The Ultimate Guide to Small Business Saturday
Over the past several years, Small Business Saturday evolved from a well-executed PR event to an officially recognized day by the U.S. Senate.
- Small-business owners generated an estimated $15.4 billion on Small Business Saturday in 2016.
- 93 percent of Americans believe in supporting small business.
- In 2017, 61 percent of U.S. consumers were aware of Small Business Saturday, and 82 percent of those folks planned to shop locally on the day.
That leaves only one important question:
Is your small business positioned to capitalize on the biggest consumer spending weekend of the year?
There are many ways you and your small business can benefit from the Small Business Saturday movement. Read on for the ultimate guide to leveraging the attention of Small Business Saturday to generate more customers for your small business.
A brief history of Small Business Saturday
Over the last few decades, the big holiday consumer event known as Black Friday grew to strongly favor big-box stores, and small businesses could hardly compete on their own.
In 2010, American Express launched the first Small Business Saturday as an initiative to refocus holiday spending on small and local businesses. By 2011, the United States Senate
Today, Small Business Saturday has become a staple in the American holiday shopping furor following Thanksgiving and is gaining traction in the UK for the first Saturday of December.
But that doesn’t mean the holiday needs to be confined to just the United States and the United Kingdom. Small businesses everywhere can tap into the ever-growing support for independent business success around the world
If you’re a customer-facing small business owner—even if you aren’t a retail business—you can still benefit from Small Business Saturday. Throughout the rest of this post, you’ll find tips and examples of creative small business promotion strategy to prepare your business for the big day. You’ll learn how to make sure your small business is armed to collect all your in-store and online customer leads throughout the entire holiday shopping weekend, and how to make the most of them throughout the new year.
Small business case studies
For us, Small Business Saturday holds a very special place in our hearts. We love to see small businesses succeed, which makes SBS a hallmark of our holiday season.
In 2016, Infusionsoft surveyed 2,000 small businesses to see what they were doing for SBS. We teamed up with Pollfish to survey 2,000 individuals who either own or work in small businesses around the USA to see how they approached SBS, how they prepared for the day, and how they promoted their business.
- Our biggest find: Of the small businesses that planned to promote their business for SBS, 70 percent indicated that they get the highest return on investment (ROI) from digital marketing.
- The next biggest find: Over 25 percent of small businesses wait until the last minute to decide on their promotion strategy for SBS.
However, even if you know you should be planning, sometimes it’s challenging to come up with great ideas. We decided to track down some small business owners who have maximized the Small Business Saturday opportunity to create big gains for their small businesses.
Here are some inspirational ideas from real-world small businesses making the most of local small business promotion on SBS.
Inspirational Idea No. 1: Shining a spotlight on Portland’s small businesses
Betsy Cross, co-owner and creative director, Betsy & iya + Little Boxes
“Several years ago, my partner and I created a Black Friday and Small Business Saturday event for local retail shops (like our own) in Portland, Oregon, called Little Boxes. We saw a need for a spotlight to be shone on the smaller local shops in our city on a day historically known as the biggest shopping day of the year.
“The event—a huge prize raffle and cross-promotional discount—was an instant hit and five years later, it has become a household tradition. For two days after Thanksgiving, shoppers can unlock 10 percent off at participating businesses and enter to win a raffle full of incredible prizes (including travel packages, shopping sprees, and an iPad Air).
“Over 200 Portland shops participated last year and we anticipate even more this year, with an expected 20,000-plus shoppers and almost 6,000 purchases (an additional 23 purchases per participating shop) topping last year’s $323,500 of additional revenue (over $15,000 per store).
“People, who typically avoided the hubbub of big box shopping on Black Friday, now spend their time and money perusing our shops on those days and people who love the door buster sales come to our shops after. It's a massive coming together of the community and something that has helped our shops' bottom lines as we dive into the holiday season.
“We are also working on developing a package we can sell to other cities around the United States starting in 2016 because we've had so much interest around it already.”
Cross’ top SBS success tips:
- Consider creating an app: We offer both Android and iPhone apps to help shoppers enter the raffle, track purchases and access the neighborhood map.
- Encourage shopping beyond SBS: Paper Passports feature coupons from over 40 participating Little Boxes shops. The coupons don’t expire until the end of December, encouraging people to return to these shops after the event.
