially well? Comment below to share your story — and tweet your tips to @ContentFac!