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March 16, 2016
Marketing  |  11 min read

Checklist: Are You Actually Ready for Small Business Saturday?

American Express came up with a truly brilliant idea back in 2010. They found that Black Friday had ballooned into a consumer event that strongly favored big-box stores, eclipsing small retail businesses who just couldn’t compete on their own.

They answered by introducing Small Business Saturday, which carves out a day on the biggest shopping holiday of the year (the weekend after US Thanksgiving), prompting consumers to buy from small businesses as a conscious alternative to big retailers.

Since its inception, it has steadily grown in popularity at an astronomical rate: in 2014, 88 million consumers shopped small on SBS, and in 2015, that number jumped to 95 million. SBS is becoming entrenched in the consumer consciousness. At this rate, there’s a good chance that in 2016, we could see upwards of 100 million consumers supporting small businesses on SBS. 

As you can imagine, Small Business Saturday is our favorite day of the year! And this year we took a look into how small businesses approach their SBS promotion strategy. We teamed up with Pollfish to survey 2,000 individuals who either owned or worked in small businesses to see just how they were preparing for small business saturday and what promotional strategies brought the highest ROI. It turns out that digital marketing (email, social media, and other online marketing tactics) overwhelmingly brought the highest ROI. When you combine digital marketing with offline marketing strategies, SBS can be a powerful day for your small business.

The checklist below will help you think through what you need to do to get ready for SBS so that you can make the most of it this year.

Register with AMEX Shop Small and get on the SBS map

American Express offers tons of help for promoting your business on Small Business Saturday, including free use of the Shop Small logo, ready-to-go direct mail and social promotion, and other great materials, like free Shop Small merchandise, including shopping bags, balloons, buttons, and more. They want your small business to be findable. They’ll help you with ads, and when you register with them, your business will be added to an interactive map that shoppers can use to find registered small businesses. If you haven’t register here yet, drop everything right now, and sign up.

Register, register, register

We’ve already mentioned the many benefits of registering with the American Express Shop Small campaign, but you shouldn’t stop there. As consumers plan out their SBS shopping day, there’s a good chance they’ll look at other resources to find small businesses in their area, and you want them to find you. We recommend registering with the Small Business Administration, your local Chamber of Commerce, and other local business organizations. Don’t miss a single opportunity. (Plus, once you’ve registered with these orgs, you’ll be set from now on).

Optimize everything for Small Business Saturday

Identify your business with the Shop Small campaign. Among the free resources American Express offers is the right to use the SBS “Shop Small” logo. Be sure you include it everywhere: on your website, on your advertising, and on your direct mail and email campaigns. Include the logo on your social media posts. You can even go the extra mile and update your social profiles and background images to include the logo.

Set up your promotional event

Just being a small business isn’t enough to get people to shop at your store on Small Business Saturday. Think like a big-box store: give them a great reason to shop with you. This is the weekend where everyone is looking for a deal, so make sure you have something great ready for them. You can offer free gifts, door prizes, or drawings for giveaways which all can serve to enliven your event. Of course, you’ll need to run a promotional sale, like a limited time offer or buy-one-get-one free/half off. It could be well worth your time to offer special early/late hours for convenience, free gifts, buy-one-get-one free/half off, etc.

Notify your contacts that you’re open for business on SBS

If you have a contact list, let them know about your SBS promotions. This is your big chance to get the word out fast. As mentioned above, digital marketing brings the highest ROI on SBS, so be sure to make the most of it. Set up email campaigns that get the word out, and be sure to follow up in the days leading up to SBS so that your list doesn’t lose track of you in the bustle of the season (just like all of us, they have a lot going on this time of year). 

If you’re looking for some really great ways to take advantage of digital marketing for your SBS campaign, we’ve got a kit to help you get moving super quickly. Our free SBS/Holiday marketing kit includes a bunch of promotion strategies, email templates, images to decorate your emails, and more.

A free marketing toolkit you can use immediately.

