This post, originally published in 2016, has been updated.
If you’re a small business owner with a retail, restaurant or service business, the holiday season is a crucial time to build sales before the end of the year. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get lost in the fray of advertising by national competitors throughout the season. The good news is that there’s a lot of attention on small business right now, and the “shop local” message resonates with consumers now more than ever. That’s why it’s a great idea to jump on Small Business Saturday! Read on for a guide on how you can make the most of this national campaign!
What is Small Business Saturday?
Small Business Saturday takes place on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and this year it’s scheduled for November 27, 2021. The national campaign was launched by American Express in 2010 to encourage people to support small, local businesses in their communities that have a brick-and-mortar location, and now small online businesses can also participate. On this day, participating businesses promote special offers, events, and in-store promotions to attract holiday shoppers. Over the past few years, Small Business Saturday has turned into a holiday shopping tradition, with 108 million people shopping small in 2020 (according to Fundera)!
Small Business Saturday is part of the Shop Small Movement, which helps bring communities together to show support for small business owners, and helps them gain exposure throughout the year. If you’re a small business owner, you’re already part of the Movement, and there is no charge to participate. The Small Business Association (SBA) also supports Small Business Saturday with national publicity and helpful tips on their website. You can learn more about the national Small Business Saturday campaign by visiting ShopSmall.com.
How can your business get involved with Small Business Saturday?
Step 1: Go to ShopSmall.com and click on “Small Business Owners” in the navigation bar.
There you can create custom signs and social post images using their Shop Small® Studio. Sign-up to receive free customized, downloadable marketing materials to help you promote your business, including social post and Instagram story images, a banner and poster.
You’re responsible for the cost of printing the material. You can also download ready-to-use materials.
Check to see if you have a Neighborhood Champion who is coordinating promotions and events for small businesses in your area. Go to the ShopSmall.com website page and scroll all the way down to the bottom. Under the “Shop Small” menu, click “2021 Neighborhood Champions” and drill-down by state and town or city. If you find the Champion assigned to your area, click on their name and you will likely see some information on local events. If you don’t see a Champion assigned to your area, try contacting your local Chamber of Commerce to see if they have anything planned.
Step 2: Create Your Small Business Saturday Marketing Plan
To ensure a successful Small Business Saturday promotion, you need a plan. Take some time to think through the promotion, including the following steps:
Set some goals
Think about what your goals are for Small Business Saturday. How will you measure success? Having a measurable goal enables you to determine if your efforts were successful or not. For example, if you’re a retailer or restaurant owner, you should definitely have a sales goal (e.g., “increase sales for the day by 20% over same day last year”). You can also set a traffic goal (“increase store traffic by 25% over last year).
Consider including a goal to increase email subscribers by taking email addresses when customers check out (e.g., “secure at least 100 new subscribers to our email database”). Email is a tremendous marketing tool which you can use for promotions throughout the Holiday season and beyond.
Define your target audience
Understanding who your target audience is will help you determine what your messaging will be and what channels you’ll use to deliver your message, particularly with social media. For example, if you want to target females between 18-34, you should consider including Instagram and Snapchat in your social media strategy.
Create a sales promotion to attract shoppers
While Small Business Saturday is a sales promotion in and of itself, you should think about how you can add attractive in-store promotions to attract shoppers. Show people that you appreciate their business with special offers and services. Here are some idea-starters:
• Hold a store-wide sale for the day in which you promote a discount (such as “everything 25% off”). Or offer a discount on select items.
• Offer a deep discount on a popular item (loss-leader) to stimulate sales of other items that are more profitable, or bundle some items as a set and offer a discount.
• Offer a free gift with a minimum purchase (the gift can be inexpensive, but make sure it has high-perceived value and doesn’t look cheap).
• Mystery discount (ex: shopper draws a discount offer from a gift box)
• Provide free gift wrapping of purchased items.
