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Marketing - 7 min READ

How to get more customers on Small Business Saturday

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Author photo: Michelle Lee

Michelle Lee

Customer Enablement Manager

Black Friday is the traditional kickoff of the holiday shopping season, but the Saturday after Thanksgiving has its own shopping celebration.

Since the first Small Business Saturday in 2010, the event has become a big deal for local businesses around the United States.

In fact, shoppers spent almost $18 billion on Small Business Saturday in 2018—more than double what they spent on Cyber Monday.

You and other business owners have a huge opportunity. As a small business owner, you can capitalize on the celebration to bring in more shoppers and more revenue, beyond Small Business Saturday deals. You just need to come up with some great marketing ideas.

Fortunately, we have nine of them to help you out below:

  1. Get on the Shop Small map
  2. Use small business hashtags on social media
  3. Prepare your website
  4. Hold a contest
  5. Post marketing materials in your store
  6. Partner with other businesses
  7. Host a Shop Small event
  8. Support a local charity
  9. Offer holiday-shopping perks

But first, let’s look at the backstory of Small Business Saturday.

What is Small Business Saturday?

Small Business Saturday is a celebration of local small businesses and the important part they play in our communities.

On the last Saturday in November, shoppers visit participating locations to support local businesses and small business owners, get their holiday shopping done, and have a great time:

American Express created Small Business Saturday and kicked off the first celebration in 2010. AmEx continues to build awareness for this day by sponsoring the event with free marketing materials, directories, and other resources for business owners.

It's the perfect time to get some extra foot traffic in your store (or web traffic to your ecommerce platform). The holiday weekend isn't just an important time for big-box stores—you can start your own holiday season on Small Business Saturday.

Technically, you don't have to do anything to take part in the celebration—it's for every small business in the country. But if you jump into it with some marketing ideas, you could squeeze some extra business and customers out of it.

Try one of the Small Business Saturday ideas below or use them as inspiration to come up with your own ideas!

Pro-tip: Your small business could win big with the Small Business Makeover sweepstakes. Enter here for a chance to win!

1. Get on the Shop Small map

American Express maintains a map with tons of small businesses highlighted for shoppers. And with around 15 million unique visitors per month, getting your business listed on the American Express website could net you some solid traffic:

With over 30 million monthly views from around 15 million unique visitors, the American Express website is a great place to list your business.

It's great for shoppers—and if you're on the map, it can be great for your business, too. Getting your business on the map is a free way to get your name out there for Small Business Saturday:

American Express's small business map can help shoppers find your store on Small Business Saturday.

To get on the map, you'll need an American Express merchant account. (To do this, you’ll need to register for one, or sign in then update your customer-facing information and make sure the box next to "Get free exposure for your business" is checked.

If you run an online business, don't worry; there's also a section for web-based retailers. You can still get in on the fun.

2. Use small business hashtags on social media

Small Business Saturday is huge on social media—especially when it comes to hashtags. American Express uses #SmallBizSaturday and #ShopSmall a lot, so you can bet that thousands of people will be seeing posts with those hashtags.

In fact, #shopsmall was used in hundreds of thousands of Tweets last year:

Beyond those, there are many more small business hashtags you might use:

  • #SmallBusiness
  • #SmallBusinessWeek
  • #SmallBizWeek
  • #ShopSmallBiz
  • #SmallBiz
  • #iHeartSmallBiz

Highlight your posts with these hashtags throughout the week to make sure people in your area know that you're taking part. And don't forget to include @ShopSmall in your tweets. You never know if American Express will give you some free publicity!

If you're not sure what to post for your successful small business, head to American Express's Shop Small Studio for social media, email, and poster templates that you can use for your business:

3. Prepare your website

You never know how many people will end up on your website after seeing an Instagram post or finding you on the Shop Small map. So make sure it's ready by posting information about what you'll be doing for Small Business Saturday, what customers can expect when they come into your store, and any special events that they might take advantage of:

Golden, CO features a large "Shop Small" logo and lots of event details on their website.

A good place to start is with a Small Business Saturday page. Show off your connections to the community, like how long you've been in business, the organizations you partner with, and causes you support.

Include a schedule of events if you're planning any and highlight any sales or special offers you have in-store:

Make sure your customers know if you're running a special offer so they're motivated to stop by on Small Business Saturday.

You can also create a Facebook event for your in-store events and link to that page from your website. Use it to provide details for your Small Business Saturday events and encourage people to share it with their friends.

You can use some of the templates from the Shop Small Studio to decorate your website, too. Show your spirit with the logo and signature blue color!

When you're done, ask yourself if everyone who visits your website will know that you're celebrating Small Business Saturday and what you'll be doing that they should stop by for. If the answer is "yes," your website is ready!

4. Hold a contest

Nothing gets people excited like the prospect of winning something! Your website, social media channels, and events pages can get the word out to a lot of people who might be interested in entering.

You can run the contest in different ways. Here are a few ideas:

Ideas like these will help get people to your store on Small Business Saturday (especially if they have to visit in person to enter or win).

