“What’s Small Business Saturday?” a shop owner asked me recently. She told me she had just opened weeks before, and I asked her if she had anything planned for Small Business Saturday.
While she had a day of events and giveaways, including gift card drawings, planned for the last Saturday of November, she just hadn’t made the connection to the popular holiday that celebrates local businesses and encourages shoppers to #ShopSmall. With a little extra effort, she may be able to attract shoppers looking for local businesses to support.
Here’s how Small Business Saturday can help your small business kick off the holiday shopping season, and important financial considerations to help make it successful.
What Is Small Business Saturday?
Small Business Saturday is a holiday shopping event aimed at supporting and celebrating small businesses across the United States. Initiated by American Express in 2010, it takes place on the Saturday following Thanksgiving, which means it falls right between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, shopping days that tend to benefit big-box stores and e-commerce giants.
If you own a small business, this holiday offers an opportunity for you to successfully kick off the holiday shopping season and connect with potential customers who want to support local small businesses.
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Who Started Small Business Saturday?
Small Business Saturday was started by American Express in 2010. Since then, it has evolved into more than just a day of shopping; it has become a nationwide movement. American Express, in partnership with various organizations including the Small Business Administration (SBA).
Why Is Small Business Saturday Important?
Small Business Saturday can be a big day and a big deal for businesses that engage. The many businesses that participate, and the organizations that support it (including American Express and the Small Business Administration) together turn the spotlight on local, bricks-and-mortar businesses, encouraging the public to shop small and support their community.
The day not only fosters a sense of community but also contributes significantly to the local economy, as it encourages consumers to patronize smaller, independent businesses that often form the backbone of local communities.
The Current (Financial) Stats on Small Business Saturday
Through extensive advertising, social media campaigns, and public relations efforts, Small Business Saturday has gained immense popularity. In 2022, the event saw a projected spending of about $17.9 billion in the U.S..
Moreover, it’s been embraced widely, with local politicians and business groups issuing proclamations and consumers actively helping to get the word out through social media channels, using hashtags like #SmallBusinessSaturday to spread awareness and support.
The focus on this special day is not just to boost sales for one day but to create lasting relationships between consumers and local businesses, promoting sustained growth and vitality in local economies.
7 Tips To Prepare Financially for Small Business Saturday (Even if You Are Behind)
There’s no shortage of Small Business Saturday ideas, but you want to put plans in place to make this day a financial success for your business. Here are seven ways to do that.
1. Know Your Numbers
Some businesses like to go all out for this holiday, as well as the holiday season more broadly, knowing that those sales are crucial to their bottom line. You’ll want to think through how much you can afford so you want to itemize your wish list by “must have” and “nice to have.” Consider budgeting for:
- Promotions: online and offline
- Marketing materials: signage, sales fliers, thank you cards, gift certificates etc.
- Holiday decorations
- Additional staffing
Getting clear on your numbers will allow you to create an affordable marketing strategy and avoid going over budget.
2. Manage Inventory
Inventory can be tricky any time of year. Buy too much and you risk losing money on unsold or discontinued items, buy too little and you run the risk of disappointing customers and losing sales. You’ll want to be sure to stock up on the items you expect to sell through quickly, and have a contingency plan, such as special promotions, if they don’t move quickly.
You’ll want to be very clear on your inventory before Small Business Saturday approaches and monitor it closely throughout the season.
3. Budget for Promotions
Whether you plan on ramping up your organic postings on social media, or investing in paid advertising, you’ll want a plan for how much you will spend on Small Business Saturday promotions, and how you’ll pay for them. Even organic social media posts and email marketing takes time and resources to plan, curate and share. You may want to build in funds for tools such as social media scheduling tools, or extra pay for employees or contractors who will post.
4. Focus on Profitability
While it might be tempting to bring in customers with special discounts and giveaways, keep in mind that you need to make sure this day is profitable for your business.
“People often forget I am still a small business owner even though we have a national and international online audience via YouTube,” says Cathy Yoder, founder of Empowered Cooks, a multimedia platform guiding everyday cooks on how to use an air fryer to make real food, real fast.