- Make your event about more than just shopping: Consider a promotional strategy that highlights all aspects of your experience. We focus on the idea that while you may or may not make a purchase during our event, you will enjoy yourself. This is the story we tell to the combine 10,700+ Little Boxes Social Media Followers.
Inspirational Idea No. 2: Don’t let a rural location hold you back
Katy Kassian, Buffalo Gals Mercantile
"My idea was born of frustration. Since we are 45 miles to 'town' and I only go once a week, attracting attention is a bit of a challenge. Ninety-five percent of my business comes from word-of-mouth or Facebook. A couple years ago I talked to some friends who are also small independently owned businesses, who just happen to also have rural roots.
“I decided right then that I could participate in SBS too, just differently. We have been promoting and cross-promoting each other’s businesses and running specials and heavily marketing on our social media sites. It was a pretty simple campaign. Promote the page and constantly use the hashtags #shopsmall/#shoplocal everywhere we could, as well as constantly talking about each other. It's pretty simple really—promote your fellow small business and they will return the favor. There's room for all of us.
Gift basket created with donations from 10 rural small businesses.
“Last year I also asked each of my fellow businesses to donate an item and $5 each (to cover shipping the basket to the winner) to a gift basket that we would run as a Facebook promotion. In the end, we had jewelry, coffee, biscotti, and cookies in the basket along with business cards and flyers from all of us.
It has become a tradition amongst us to constantly come up with new promotions. This year will be no different, just more creative!”
Kassian’s top SBS success tips:
- Don’t be afraid to reach out: You'd be surprised at how many want to try something along these lines. Some will say no, but more will say yes.
- It doesn’t end on Small Business Saturday: Don’t forget to send thank-you notes and share positive posts. Just because the event is over, doesn't mean it's over—you can cross-promote any day of the year and lead into the next event.
- Focus on lead generation: In hindsight, I wish I had offered some sort of an opt-in for email or newsletter to make the most of the new connections.
- Take it beyond social: Talk about your promotion—not just in social media, but also to people you see. Mention what you’re doing and tell people where to find the information; many people are happy to help you spread the word.
Inspirational Idea No. 3: Take advantage of the power of Instagram
Tiffany Sartor, owner, Posh Peyton
“After discovering some really amazing small businesses on Instagram, I had the idea to create a way to generate more brand awareness around our products. With Small Business Saturday rapidly approaching, I thought that a contest or a giveaway would be a great way to collaborate with other small businesses in order to expand our reach.
“I reached out to all of the small businesses whose brands I loved and thought to be synonymous with ours. After approaching them to see if they wanted to participate in the Small Business Saturday Loop Giveaway, they were all very excited and immediately agreed.
The Instagram image Sartor used to promote the giveaway.
“The giveaway included 11 other small businesses. Each participating business selected one winner to receive a complimentary item of their choice—for a total of 12 businesses and 12 winners.
“To participate, followers were required to:
- Follow each business
- Like each loop giveaway post on each of the businesses page
- Tag three friends, under each loop giveaway post on each of the businesses page.
“Participants in the giveaway and a ton of onlookers equated to a large crowd of new curious shoppers that flocked to our site to find out more about us. This resulted in an increase in sales. Had we not hosted/participated in the giveaway, many of our new customers would have never discovered us."
Sartor’s top SBS Success tips:
- Embrace partnerships: Partner with some fun shops that have products that are synonymous with the style and content of your brand.
- Don’t forget to have fun: Simply have fun with it. If your sales don’t immediately boom, just consider it free marketing and more exposure for your brand.
- Try gift cards: If you can’t provide a physical product, gift cards are always an awesome alternative.
- Use the power of social media to your advantage: Make sure your giveaway campaigns feature hashtags like #SBS18 and #[your brand name].
Inspirational Idea No. 4: Don’t overlook the power of gifts
Roberta Perry, Scrubz™
“Oh how we love Small Business Saturday! We register with American Express every year to be recognized as a participating Small Business, and I even get my own card cranked up and ready. We start advertising on all social media platforms. We send out direct emails and have in-store signage. Our sales more than triple with the holiday promotion days and we love that our existing customers give so many of our products as gifts.
