Rieva Lesonsky: Small Business Saturday -- Reasons to participate and where to shop

Since 2010, Small Business Saturday has generated $103B in sales

Black Friday -- the day after Thanksgiving -- has long been a huge shopping day for most Americans. In 2005, a new shopping day emerged—Cyber Monday. And five years later -- in 2010 another shopping day was created sandwiched between the two — Small Business Saturday, which is always the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

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Small Business Saturday (SBS) was started by American Express as a way to “encourage people to Shop Small and bring more holiday shopping to small businesses.” And what a success it’s been. In nine Saturdays, Small Business Saturday has generated $103 billion in sales.

This year Small Business Saturday occurs on November 30.

But the impact of Small Business Saturday goes beyond one shopping day a year. It spawned the Shop Small movement, which encourages Americans to shop at local small businesses, eat at local restaurants and do business with local small business owners year-round. American Express says when you Shop Small, approximately 67 cents of every dollar stays in the local community.

Why participate?

SBS encourages people to do business locally — in other words, with their neighbors. It’s a great way for people to actually meet the business owners in their cities.

As we all know, people do business with people they know, like and trust. Participating in Small Business Saturday gives you the opportunity for your community to get to know you better.

If you haven’t already signed up, don’t worry. Even though SBS is next week, you can go here and create your own marketing materials in minutes.

Marketing your Small Business Saturday participation

Because there’s so much outside marketing about SBS, you don’t have to introduce consumers to it; you just need to let people know you’re participating.

Local media — radio, TV, newspapers and bloggers — love SBS because it highlights community. Contact your local media outlets and let them know what you’re doing. Can you tie your SBS efforts in with support for a local cause or charity?

Use your social channels to promote SBS at your business. The hashtag is #ShopSmall, so be sure to mention that in your social posts.

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Because of the publicity, SBS is bound to bring new customers into your business. How can you convert them into loyal shoppers? You can pass out gift cards or coupons and promotions, good for a future date.

Collect customers’ contact information — holding a small giveaway or drawing helps you gather customers’ names and email addresses.

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Your Small Business Saturday efforts should not end at the close of day. Follow up with customers who stopped by on Saturday. Sending an email (if they opted in) is a good way to remind consumers about you, your business and how they’re benefitting the community by continuing to do business with you.

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The National Retail Federation (NRF) says gift cards will be the most in-demand gift this year, with 59 percent of consumers planning to buy one. Be sure to have them on hand — these work for service businesses as well.

Be prepared 

If you think you’re going to attract a lot of customers, make sure you’re adequately staffed. First impressions count.

Are you listed on local search directories? Be sure to check yours to make sure they’re accurate. If this is your kickoff to the holiday season, and your hours will be changing, that should be reflected in your listings.

Where to shop

If you want to frequent other small businesses in your area, you can go here to see participating businesses: ShopSmallNow.com.

One group of business owners that is often overlooked during Small Business Saturday are franchisees. Some people mistakenly think franchises are big businesses. While the corporate parent may be, most franchises are small, local operations. Give them some SBS love as well.

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Small Business Saturday is an important day for small business owners and the communities they live and work in. Small businesses are a vital part of the national economy, employing millions of Americans.

As consumers and as business owners, we should do all we can to help promote small businesses.

Rieva Lesonsky has been covering small business and entrepreneurship for more than 40 years, and is the CEO of GrowBiz Media and SmallBizDaily.com. Stay in the know and sign up for her free weekly TrendCastnewsletter