Use a direct mail campaign to target local shoppers

It turns out that direct mail campaigns are actually more effective during the holiday season than most other times of year. Our research with Pollfish found that many small businesses use a combination of digital and offline (direct mail, print ads, etc.) as part of their promotion strategy. Direct mail is a fantastic way to compliment your digital marketing strategy to raise awareness in your local community that you are a small business they should visit on SBS.

Did you know? Marketing automation software, like Infusionsoft, can help you automate direct mail and other offline tactics, too? It’s not just for digital marketing.

Team up with other small businesses in your area

Shoppers who are looking to support small businesses may need a little help making the most of their shopping trip. Give them a hand as they plan their day by letting them know of all the small businesses they can support when they come out. Pool your resources by running a combined promotion with other businesses in your area. Check out these inspirational SBS case studies to see how other small businesses have done it.

Optimize your website for local search

If you haven’t already done so, make sure that your pages will allow your audience to search for small business shopping in their vicinity to find you. People who do a little research online before they go shopping will search for businesses in the area they plan to shop. Make sure they find you. A great place to start is by updating your Google My Business.

Set up a follow up campaigns

Black Friday/SBS weekend is just the beginning of the big holiday rush. There are plenty of days left in the holiday season, and you can capitalize on them by targeting return shoppers.

Today, 55 percent of the American shopping public is aware of Small Business Saturday (and the awareness is growing: the brand is recognized globally with a number of nations adding the shop local idea to their holiday shopping season). But what is even more exciting is that 88 percent of those say that SBS inspires them to shop small all year long! So, if they came out to support you on SBS, there’s a good chance that they’re fans of small business in general.

Use SBS as an opportunity to make lifelong fans of your business. When your shoppers come into your store, encourage them to follow you on social, or sign up for your newsletter. Take what you know about these shoppers and optimize your follow up with reminders that you’re still here and you’re still a small business they can shop with throughout the holidays.

Be active on social—both leading up to and on—Small Business Saturday

Don’t miss a moment. Schedule messaging that automatically launches on your social sites, like Facebook and Twitter, which will ensure you’re visible on those channels, even when you’re crazy busy and don’t have time to think about social media. Of course, when you’re crazy busy, there’s some real energy that you can transfer to social, so when you’re busy, it’s actually a great time to think social. Post a candid photo of your crew making ready for the big day, tweet about the rush of customers, or the smell of your fresh baked goods (if that’s what you’re selling). Be creative, but have a plan for the kinds of things you’ll look out for as the day unfolds. 

And don’t forget: use hashtags to get more visibility on social. Some popular SBS ones are #shoplocal, #shopsmall, #smallbusinesssaturday, and #smallbizsat. Use social media to remind your customers that this is the big day they should come out and support you.

Be ready for ecommerce, too

Yes, SBS primarily targets brick-and-mortar businesses, but you should be ready for e-commerce traffic, too. Some patrons can’t hit all the stores they’d like and others may not be able to get out at all (there is such a thing as bad weather, remember). You should be ready for everything, and make yourself available to those in your audience who can’t make it to your brick and mortar store but still want your product. Include incentives like free shipping or discounts that are available only online in your lead up campaign to highlight your ecommerce site, so you don’t miss out on any possible business.

Don’t forget cyber monday

Small Business Saturday can give you some serious momentum during the busiest shopping weekend of the year. Keep that momentum up! Since many shoppers are poised to go online for killer deals, use your SBS exposure to promote deals for return shoppers on Cyber Monday.

Keep in mind that people are shopping for gifts

OK, this might be so obvious that it should go without saying, but on the other hand, you might be surprised to consider that without some nudging, shoppers may not see your product as gift potential. It never hurts to update your product photo tucked in among some wrapped presents, or peeking out of a stocking, or with a simple bow on top. Be creative, but think seasonally as you put your campaigns together.


Small Business Saturday is right around the corner! Don’t get left out in the cold!

Our research with Pollfish found that small businesses often approach their SBS campaigns at the last minute. While that’s not very surprising (we get it: small business owners are super busy), that shouldn’t mean you skip SBS altogether. If you act now, you can take advantage of the SBS momentum, and use it to propel your small business through the holidays and into next year.

A free marketing toolkit you can use immediately.

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