“We focus on creating some simple, yet fun, specials:
- Twice as nice: Combine 2 items, wrapping with a ribbon and offering two for the price of one.
- Tiered discounts: Spend up to $100, save 10 percent; Spend over $100, save 15 percent; Spend over $250, save 25 percent
- Special holiday items: Repackage your items in a special way. We’ve created a wreath or menorah made up of mini Scrubz™ jars and product and Frost the Scrubzman™, which has two small jars or products stacked with a lip balm as the hat.
- Special treatment: Offer a holiday card and gift wrapping for free.
- Contests: Offer contests to allow participating customers to win free product.”
Roberta’s top SBS success tips:
- Be social: We post our Small Business Saturday graphic all over social media.
- Be accessible and unique: We have earlier and later store hours and host decorating classes too.
- Use all available platforms: We share our specials in store, via emails to our list and in social posts.
Inspirational Idea No. 5: Keep it simple
Andre Kay, CEO/CMO, Sociallybuzz
“Sociallybuzz is a social media management, campaign, and reputation company. We have been helping our small business clients execute successful Small Business Saturday planning for the past two years.
“We recommend businesses to start their Small Business Saturday promotion early. We’ve done many promotions, from charity programs (the business will make a donation when a customer makes a purchase on SBS), as well as contests and discounts. These helped to build more loyal customers and increased sales while giving back to the community.
“The local community is very important to growth of small businesses. Small Business Saturday does not have to be one day; it can be every day.
“Last year we helped a local restaurant develop and execute their SBS promotion:
Promotion: Free dessert with purchase of $20 or more on Small Business Saturday.
Results: Though simple—this promotion was a huge success—with a combined social reach of 17,600 and 200-plus new and returning customers taking advantage of the promotion."
Andre’s top SBS success tips:
- Have fun: Don’t overthink it; do what is natural for your business. You don’t have to give away anything big, just to match up with other small businesses. Show your community and customers that you care about them.
- Make the most of theShop Small website: Get access to customized marketing materials and Printable signage to help promote the movement to walk-up customers. We created printable posters for the doors and windows and printed the custom invitation sign provided by Amex and employees took pictures with customers.
- Create awareness on social channels: We used the custom Shop Small awareness social media banners provided by Amex to update Facebook and Twitter accounts. We also posted about the business' involvement with the movement and got customers excited.
- Get Excited: We made a huge deal about it in the store and posted the business’ involvement with the movement on social—this got customers excited.
Prepare your business for Small Business Saturday now
Now, let’s dig in to how you’re going to approach your small business promotion this Small Business Saturday with these five things you should be doing to prepare for the big day.
1. Start promoting early
According to a 2016 SBS survey of 2,000 small business owners and employees, 70 percent of those who planned to promote their business for SBS indicated they got their highest return on investment (ROI) from digital marketing. However, more than 25 percent of these respondents also said they waited until the last minute to promote for SBS.
If that sounds like you, don’t worry. There are plenty of resources for plug-and-play marketing templates available on the internet, and American Express will even help you create your own, customized SBS marketing materials, both physical and digital.
2. Create a special offer and plan your campaign
Think about it. Aren’t you more likely to visit a store (or website) or make a purchase when you’re offered a deal, like 30 percent off, or two-for-one? And during the holidays, it’s often the only reason to shop somewhere, since sales are everywhere. Chances are, this is true for your customers, too.
Creating a special offer for SBS doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, some of the most common campaigns that businesses we surveyed have used are also simple to put together:
- Coupon/promo code: Offer customers a coupon or promotional code they can redeem at checkout. This limits the number of people who can cash in on your sale.
- Limited time offer: Try offering a sale that lasts for only a specific length of time. You could offer a deal for the entire day of SBS or even a flash sale that only lasts for a few hours. This creates a sense of urgency and encourages customers to act fast.
- Buy-one-get-one (BOGO): Pay full price for one item and get the second free or at a steep discount.
- Shipping: If you sell products online, consider offering free shipping specifically on Small Business Saturday, or on orders of $50 or more throughout the holiday season. Who doesn’t want to save money where they can?
- Discount on future purchases: By providing customers with a coupon that doesn’t go into effect until a later date, it encourages them to repeat their business with you a separate time, or even give their coupon to someone else (another prospect for you!) to benefit from.