“That means revenue from every product or service we sell goes directly to our bottom line and provides income for a small number of people and their families.”
For Small Business Saturday, Yoder uses social media to give a behind-the-scenes look at her business. “We hope people will remember to buy products and services directly from our site,” she says. “For example, I sell my cookbook on Amazon but have a much higher profit margin on our website.”
Teaming up with other local businesses is an especially effective strategy, both from a promotional and financial standpoint.
One idea: “Create a ‘Local Business Passport’ for Small Business Saturday, featuring a list of participating businesses, special offers, and a map of their locations. Encourage customers to get their passports stamped or signed at each business they visit, with the incentive of receiving a discount or entering a raffle for completed passports” suggests partner at Physician On Fire. “This turns Small Business Saturday into a community-wide adventure for customers.”
5. Consider How to Thank Your Customers
While the goal with Small Business Saturday is to make sales, it’s also a great time to reinforce relationships with your most loyal customers.
“The #1 reason people support small business is the personalized, feel-good forward experience,” says executive coach Nicole BZ. She recommends using Small Business Saturday to “Celebrate your community. Invite and share your gratitude with the top 20% of your customers.” If you can make the time and room in your budget, she suggests “recognizing your top clientele by hosting an event, doing a social media shout out, or sending a personalized thank you.”
6. Plan Your Follow Up
Some “30% of customers that come in during the holidays will be new customers, says Barbara Casey, CEO of Mobile High 5, a mobile marketing agency. Not surprisingly, she encourages small business owners to put a mobile marketing program in place and invite customers to sign up.
“By offering an integrated loyalty program, it provides that value exchange that makes the decision easy for customers to opt in,” she advises. “Now, in the first quarter, when business has slowed, you’ll be able to directly engage with these customers without having to jump over social media’s algorithms. WIth mobile marketing, you own that data. And, it is worth gold.”
Whether you choose a mobile strategy, as Casey recommends, or use email marketing, look for opportunities to collect contact information from customers so you can follow up as she suggests.
7. Embrace Your Individuality
Whatever the size of your budget, don’t get so numbers-focused that you lose sight of the big picture. Small Business Saturday is an opportunity to really lean into your unique business story. That’s what Ashley Vasquez, cofounder of TBD Coffee has done. “We’ve learned from multiple Shop Small Saturdays that it’s not about asking customers to shop small. It’s asking them to shop small with you.”
Vazquez left the corporate world to help found TBD Coffee, which roasts specialty-grade, flavored whole bean coffee fresh to order, shipped to the customer’s door. She and her cofounder Zach have shared their story to show the humans behind the business and create emotional bonds.
She explains: “This Shop Small Saturday, we are asking customers to support our coffee business so that we can work from our home office and not be burned out by our corporate ad agency jobs (that I recently quit!) watch mind-numbing television to ease the pain, only to do it again the next day.
We know! It’s blunt and brutal! Our messaging differentiates us from competitors and is a refreshing reminder that we are two people and a dog behind each bag of coffee you receive. People don’t just put their dollars in a product, they put them in a brand.”
Another secret to their success: their “spokesdog” Marlee, their dachshund who features prominently in their marketing efforts. “We will feature a ‘Waddle, Don’t Walk’ email campaign this year in her honor! How can you not buy from a company with a cute dog?” Vasquez asks.
How To Set Yourself up for Success Next Year
With the holidays fast approaching, you may realize you can’t do everything you would like to promote your business during Small Business Saturday. You may have to put some ideas off until next year.
But don’t wait until this time next year to start thinking about it. As soon as the holidays are over and you begin planning for the coming year, consider including Small Business Saturday in your 2024 planning.
Plan ahead and consider a small business loan or business line of credit so you’ll have access to financing when you need it. A business credit card can also help your business improve cash flow by giving you more time to pay for purchases. Work on establishing business credit to better position your business for the coming year.
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This article was originally written on November 22, 2023 and updated on November 24, 2023.
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