Situated between the long lines of Black Friday and the seemingly minute-long online deals of Cyber Monday is a relatively new holiday which glorifies the value of American small businesses: Small Business Saturday.
This national holiday, which was first celebrated in 2010, calls to attention the importance of shopping at the small businesses that serve as the backbone of the American economy and our local communities. Each year, Small Business Saturday draws crowds to main streets across the country with great deals on unique products and services, events that encourage shopping locally, and unique experiences that introduce you to commonly valued neighbors.
While this holiday is designed to help draw customers to local small businesses, it can be challenging for business owners to plan events, decorate their stores, and market their offers. That will especially be the case this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced many businesses to change the way they operate and has reduced opportunities for in-person events.
This guide will explain how to make your Small Business Saturday a success, whether you’re a small business owner who is participating for the first time or a seasoned Small Business Saturday veteran who’s looking for some fresh ideas.
Small Business Saturday is an annual holiday that celebrates small businesses and encourages consumers to shop locally at the start of the holiday shopping season. The holiday aids small businesses by drawing attention to their importance in our economy. It also helps customers who want access to unique products and experiences in their community, and local economies that benefit from successful small businesses.
Small Business Saturday is on November 25, 2023.
Every year, Small Business Saturday falls on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, a day after Black Friday, and two days before Cyber Monday. Placing Small Business Saturday on this weekend, which marks the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season, ensures that consumers keep local businesses in mind as they buy gifts.
For those who want to look ahead: In 2024, Small Business Saturday will take place on November 30. In 2025, Small Business Saturday will be on November 29.
As a small business owner, you technically don’t need to register with any organization to participate or market the holiday at your place of business.
That said, American Express offers free resources and marketing materials geared toward small business owners. You can create custom flyers, social media assets, signs, and more with your brand name and American Express branding on the website’s Small Business Saturday hub. There are also offers materials on how to host events like pop-up markets, food festivals, welcome stations, and more. These resources are available to everyone.
If you want potential customers to locate your small business on the American Express Shop Small Map, however, you’ll need to meet certain criteria (such as accept American Express credit cards as a form of payment, and do business in one of many selected industries including dining, lodging, retail services, and more). Eligible business owners can add their location to the map by logging into their American Express account and following the site’s instructions. Helpful guidelines can be found on the American Express Maps FAQ.
Depending on various factors including your business’s offerings, the amount of space in your store, and your customer base, there are a number of ways for you to have a successful Small Business Saturday. You could host an event for customers, offer a special deal, advertise on social media, or try another themed idea of your own creation to draw in customers and assert your business as an exemplar of how to do Small Business Saturday right.
This year, of course, you’ll also need to be cognizant of how to keep customers safe like never before. Make the effort to keep your brick-and-mortar location sanitized and limit the number of people in your store at one time to enforce social distancing. Other steps could include multiple ways to pay (such as contactless payment) and posting signage about what health and safety precautions you are taking. American Express put together an Amex Merchant Covid Ebook that walks you through the potential steps you can, and how they’ll impact your bottom line (for the better).
When choosing which strategies you want to employ, consider your bandwidth and limitations, whether an idea will increase sales or build customer loyalty, and if it will further your brand. Below are a few ideas for Small Business Saturday success that you could use at your business.
A successful Small Business Saturday should start with finding out if other local business organizations or small businesses already have events planned. These events could draw additional attention to participating small businesses like yours.
To get started, check with your local business alliance, Chamber of Commerce, and Local First organization to see if they have anything planned for the day. If you’re not connected with them already, simply Google your town or county’s name along with “business alliance,” “Chamber of Commerce,” and “Local First,” and check their upcoming events or news section to see if they have a Small Business Saturday event planned.
For example, Local First Arizona, hosted a superhero-themed Small Business Saturday event in Tucson in 2017 to celebrate local business owners.
These local organizations will no doubt be taking health and safety precautions, but make sure that when you participate in larger Small Business Saturday settings that you and all participants are following those guidelines. Wearing masks, staying socially distant, and offering digital and/or contactless payments are especially important steps to take in larger group settings.
In addition to checking with these organizations, ask other small business owners if they’re doing anything special for Small Business Saturday. If none of these groups or businesses are hosting an event, it may be time to take matters into your own hands.
If no events are being hosted by local business owners or organizations (or even if they are!), you can take matters into your own hands by hosting an event. You can get started by speaking with other small business owners and discussing what can be done to draw attention to this special holiday in your community.
For example, you could create a Small Business Saturday map which encourages participants to follow a path during the day, starting with discounted meals at a local diner, followed by shopping at stores along main street, buy-one-get-one-free coffee at a local coffee shop, and finishing the day with half-price tickets at an independent movie theater.
You could also go with a simpler plan like setting up a folding table in front of your local business which provides free Small Business Saturday gear to customers and directs them to participating businesses with flyers.
You can use this handy Event Planning Checklist to keep track of planning and promotion.
Again, if you’re taking organizing an event into your own hands, be sure to take precautions that ensure the safety of all potential customers and employees. Doing this isn’t just the responsible thing to do; it also may lead to more sales as customers feel more comfortable entering your shop or attending your events.
You’ll definitely want to let your regular customers know ahead of time that you’ll be celebrating the day. Posters on your storefront window and hand-out flyers in a prominent location inside your store will help spread the word about the holiday to existing customers and passersby.