Each of these campaigns achieves different objectives, and you can create a promotion around one idea or combine them. These kinds of promotions work well either to drive traffic to an online storefront or to a brick-and-mortar location.
While product-based businesses seem to benefit the most from these kinds of promotions, businesses that provide services can gain from them, too. For example, a cleaning service could use a coupon for a discounted post-holiday party cleaning. The terms of the discount could require the customer to purchase on SBS and use the service before January 31.
Consider your objectives for SBS as you choose the promotion. If you have a brick and mortar, a coupon is a powerful way to drive traffic to your store. A limited time offer, however, can work well for driving traffic to your website, especially if the offer ends at midnight when your physical store may be closed.
3. Prepare your inventory
You can’t sell what you don’t have, so you have to stock up. But on the other hand, you don’t want to have an excess of inventory leading into the new year. Whether you’re expecting customers in-store or online, it’s crucial to make sure your inventory is well-stocked and well-organized.
A good way to make sure you’re ordering the right kinds and the right amounts of inventory is to use predictive analytics, a set of technologies that let businesses use historical data to make predictions on customer behavior and spending patterns.
Don’t let the techno-jargon scare you.
Another way to ensure your inventory management is staying on track and your customers stay happy is to streamline fulfillment. E-commerce shipping solutions like Shopify, USPS, and WooCommerce can plug right into your inventory management platform to help you do just that.
4. Segment your list
Sending a single promotional message to everyone on your list may be the easiest and simplest way to promote your sale, but you can increase the number of people who actually respond to your promotion by segmenting your audiences and marketing to them about something relevant to their interests and needs.
To segment your audience, you’ll need to identify chunks of people who share common affinities. Some of these may include:
- Purchase history: Have they purchased one type of product or service from you? Perhaps SBS is a good time to offer them a coupon for an upsell or complementary product.
- Male/Female: If your business has gender-specific products, you can use segmentation to personalize the promotional emails. For example, you can include featured products that target the specific gender you’ve segmented.
- Geographic location: If you have multiple locations, you can suggest the nearest location to your recipient to help them get to your store quickly or aid them as they plan their shopping route for SBS.
- Weather: As you get closer to Small Business Saturday, and the holidays generally, weather plays a distinct role in how people experience this time of year. If some of your list is in colder climates, like Chicago, they could have a different response to your offer than people in warmer climates, like San Diego. You may be able to optimize your holiday offer by keeping the weather in mind.
By segmenting your audience, you can craft a message that is more relevant to them, so they’ll be more likely to consider what you have to offer.
For example, if you’re based in the Bay Area, but you know you have a segment of contacts based in the Northeastern United States where a cold snap is about to hit, you can push relevant materials to that group promoting your winter and cold-weather gear.
Similarly, if you’re aware of a group of customers who have all previously purchased something similar, like a new bedding set, they may be interested in a discount on sheets or drapes. The more you know about your customers, the more power you have to shape your offers to their needs and increase the likelihood that they’ll respond.
5. Get your community involved
Operating your promotions on Small Business Saturday doesn’t have to be a solo venture. Consider deploying a “co-opetition,” and partner with other businesses that may traditionally be considered your competition.
For example, if you run a hair salon, consider partnering with complementary business, like a local spa or makeup artist, for bundle deals or cross-promotions.
The operative keywords here are complementary and local. Co-opetition works best when the other partner is in the same realm of business as you but is not a direct competitor, and bundled deals and cross-promotions make the most sense when they’re able to be fulfilled locally.
Make sure to have a contract in place and ensure that the terms of your promotional partnership are clearly outlined.
Want to give your community involvement an extra boost? Consider donating a portion of your proceeds to a cause that’s important to you or your community, or host a donation drive for a local women’s shelter or soup kitchen. According to a report by Cone Communications, 87 percent of Americans are willing to purchase from a company if they openly advocated for an issue they care about. By showing that you sincerely care for your community, not only will you be seen in a positive light, your customers will be more likely to want to do business with you again if they know they’re supporting a good cause through you.
If you need some more ideas on how to get your community involved with your Small Business Efforts, American Express has some great tips on how to become a “Neighborhood Champion,” including a guide on how to host a community event.
