a cup of coffee: The words Small Business Saturday in vintage letterpress wood type with a cup of coffee

© Getty Images
The words Small Business Saturday in vintage letterpress wood type with a cup of coffee

Let’s face it — 2020 has been a year for the record books in all the wrong ways. As we round the stretch into the holiday season, the road ahead is still looking pretty rocky. No doubt your business could use a lift right about now. And you know what? Your customers could, too.

Everyone’s eager to see things return to normal, which means they’ll be looking for a chance to start the holiday season with the usual festivities and rituals.

That’s why Small Business Saturday is as relevant as ever. With a few steps, you can make sure that your business is ready to help customers Shop Small this holiday season.

What is Small Business Saturday?

Launched by American Express in 2010, Small Business Saturday is a celebration of small businesses held annually on the Saturday following Thanksgiving. This year, it falls on Nov. 28.

Many communities have embraced the event with special activities to attract shoppers to local businesses. Cities, chambers of commerce, development offices, and other organizations have signed on as Neighborhood Champions to promote the cause. In 2019, the tenth Small Business Saturday racked up a record $19.6 billion in sales.

In addition to the community events, American Express offers a statement credit of $5 for every purchase from Shop Small merchants. The offer covers up to 10 purchases charged to eligible American Express cards, for a total credit of $50.

To qualify, your business must accept American Express cards with an annual charge volume of no more than $5 million, among other requirements. If you qualify, you can be included on the company’s online Shop Small map.

Regardless of your status with American Express, you can participate in Small Business Saturday.

How has COVID-19 impacted Small Business Saturday?

Navigating COVID-19 has presented unique challenges for small businesses. Many business owners are struggling with cutting capacity or diplomatically enforcing mask requirements. State and local regulations are continually changing. Even freelancers are contending with unexpected challenges and changes.

As we head toward Small Business Saturday, a recent American Express survey reports that consumers remain concerned about cleanliness, mask-wearing, and social distancing.

diagram, timeline: Recent American Express survey results show that shoppers want enhanced sanitizing, mask-wearing, and curbside pickup.

© Provided by The Blueprint
Recent American Express survey results show that shoppers want enhanced sanitizing, mask-wearing, and curbside pickup.

In addition, the company reports that shoppers are relying even more on online shopping. Both of these trends suggest steps you can take to make Small Business Saturday more successful for your business.

How you can prepare for Small Business Saturday

Here are five ways you can prepare.

1. Take your business online

If your business is not on the web, one of the biggest steps you can take to prepare for Small Business Saturday is to build an online store. Software platforms such as Shopify, Squarespace, and WooCommerce can have you online and taking orders without a huge investment of time, coding savvy, or money. You can always start small with your core offerings and build from there.

Be sure to set clear expectations for online shoppers. Everyone can’t be Amazon, yet many customers have become accustomed to clicking a button and getting free delivery to their home two days later. Clearly spell out your terms upfront for delivery and for accepting returns to avoid complaints down the road.

2. Review your online presence

If your business is already online, you should carefully review all of your web assets to make sure they’re primed for the big day. That includes:

• Checking all links on your site to make sure they’re live

• Making sure your online portfolio or storefront puts your best foot forward

• Reviewing all of your social media accounts and their links to your site

• Updating information on your Google My Business page, review sites, and other online profiles

• Providing details on changes due to COVID-19, such as outdoor dining or curbside pickup

• Stating all steps you’re taking to protect in-person shoppers, such as sanitation, mask-wearing, and contactless purchasing

diagram: Recent survey results from American Express show continued growth in online shopping due to COVID-19.

© Provided by The Blueprint
Recent survey results from American Express show continued growth in online shopping due to COVID-19.

3. Create Small Business Saturday content

In addition to carefully reviewing your existing online presence, you can prepare for Small Business Saturday by adding new content devoted to this special day. Examples include:

• Special deals for in-person and online shoppers on Small Business Saturday

• Social media campaigns encouraging customers to engage with you on the big day

• Links to and from your community’s Small Business Saturday events

• If you accept American Express, a listing on the official Small Business Saturday website

If your business hasn’t been very active on social media, there’s no need to feel overwhelmed. Just pick one platform to focus on, maybe one where you have the most followers or the best engagement. Then schedule posts to run between now and Small Business Saturday.

Make sure to tie in relevant hashtags and accounts, such as #smallbusinesssaturday, #shopsmall, and @shopsmall.

4. Prepare for fluctuating inventory

Unfortunately, some supplies continue to be unreliable due to the pandemic. This is especially hard on sectors dominated by small businesses, such as restaurants, retailers, and construction companies. To cope with these disruptions, consider these strategies:

• Focus on your local market and those items you can reliably provide

• Use technology to manage inventory more closely

• Negotiate with suppliers and research alternatives

• Change products or services to adapt

• Run promotions to drive sales of available inventory

• Emphasize the personal service you can provide as a small business

• Engage with your local community

Small Business Saturday is an ideal opportunity to emphasize your local roots and unique value. If you need more information about preparing for fluctuating inventory during the holidays, check out our full guide to holiday inventory management.