You can also ask people to join your email list to enter a drawing for a gift card—then drop those email addresses into your CRM and/or an email marketing tool (like Mailchimp) for your newsletter marketing:

Magic Kitchen offers 10% off of a purchase and an entry into a $100 drawing in exchange for a newsletter signup. Use something similar to boost your digital marketing efforts on Small Business Saturday.

(If you're not familiar with customer relationship management software—also known as CRM—the idea is simple. You use it to create a database of your contacts (including prospects, leads, and customers) so you can market to them using tools included in the CRM or through other apps.)

5. Post marketing materials in your store

American Express makes it easy to print out signs and posters that you can put in the window of your brick-and-mortar store. Just head to the Shop Small Studio to design your own:

You can either use American Express's Small Business Saturday marketing materials or make your own. Just make sure that passersby know that you're celebrating!

If you’re feeling creative and have the time, why not make your own signs? This could add some pop to your store, especially if you're having a sale or want to highlight the fact that you're a local, independent business. You could make a banner, put up a small sign in the window, or decorate an entire display in blue to match the branding of the event.

If you want to be really invested, you could apply to be a Shop Small Neighborhood Champion to organize events and distribute more Shop Small merchandise (American Express has lots of tote bags to send out).

A UPS survey found that over 60% of consumers who shop at small retailers do so because they can get unique products that big-box stores don't carry.

Emphasize what makes your store unique in your marketing materials. Feature images of your signature items and things you can't get anywhere else.

6. Partner with other businesses

UPS also found that 40% of people shop at small businesses because they want to support the local business community. What better way to help people do that than by partnering with other local businesses?

The popularity of Small Business Saturday means other businesses near you are probably looking for ways to generate more business, too. Working together is good for everyone.

You can advertise for each other for a week by putting up posters in each other's stores. Or include a coupon to the other store in every bag you hand out that day. You might hold an event together or agree to mention the other store when you talk to customers.

Of course, you shouldn't partner with just any business. You'll have to think about who it makes sense to partner with. For example, if you sell houseplants, you might partner with a store that sells art—people interested in decorating their homes will be interested in both.

On the other hand, you probably shouldn't partner with another store that sells plants. You'll just be sending business to your competitor. Similarly, it may not benefit you very much to partner with a nail salon, because their customers might not be interested in your products.

Find a business that sells related—but not competing—products, and you'll have a winning partnership that boosts exposure for your business.

7. Host a Shop Small event

Small Business Saturday is a big deal—so make a big deal out of it! Organize an event or have one in your store to get people excited and stopping in. You can plan any kind of event you want:

  • Live music
  • Free food
  • Free coffee
  • A bean bag toss tournament
  • Host a well-known local speaker
  • Offer product demos

Every business will be best suited by a different kind of event. If you sell business attire, having a free in-store piercing event probably isn't going to be a great fit. If you sell boho chic jewelry, on the other hand, it might be a huge hit.

American Express has downloadable kits for planning a few events. They're a great source of information if you're not sure where to start your event planning:

Download materials from American Express for guidance on how to plan a great event on Small Business Saturday.

8. Support a local charity

Want to show your commitment to the local community and give people another reason to shop at your store? Partner with a local charity to donate a percentage of your sales for the day. Your local homeless shelter, pet shelter, or food bank would certainly appreciate 5% of your sales.

One note about partnering with a charity: don't make it all about you. The organization you partner with will probably advertise your successful small business a bit on your behalf, but don't pester them to keep posting about it on social media. You're doing a good thing and helping your community—don't put people off by being pushy.

If you can find a balance between benefiting from and supporting a good cause, though, you'll find that it's very appealing to one of the most powerful consumer segments: millennials. Research continues to show that millennials want businesses to take a stand on issues. They engage with causes that help real people—and if their purchases can help local causes, you'll get their attention.

9. Offer holiday-shopping perks

Lots of people start their Christmas shopping around the end of November, so you can bet that many of your customers will be looking for gifts for their friends and loved ones. Help them out by offering in-store wrapping, gift tags, gift cards, or other holiday-shopping necessities:

Make shopping more convenient on Small Business Saturday by offering in-store wrapping services.

You can get creative here exploring Small Business Saturday ideas; partner with a local artist on a series of Christmas cards and sell them at your store. Have custom wrapping paper printed for your in-store wrapping.

If you generally sell high-dollar items, include some smaller, more giftable products during Small Business Saturday. You could even offer to ship gifts from your local post office so visitors don't need to take them home from your local business, and then send the gifts themselves.

Be part of Small Business Saturday—and find a way to stand out

Small Business Saturday is a great counterpoint to the big-box-blowout focus of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It highlights the importance of local businesses and encourages people to get involved in their community.

With the ideas above, you'll tap into all the great things that happen on Small Business Saturday. It's a celebration of what makes communities great. And with just a little extra marketing effort, you can capitalize on it and showcase what you have to offer as a business owner.

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