Your strategy for Small Business Saturday success
Now that you’ve got your initial prep done, here are some tips on how to build a Small Business Strategy that generates more customers for your small business.
Register with the official “Shop Small” website
Small Business Saturday gets a lot of exposure across all the major media and advertising channels the week leading up to Small Business Saturday. Many people will go to the official “Shop Small” website to find local small businesses to support. So, for your business, it’s essential that you take five to ten minutes to get listed on the website. Fortunately, the process is simple.
NOTE: In order to qualify for placement on the AMEX Shop Small map, you need to be a registered American Express merchant.
Once you get your business registered, people will be able to find you on the interactive map on the website. It can’t be emphasized enough how powerful this map is for Small Business Saturday. American Express also provides some incentives for consumers to shop small with their AMEX cards, so they’ll be looking here. And you want them to find you.
You can filter your local small business search into five main categories. Once a category has been selected, you will see an interactive map with all the registered local small businesses.
Tons of people in your local area will be looking to spend money at local small businesses on Small Business Saturday this year. Did we mention how important it is to get your small business listed on this map?
On the Small Business Saturday website, you’ll find a handful of success stories that show how small-business owners leveraged Small Business Saturday to directly benefit their business. Why not try to get your business featured next year?
Download the official marketing package
The Shop Small team at American Express has put together an awesome marketing package, called Shop Small Studio, that takes almost all the heavy lifting off of you. All you need to do is take the content that they’ve already created for you and blast it out to your customers and social networks.
The Official Shop Small Studio marketing package includes:
- Shop Small logos
- Digital banners
- Printable signage
- Sample email templates
- Social media posts
- Facebook cover image
These tools make it really easy to reach out to your customers and let them know you’re participating in Small Business Saturday.
The entire registration process takes about 10 minutes and, as you can see, there are quite a few perks to listing your business on the official Shop Small website.
Announce and follow up
Since you already segmented your email list in the prep phase, so now it’s time to plan your email schedule and compose the emails.
Your objective is to get your list thinking about the sale you’re running on Small Business Saturday. To do that you’ve got to announce the email early on and then follow up over the days leading up to the sale. You don’t want to flood your recipients’ inboxes with email, though. Try to keep your follow-ups to no more than one per day.
Keep in mind: Thanksgiving and Black Friday are on the calendar around the same time as Small Business Saturday here in the U.S. Consider when your list will be most likely to read an email on those days.
Now that you know your schedule, you can compose the emails. Here are some things to keep in mind as you write:
- Use great subject lines. The best subject lines invite curiosity while making it clear that you’re running a sale. Don’t use the same subject line twice in the campaign.
- Stay on task. Don’t use the email as an opportunity to update your list on other news or offers. To be most effective, stick to a single message: your sale.
- Remember your segments. Keep in mind why you segmented your list and write accordingly.
- Shorter is better. Get right to the point and provide all the necessary details.
For whichever promotion you have chosen to run with for SBS, be sure to emphasize that you’re a small business. You can continue to play on the sympathy people have for supporting small businesses throughout your other holiday promotions, as well. Download and incorporate the Shop Small logo on your emails to identify as part of the Shop Small movement.
After the day is done
Congratulations! You’ve made it through one of the busiest shopping weekends of the year. You worked hard to prepare your small business for Small Business Saturday, armed it to collect in-person and online leads, and received your customers with open arms. Hopefully, you’re seeing the fruits of your labor in purchases, organic traffic, new contact data, click-through rates, etc.
While all of that is worth celebrating, it’s not time to slow down—yet. Here’s how to keep this momentum going through the end of the holidays and into the new year:
Track your interactions
If you incorporated any kind of digital contact-collecting tactics during SBS, like a landing page or email campaign, you should be using the data from these interactions to track your visitors’ behaviors. The more a lead has interacted with your business after the initial lead magnet, the hotter they are and the more likely they are to purchase from you.
Some benchmarks to track include:
- Asset downloads: If your digital asset was downloaded, hooray! It could mean it’s helping your prospect find a solution for their needs. This lead is interested in your brand, so focus your efforts on nurturing him or her through the sales funnel.