• Bounce-back offer to generate repeat business later on (ex: spend at least $50 today and get 30% off one item in December).
• Sign up for our email and get an extra 10% off. (Be sure to add a checkbox for entrants to subscribe to your email newsletter).
• Offer a free giveaway for the first 100 shoppers.
• Enter to win a $___ shopping spree (no purchase necessary).
• Run a hashtag promotion – create a hashtag and encourage customers to post it on social media to get an extra X% off. Have them also add the #ShopSmall hashtag so you can get additional exposure.
Host in-store events to drive traffic to your business
Hosting in-store events is a good way to generate traffic and create a festive atmosphere. Some examples:
• Invite shoppers to post a #ShopSmall Selfie in your store. You can provide a fun background or a foam-core frame with the hashtag. Offer a prize for the best post and share posts throughout the day.
• Offer free refreshments (ex: hot chocolate & cookies)
• Tie-in an activity to benefit a local charity, such as a collection drive (clothing, food, toys, etc.)
• Provide live holiday music (carolers, musicians) or performers (ex: strolling magician)
• Costumed characters like Rudolph, Frosty, or Santa for a meet & greet with kids.
• Set up a holiday craft table for kids.
• Game activity, inside (or outside) your storefront for prizes.
• If you’re a book store, host a book signing/author appearance.
• Bring in an expert to help shoppers solve their holiday problems, such as preparing for a holiday party, fashion advice, recipes, wine pairing, gift ideas, hair & makeup tips, choosing safe toys, how to put together a gift basket, holiday decorating tips, etc.
• Team up with neighboring businesses to host an event near all of your stores (ex: strolling carolers who stop into each of your businesses, or a scavenger hunt)
• Highlight gift ideas in your merchandise displays and promote them on your social media.
Maximize your PR opportunities and give back
Small Business Saturday will be a big focus for the media due to its national scope. You can capitalize on this by tying-in public relations tactics and messaging. However, don’t include your sales promotions in your publicity because that’s too much like advertising. Instead, focus on your in-store events and charitable tie-ins. These can be posted on local event calendars on media websites as well.
You can also send a press release to local media, and business reporters if you have a relationship. Be sure to promote your activities on your social media channels, particularly on Twitter, where many reporters look for stories.
Some other PR ideas:
• Work with a non-profit organization to promote your collection drive (ex: clothing, toys, non-perishable food, gloves & mittens, pajamas, etc.).
• Invite a non-profit group to help with your in-store events, such as the Girl or Boy Scouts, in exchange for a donation.
• Get a local media outlet to participate in your charitable effort in exchange for publicity.
• Host a local celebrity appearance in your store.
Promote your event with content marketing and social media
Once you have your Small Business Saturday plans finalized, it’s time to think about how you’re going to promote. Content marketing is a powerful and inexpensive way to promote your events. When you create content, be sure to include images like photos or videos that appeal to your target audience. Don’t forget to use the Small Business Saturday images provided on ShopSmall.com. Here are some ideas:
• Send out a series of email blasts to your customer database to build excitement around Small Business Saturday. Create an attractive layout with your messaging and include the Small Business Saturday logo and #ShopSmall hashtag.
• Create a short video to post on your social channels (including stories and reels) inviting followers to your event. Be sure to include the “shop small/shop local” message. Video is a powerful tool which adds a personal touch and generally gets more organic views on social media.
• Highlight your Small Business Saturday events in your newsletter
• Write a blog post about your charitable activity, the organization you’re benefitting, and how they help the community.
• Create a Gift Guide (with photos of hot gift ideas) and link it in your social media channels and in your email. Invite followers to your Small Business Saturday event as part of your posts. The Spark Page app by Adobe is a great platform for creating gift guides.
• Highlight an interesting product or gift idea and tell the story behind it. (ex: something created by a local business-person or crafter, with their story). Invite shoppers to meet the person at your event.