You can print and fill-out American Express’s handy flyers here or create your own using a simple, free program like Canva. You can also get flyers designed or printed at a local design shop.
Promoting Small Business Saturday on social media is just as vital as in-store promotion. Posting a few times a week in the weeks prior to Small Business Saturday will keep your online followers in the loop about what local events are planned and how they can participate.
Like and share other social media posts about Small Business Saturday to get the message out to customers across your town. In addition, make sure to use hashtags like #SmallBusinessSaturday and #ShopSmall to connect with the broader Shop Small community.
In addition to planning a local event for Small Business Saturday, consider what deals you’d like to offer, if any, to draw customers to your business. If you’re a restaurant, you could offer a special menu with discounts on favorite meals. Discounts like buy-one-get-one-free offers, 15% discounts, and more, are great ways to draw customers but you could also offer a low-cost free item or service to customers for the holiday.
For example, if you own a computer repair shop, you could offer free antivirus software installation to customers for the week. Likewise, you could hand out special $5 gift cards to customers when they make a purchase over say, $35, to bring them back once the holiday is over.
Once you’ve chosen a deal, the final step is to market it and your other offerings to potential customers.
To creatively market your business for Small Business Saturday, you should consider the following strategies suggested by marketers, business consultants, and business owners.
Business coach Martha Krejci encourages small businesses that sell products to put together a bundle of their most popular products to be sold and raffled to customers on Small Business Saturday. When putting together this bundle, she encourages business owners to really drill down on “who their clients and customers are—imagine life in their shoes,” she says.
Prior to the holiday, she recommends that store owners advertise the bundle offerings and raffle via Facebook ads to a local audience.
Another excellent way to market your business is through emails sent to existing or prospective customers. A great way to build anticipation among your audience is to send marketing emails that promote your business’s deals, other offers in-town, and other Small Business Saturday events in your area.
Stacy Caprio, owner of Accelerated Growth Marketing, says that it’s “important to build anticipation and create excitement in advance of promoting [an] offer.” She recommends doing this by sending emails in progression in the weeks prior to the holiday. To get started, she says that small business owners should send the first email three weeks before the holiday, then one or two a week leading up to the final promotion.
Kelli Wefenstette, executive director at Six Corners Association, says that on Small Business Saturday, businesses should offer “one product or substantial promotion that isn’t offered any other time of the year.” For instance, her yoga studio only offers an option for membership on this holiday, which drives sales because of its exclusivity.
Big business isn’t known for its personalized customer service, unless it’s automated. Wefenstette encourages small businesses to prepare for Small Business Saturday with personalized value-adds, like including a card with a picture and bio of the creator who made a custom item with every purchase.
Another cool personalization idea could be giving a free invitation to an event connected to your store’s offerings with every purchase. For example, if you operate a yarn store, you could include a free pass to classes on knitting specific items, or if you operate a guitar store, you could invite customers to a complimentary concert hosted inside your store. These personal touches will make your customers feel cared for and will encourage them to return far into the future, even without exclusive deals.
Small Business Saturday is an important holiday to draw attention to the importance of shopping at local businesses over large retailers. By becoming registered on small business directories for the holiday, offering exclusive deals, and marketing in advance of the holiday, small businesses can draw in customers that will hopefully direct their dollars to these businesses for the foreseeable future.
This holiday is a clear win for small businesses, but consumers benefit as well by finding great new local products and services and supporting their local economies. When shopping locally, $68 for every $100 stays in the community, while only $43 stays in the community when shopping non-locally. Shopping locally also offers a more unique product selection which is the primary reason that shoppers state they prefer small and local retailers.
Small Business Saturday was trademarked by the American Express Corporation in 2010. The day was intended to celebrate small businesses and draw shoppers to these businesses in time for the start of the holiday shopping season.
The holiday quickly outgrew American Express, and has been adopted or recognized by local business organizations across the country, the Small Business Administration (SBA), and even Congress.
The Senate first recognized the Saturday after Thanksgiving as Small Business Saturday in 2011. Since then, the Senate has passed this resolution annually to increase “awareness of the value of locally owned small businesses.”
Today, small businesses recognize Small Business Saturday by participating in local community events, spreading the word about the holiday online and in their stores, and marketing exclusive deals to customers.
In 2017, an estimated 108 million consumers shopped or dined at local businesses on Small Business Saturday, and 70% of U.S. consumers were aware of the holiday, according to a survey conducted by the National Federation of Independent Business and American Express. Additionally, nearly 48% of consumers who participated in Small Business Saturday reported that they visited a small business that they had previously had not been to on that day.
These numbers are especially impressive, given that the holiday is only 10 years old.
Preparing for a successful Small Business Saturday can be an arduous process but one that will be well worth the process in terms of sales earned, lifelong customers won, and benefits provided to the local economy. Despite the hard work required, Small Business Saturday will be a boon for your business if you put the effort into participating in an event, collaborating with other small businesses, preparing your business, and marketing the holiday itself and deals.
Much of the advice in this guide, like offering value in unique ways and becoming more ingrained in your local community will pay dividends for your business if practiced year-round. Despite the challenges that small businesses face in this economy, hard work and the investment of resources will make your small business all the more competitive on Small Business Saturday and every other day of the year.
Nic is an associate at Fundera. He specializes in partnerships and research-driven stories to help small business owners grow and thrive in their industries.