This article first ran November 22, 2016 and has been updated.
It’s hard for small businesses to compete with the big guys. But that’s why there’s Small Business Saturday.
American Express founded Small Business Saturday in 2010, giving small businesses and brick-and-mortar stores across the country a special boost and a way to get shoppers’ attentions between Black Friday and Cyber Monday (Small Business Saturday will take place on Saturday Nov. 25 this year).
Since its founding, it’s been a powerful opportunity to reconnect with customers — and boost sales. Last year, 112 million shoppers participated spending more than $15 billion.
So, as the big day quickly approaches, it’s important to make the most of this special sales event. Think strategically and find approaches that hopefully can help you strengthen relationships and business all year long. Here are 21 Small Business Saturday ideas to get you started.
First, some basics.
1. Get web ready
Don’t forget the easy stuff. Make sure your address and contact info is correct on your website and all your social media profiles. You’d be surprised how many small businesses forget to update all their accounts as their business evolves — and busy shoppers might not know you’ve opened a new location or have new hours.
And while you’re at it, review your site as if you were a customer, ensuring that all promotions are prominently displayed and that your payment process is working properly. You should do these checks regularly — and an annual holiday sales event like Small Business Saturday is as good a prompt as any.
Related: What Your About Us Page Isn’t Doing
2. Utilize free resources.
American Express is doing the hard work for you, offering free signs, email templates, web badges, posters and other marketing materials to get your business’ name out there. There’s still time to download many of these materials and get them customized and ready to use in minutes. Next year, see if you’re eligible to order the full suite of materials (you might even be able to get on the initiative’s Shop Small map).
3. Extend your hours.
If you usually close at 5 p.m. on Saturdays consider staying open til 8 or 9 p.m. Check out the events going on in your town that night and plan accordingly, so you can make the most of the foot traffic, suggests marketing software company Vertical Response. And if you change your hours for the shopping event make sure to tell shoppers on social media and on your website.
4. Prioritize customer service.
Re-train your staff to make a good impression. Your ability to connect with customers and create more personalized experiences can help you stand out amongst competitors. According to a 2016 study, although people continue to shop online — nothing beats an in-store experience, so make sure yours is one to remember. Run through scenarios that might occur at your store during a busy weekend and give your staff the tools they need and the words to say to solve problems and help customers who might not have visited your store in a while.
Let’s make some deals — and promotions.
5. Plan incentives
Give people reason to come to your store or your events. Last year, shoppers in Oakland County, Michigan had a chance to win $5,000 thanks to a special promotion that lets shoppers text photos of their receipts. Consider your own in-store incentives, such as raffles, collecting contact information for your own upcoming events and promotions throughout the year.
You might be tempted to slash prices ‘Black Friday-style’ — but don’t. Doorbusters might work for major retailers like Walmart and Target, but that doesn’t mean your small business should do the same. Marcus Lemonis, the host of CNBC’s The Profit, advises small business to stay away from Black Friday-style deep discounts. Instead, remember your market is coming to you for a different reason — to support local businesses.
7. Join forces
Work together with neighboring shops to give shoppers more reasons to visit. In South Dakota, Downtown Sioux Falls offers a number of deals, freebies and experiences throughout the town. Last year, shoppers enjoyed free cups of espresso and a special art market — encouraging shoppers to make a day of the sales event and explore the downtown.
By joining forces with other merchants, you’ll likely get free promotion throughout the city, simply for registering as a participating business. Find out what your local community has planned and be part of it. Those relationships can help you throughout the year.
8. Invite a local celeb or official
In 2015, then President Barack Obama dropped into a local bookstore on Small Business Saturday and even shopped at a local popsicle shop in our nation’s capitol. While not all shops can get the president into their store, consider inviting other local officials who might make your shop into an impromptu photo opportunity. (Elected officials in all 50 states championed the day last year, so you have a ready audience.) And don’t forget other local notables, such as local authors, creatives and even pageant winners who might be flattered and excited to drop by if you make them feel welcome and special.