5. Join your community events

The biggest step you can take to prepare for Small Business Saturday is to get involved with community organizers. They’re doing a lot of work to promote the day, so be sure to take full advantage of it. Reach out directly and ask for ways to include your business in the day’s events.

Whether you have an online store or a brick-and-mortar business, you can connect with local Small Business Saturday events. Here are some ideas for doing that.

How can you promote Small Business Saturday?

There are so many ways to get involved in Small Business Saturday that it can be difficult to choose among them. Consider these possibilities and then narrow down your choices to a manageable to-do list. It’s OK to start small and build your involvement year after year.

Special offers

Black Friday is all about the deals, and you want to carry that same excitement over to your big day. But how can you do that when your margins are tighter than ever?

You don’t have to offer huge discounts to drive excitement. Small Business Saturday is about discovering distinctive local products and services.

Consider these alternative deals:

• Giveaways, such as balloons, cookies, or shopping bags

• Free samples of your goods or services

• Prizes for customers who share photos of your store on social media

• Drawings, raffles, and other giveaways

• A substantial discount on one item to draw visitors

• Free shipping for the day

You can promote your deals before the holiday by including fliers with purchases, advertising them on receipts, and pushing them on social media. Then you can encourage repeat holiday sales by doing the same with purchases on Small Business Saturday. Include coupons for a future visit or collect email addresses for later connection.

Participate in joint promotions with other local businesses

Cross-promotions with neighboring businesses are what turn Small Business Saturday into a true community event, and you don’t need a physical storefront to get in on the fun.

Here’s an example: A freelance photographer working solely through a creative website sets up a photo booth in a framing shop. The photographer takes fun snapshots of customers and gives them out in co-branded card-stock frames, along with a coupon for a photoshoot and framing.

Here are some other ideas for joint promotions:

• A scavenger hunt among several businesses with a prize waiting at the final destination

• Shared products sold by both businesses, such as arrangements by a florist in vases made by a local potter

• Simple cross-promotions, such as a bookstore handing out coffee shop coupons and vice versa

• Featured products, such as an art gallery reception with local wine and cheese tastings

• A virtual Main Street connecting local online businesses through a shared landing page or social media campaigns

• Cards punched at each business, with prizes tied to the number of purchases

• Shared stories on social media leading up to Small Business Saturday

Nearly every type of business — from a freelance solopreneur to a small manufacturer to an online retail shop — has something to offer fellow local small businesses. Start with businesses that have an overlapping customer base or complementary offerings, but don’t stop there. The important thing is to engage with other small businesses and create promotions that entertain and reward your customers.

Emphasize the importance of supporting small businesses

Another thing you can do to promote small businesses is to share your story with your customers. Whether it’s through blog posts on your website, social media posts highlighting small business stats, or simple thank-you messages on your receipts, you should never stop reminding customers about your place in the small business community.

You can also create customized Shop Small promotional materials from American Express. They include designs for banners, printable posters, social posts, and Instagram stories.

graphical user interface, application, Teams: A screenshot of American Express's Shop Small studio for creating marketing materials.

© Provided by The Blueprint
A screenshot of American Express’s Shop Small studio for creating marketing materials.

You might also benefit from acknowledging some of the challenges you’re facing due to the pandemic. Maybe you’re unable to get all of the usual supplies, or you have limited seating and longer wait times than usual. Placing those messages in the context that you’re running a small business and we’re all in this together can help you weather this difficult season and build enduring loyalty.

What can shoppers expect on Small Businesses Saturday?

What shoppers won’t find on Small Business Saturday is a stampede to get an extra 10% off a flatscreen or a tussle in aisle six over the hot gift of the year. We go through enough of these trials on Black Friday.

Whether they’re shopping online or on Main Street, customers can expect to discover new small businesses, enjoy fun events, and get great deals on Small Business Saturday. Sure, we may be masked, socially distant, and smelling of hand sanitizer, but we really will be in it together.

Frequently Asked Questions for Small Business Saturday

Who started Small Business Saturday?

American Express started Small Business Saturday in 2010. In 2011, the U.S. Senate recognized the day with a formal resolution.

Do I have to accept American Express to participate?

No, you don’t have to accept American Express to participate in this special day. However, being an American Express merchant is required for businesses to be included in the company’s Shop Small promotion and featured in the online Shop Small map.

Can online businesses participate in Shop Small Saturday?

Absolutely. In fact, your online business can participate in local events as well as online promotions. Contact your neighborhood organizers or reach out to complementary local businesses to brainstorm ideas for cross-promotions. Small Business Saturday is for all small businesses.

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