• Create a how-to video or post, and tie-in your Small Business Saturday event. (ex: tips on preparing for a holiday party with a special offer).
• Create a video on holiday fashion trends and tie-in with your Small Business Saturday event.
• Post short videos or photos during your Small Business Saturday event to peak interest and attract shoppers.
• Create behind-the-scenes posts with images/videos showing staff preparing for Small Business Saturday.
• Post a video, blog or social media post with business owners talking about why it’s important to support local businesses, and why you’re proud to be part of the community.
• Create an Event on Facebook and invite followers to your Small Business Saturday event.
There are many social media channels you can use to promote your Small Business Saturday events and promotions, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and Tiktok. Don’t hesitate to post more than once and change-up your images and formats.
Don’t be too “sales-y” in your posts. Put yourself in your readers’ shoes. What problems can you help them with? How would your Small Business Saturday event help them solve their problem (ex: getting a start on holiday shopping without a hassle, finding the perfect gift, saving money, making shopping an enjoyable experience – especially with kids, supporting local businesses and helping the community).
Advertise your Small Business Saturday promotion & events
While social media and email marketing are strong drivers for your Small Business Saturday promotion, you should also consider advertising to reach more potential customers.
Facebook offers a tremendous advertising platform (which includes Instagram) that allows you to target potential customers inexpensively. The more you spend, the more people your post will reach. The easiest way to set up ads is to go to your business page and either boost a post, or “create an ad” using an image or video. Or if your skills are more advanced, you can set your ad(s) up in Facebook Ads Manager.
Ad formats on Facebook include Photo Ads, Video Ads, Stories Ads, Messenger Ads, Carousel Ads (multiple images and videos), Slide Show Ads, and Collection Ads. You can learn more about each of these formats by clicking here.
Local awareness ads on Facebook allow you to target groups of people who are near your business location. This can be a very powerful option, especially on Small Business Saturday, to entice people to come to your store or restaurant with a special offer. When creating your ad from your business page, choose the “promote your business locally” goal. (In Ads Manager, you can use the Reach objective or the Store Traffic objective).
Boost posts – simply create a post and click the “boost post” button and follow the prompts to apply a dollar amount, run-dates, and characteristics of your target audience according to geography, demographics (age, gender, income, etc.), interests, etc.
Instagram – Because Instagram is owned by Facebook, you can set up ads through the Ads Manager or directly in the app. Formats include Image Ads, Video Ads (60-seconds), and Carousel Ads, and you can also boost posts. To learn more, click here.
Traditional advertising is also an option, depending on your budget and whether your media reaches your target audience. Some options to consider include Every Door Direct Mail from the US Postal Service, cable TV advertising, and digital ads on local newspaper and radio websites.
Step 3: Analyze your results
Be sure to analyze your results after your promotion is over, so you can determine if you achieved your goals. Some examples of results tracking include:
• Sales results compared to same day last year
• Total redemptions of special offers
• Total gift-with-purchase offers redeemed and average purchase amount (i.e., total sales receipts/number of items redeemed)
• Customer count (compared to last year)
• eMail subscriber sign-ups
• Total entries for giveaways
• Number of free items given away
• Number of people participating in your special event activities
• Social media engagement analytics (likes/comments/shares/video views, etc.)
• Total hashtag posts
• Total people who responded to local Facebook awareness ads
• Website visits (sessions and users)
• Total eMail opens/open rate
Analyze whatever is measurable, make notes and keep them on file. When you start planning for next year, you can refer to your results and make adjustments to your plan based on what worked and what didn’t.
This guide should help you cover all the bases when planning your Small Business Saturday promotion. Best of luck on your Small Business Saturday promotion and the entire holiday season!
Caroline D. Quinn is the founder of Quinnovative Marketing, a marketing services company that helps small and mid-size business owners. She spent her previous career in the mall industry, delivering results-driven marketing campaigns designed to drive traffic and sales for retailers and restaurants.