Americans love supporting small businesses and some have even started online communities to help promote Small Business Saturday. Go to meetup.com and do searches with terms such as “small business meetup groups,” and “Small Business Saturday groups” in your area. It’s free so get joining to connect your name and business with motivated, enthusiastic people.
Small Business Saturday is a community event, so go out of your way to celebrate other small businesses participating in the shopping day. Re-tweeting them and sharing their social content is a great way to show your support. It’s likely, they’ll return the favor too.
Customers love knowing where their money’s going — especially if it is for a good cause. Bubbly Paws, a dog grooming and retail spot in Minnesota, had big success on Small Business Saturday in 2015 thanks in part to promotions and partnerships with other local shops, but also because it dedicated a portion of its sales to a local dog charity. The company saw a major uptick in sales and found that customers were motivated to shop and happy to know their money would help dogs in need as well as their community.
Even if you have a product or service that doesn’t necessarily fall under the “holiday shopping” category, don’t hold back. In Staten Island, even exterminators have used the big shopping day to offer discounts and promotions. By associating with the shopping event, companies can benefit from some of the free marketing happening online and in local media.
Amplify your message.
13. Utilize social media — and hashtags.
Tell your store’s story on social media. Document your preparation for the big day and get your customers rooting for you. Take photos of your displays to whet appetites and on Saturday share images of your fastest selling products and the ways excited customers are enjoying your store.
And don’t forget to add specific event hashtags to accompany your posts: #SmallBizSat, #ShopSmall and #SmallBusinessSaturday. In 2016, there were nearly 250,000 social media posts combined on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter using #ShopSmall, #SmallBizSat and/or #DineSmall, and more than 150,000 were posted on November 26th alone, so make sure you’re part of those conversations — and those searches after the day is over.
14. Update your advertising.
Go Digital Marketing recommends small businesses update their PPC (pay per click) keywords to make sure their company name hits the top of customers’ searches. Change the keywords to reflect your most up-to-date offers and promotions, as well as your location.
To get customers to spread the word about your small business to their friends, ask them to check-in through social media. Offer discounts or promotions for those who show they’ve checked in on a platform like FourSquare, Yelp or Facebook. A 2015 Nielsen study found that 83 percent of people surveyed found they trust the recommendations of their friends.
Ask customers to take photos of themselves enjoying Small Business Saturday and have them post the photos to their social accounts and tag your store. To keep the Small Business Saturday momentum going, select the most creative, most liked or most fun photos to win a special prize afterward — one the winners can only get by returning to your store later in the holiday season.
17. Make your website mobile-friendly.
According to a Kissmetrics study, 78 percent of mobile searches seeking information on local businesses result in a purchase. With that said, make sure your website is mobile-friendly so Saturday’s shoppers who can’t make it to the actual store are able to buy your products on their smartphone.
Make it a can’t-miss destination event.
18. Hold a kickoff event.
Start off the day-long shopping phenomenon with a kickoff event. Invite VIP customers and even local notables to your store, offering them snacks, beverages, and a special discount or freebie to show your customers they are special and get them excited for the day.
19. Offer a scavenger hunt.
Make Small Business Saturday and adventure. Cities from Anchorage, Alaska to Fruita, Colorado offered scavenger hunts last year — getting people to celebrate their towns and do some shopping in the process. A scavenger hunt can incentivize customers to explore their towns — and discover stores like yours.
20. Become a holiday tradition.
Combine Small Business Saturday with other festive events going on in your city. This year, Boulder, Colorado will host carolers and offer rides on a Snowflake Express kiddie train as well as visits with Santa during Small Business Saturday. Other cities have offered ice carving demonstrations and craft workshops, too. Working your way into families’ traditions ensures customers return again and again for memories — and likely some shopping along the way.
21. Think beyond Saturday.
Although it’s important to utilize Small Business Saturday to boost sales and drive traffic — but your thinking should go beyond this day of shopping. Stores in Alexandria Virginia last offered random acts of holiday cheer, a series of deals that are available throughout the holiday season.
After the holiday season has ended, take stock of what worked and what didn’t. Chances are, many of these strategies can be repurposed beyond the holiday season, allowing you to strengthen the relationships you created with customers and partners all year long.