- Email opens: Whether or not an email was opened, or which ones were opened more than others, gives you valuable insight into what type of content is landing with your leads, and which kind could use more work.
- Click-through to webforms: “Web form” is just another way to say digital contact form. When tracking this, you’re looking for whether a lead provided all their contact on the web form to retrieve your asset—you’d better have a follow-up plan for these people. Yet, even if they don’t submit their phone number for a call, they’re still showing a level of interest just by virtue of the fact that they clicked through to your form. Take advantage of this by adding them to a lead nurturing email follow-up campaign.
- Request consultation: If a visitor has requested a consultation, act now. This is a contact you don’t want to lose track of because they could be ready to purchase.
Reply to your reviews
When you’re making an important investment or a significant purchase, do you look at online reviews on whatever it is you’re about to put money toward? Your prospects do.
Like word-of-mouth advertising, shoppers tend to trust and seek online reviews from real customers before they even visit your business. Take this as an opportunity to engage with both your satisfied customers and displeased visitors.
According to a survey by ReviewTrackers, an online review management tool, 52 percent of customers expect a response from businesses within seven days of writing a review, especially if it’s negative. If you receive a less-than-positive response from a visitor, be sure to thank them for their feedback. You should also show empathy in your response, suggest a solution to their issue, and offer to escalate the conversation offline to a phone call or direct message.
You should also respond to your positive reviews, too. Thank them for their remarks, show your appreciation for their business, and ask them for feedback on what made their experience so enjoyable (if they haven’t already shared that information with you).
Simply replying to your reviews shows your prospects and customers that you genuinely care about their experiences and needs, are listening to their feedback, and constantly trying to improve your service.
Follow up, follow up, follow up
If you haven’t already followed up with those who completed your lead capture form during SBS, stop reading this and do so now. Timeliness is of the utmost importance when following up with your leads. According to the Harvard Business Review, businesses that contacted their leads within an hour of their query were seven times more likely to qualify their leads than those that waited an hour or more, and 60 times more likely than companies that waited more than 24 hours.
Following up, whether by phone, email, or social media, helps cement your connection with your leads and builds their trust in you. It’s your job to reinforce that they’re making the right decision by doing business with you, so include verifiable results, testimonials, or metrics that emphasize your business promise in your follow-ups.
Make sure you’re also deploying a marketing automation tool for the follow-up cadence needed to keep your leads on the line. When used properly, marketing automation allows you to create email campaigns that fire based on where your prospects have interacted with your digital marketing efforts.
Use social media to encourage repeat business
You’ve probably already been using your various social media platforms to advertise your promotions and encourage your followers to #shopsmall on #SmallBusinessSaturday. Don’t stop that engagement now. Use your various platforms to respond to the feedback or reviews you receive, and use them as another channel for customer service. You can also retweet or share your visitors’ and customers’ posts about your business that show their satisfaction.
Practicing this kind of engagement and interactions with your SBS visitors on social media shows you’re paying attention to what they’re saying about your business. It also helps to create a sense of community or familiarity between them and you, which encourages brand loyalty, repeat business, and word-of-mouth advertising organic of your own efforts.
Don’t forget to enjoy yourself
We know how hard small-business owners and employees work, especially through the holidays, so we really want you to be able to sit back, relax, and focus on the important things in life. Set yourself up for this kind of success by tracking your leads, responding to your reviews, following up with your leads, and engaging on social media. When all's said and done, you’ll be enjoying that glass of eggnog in no time. Cheers to you and all your hard work!
Small business Saturday is one special day you don’t want to miss during the holiday season
Small Business Saturday has a unique place in the holiday season. It’s as much about inviting consumers to shop at local small businesses on one Saturday in November, as it is about raising awareness to consumers that small businesses are competing during the entire holiday season.
The official Small Business Saturday website has many valuable resources that you can tailor and implement in a relatively short amount of time. Create an irresistible Small Business Saturday offer and get the word out to your customers and local community with the resources American Express has made available to small businesses through their Shop Small on Small Business Saturday initiative.
Use the tips in this post to your advantage as you prepare for Small Business Saturday, and the rest of your end-of-year planning, too. When you’re able to earn the consumer’s trust, meet their needs, and provide them an incentive to return, you’re sure to succeed no matter the day of the year.
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