As holiday shopping gears up, gift givers aren't the only ones concerned about inflation and other dicey economic indicators. Small business owners are also hunting to get the most bang for the buck this year.
Heads up, this season might be the one for small businesses to add some virtual tinsel to their holiday marketing plans with TikTok.
What is Small Business Saturday?
Participating in the 12th Small Business Saturday on Nov. 26 helps attract current and prospective customers, many small business owners say.
Small Business Saturday (SBS) falls on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, squeezed between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It originated as a campaign to support local businesses and to encourage customers to "shop small." American Express started the effort in 2010 and has cosponsored the event with Small Business Association (SBA) since 2011.
TikTok, AmEx, and more help promote small business owners
For more proof that TikTok is more than dance crazes and silly videos, this year, American Express is partnering with the social media app to launch #SmallBusinessAccelerator to help attract a new generation of shoppers.
Small business owners will be motivated to click with this demographic. A Shop Small Impact Study reported that 67% of Gen Z users have shopped from a small business displayed on the "For You" TikTok page, the customized newsfeed for individuals, according to Elizabeth Rutledge, chief marketing officer at American Express.
Eligible small business owners can earn a $100 TikTok advertising credit through the #ShopSmall Accelerator and take advantage of a tutorial and other resources, like music for TikTok videos with the #ShopSmallSoundtrack. Plus, tips from popular lifestyle creators Anna Sitar and Sofia Bella, as well as advice from small business owner Brandon Blackwood, will be available.
Also, this year, the Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP) joins American Express and SBA to encourage consumers to support the nearly 32 million independent U.S. businesses this Small Business Saturday and throughout the year. WIPP is a nonpartisan advocacy group for women entrepreneurs.
How 'Shop Local' boosts communities
Interestingly, women and women of color, galvanized by work issues due to the pandemic, have led the recent small business boom, according to a recent LegalZoom survey, "Women and the Boss Era."
Since President Biden took office, "a record number of Americans have applied to start nearly 8.5 million new businesses, higher than any similar period on record," says Isabella Casillas Guzman, SBA administrator.
Patronizing local businesses isn't just a moral boost or virtue signaling for shoppers. That's good news for businesses as well as their communities. According to American Express, approximately 67 cents of every dollar spent at a small business stays in the community.
U.S. consumers who shopped at independent retailers and restaurants on Small Business Saturday spent an estimated $23.3 billion, according to the 2021 Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey, commissioned by American Express.
Shoppers who want to find local businesses can check out the SBS map.
How to participate in Small Business Saturday
If you're a small business owner looking to capitalize on this year's event Nov. 26, you can choose from general, online, beauty, retail, and dining categories.
Here are some tips from veterans of SBS:
- Check for eligibility. Participating in SBS is free for businesses, but there are stipulations for being listed on the Shop Small map, where shoppers can look up local small businesses. Eligibility for the map depends on issues like accepting American Express credit cards and business location (in the U.S. and other regions). For details, click here.
- Get free, made-for-you SBS marketing tools. Check out the toolkit for printable posters, social media templates, and downloadable copy-and-paste text for social media posts. The content comes in the brand colors of Small Business Saturday with the American Express and Shop Small logos.
- American Express recommends posting content between 9 a.m. to noon CT from Tuesday to Thursday, the peak hours for the highest engagement with customers.
For more customized marketing content, check out the Shop Small Creative Studio, an online portal for business owners who want more help designing their materials.
Advice for small business owners
Anecdotally, small business owners have had good returns on their investments, whether that means time, money, or sweat equity. Read on to learn about their experiences.
Early planning pays off
"One of the biggest mistakes small business owners make when it comes to Small Business Saturday is not deciding on what they are going to do to celebrate the holiday until the last minute," says Hannah Nash. She co-founded Lucy Nash, an online jewelry company, with her husband, John Nash. Then owners don't have enough time to promote their specials. "This is the time of year that everyone will be promoting specials and sales," she says. "It will take putting out twice as many marketing messages to get the attention and drive your message out there."
"Get the word out as soon as possible," agrees Ben Kuhl, CEO of Shelf Expressions, a custom-shelf, cabinetry, and home décor company in Charlotte, N.C. This applies to brick-and-mortar stores as well as online. Kuhl's company had originally sold items at farmers' markets, but like many businesses, the pandemic forced a change in strategy. Things have picked up, Kuhl says; however, the focus is on selling on Etsy.com and the company's website.
Imagine what your customer will spend
"Plan your budget before Black Friday sales start," says Hannah Nash.
Then take some time to map out your customer's potential budget. Determine how much they can afford to spend and what items they'd like to purchase. This will help avoid overspending. If you sell a high-price item, offer to finance, she recommends. Also, look at consumer credit in the U.S. to determine customer budgets.
Answer potential customer questions
"We poured money into ads, which moved the needle," says John Nash. "But the most effective thing was to answer questions about gift ideas from the ads." That builds connections with customers because most accounts don't respond to customers reaching out, he explains.
Tap into online communities
In Kuhl's case, engaging with social media groups, such as interior design communities, also increases brand awareness and interest. "Just don't act like you're selling wares," Kuhl says.
Track social media posts and respond to any comments. "A mistake businesses can make is not being active enough on social media leading up to and on Small Business Saturday," Hannah Nash says. "By engaging with potential customers online and sharing special deals and promotions, businesses can see a lot of success."
Business owners who shy away from self-promotion will appreciate the low-key approach of online interaction to boost sales, Kuhl adds.
Advertise in local media and social apps
Hannah Nash says that small businesses can benefit from advertising in their local newspapers. "Not only will this help promote your business, but it will also show support for your community." Be sure to create a Google Business profile. This will ensure that your business appears in online searches and helps customers learn more about what you offer. NextDoor, an online neighborhood network is a great way to get local support and the word out, Nash adds. "The advertising is good for brand awareness and getting feedback from potential customers," she explains.
Partner with local businesses and your network
"Design a clever way to convince your current network to help promote your sale," says Stephanie Scheller, a small business consultant, and CEO at Grow Disrupt.
For example, recruit a "launch team" of current customers. Ask them to post some brand material online and/or to send emails or even drop by businesses in the neighborhood. Reimburse them with a gift. She says this could build some great buzz about what you're doing locally.
Social media has great potential for making the most out of live-streaming events, especially with the TikTok partnership. "Make the buying experience interactive," says Brian David Crane, founder of Spread Great Ideas, a digital marketing fund that invests in e-commerce businesses. He helped launch four multimillion-dollar e-commerce brands, including Archives.com, which Ancestry.com acquired for $100 million three years after its launch. "Hold a contest or giveaway event to thank your existing loyal customers while engaging with new customers," Crane says. "Do a live-streaming event that includes walk-in customers."
"Asking people to support you isn't enough," says Adam Lyons, a small business consultant for over 500 brands and CEO of The SMART Blueprint, a step-by-step guide for entrepreneurs. "Why not use the supply chain and the current financial uncertainty as a chance to step back and get creative? You might make more money than you ever have." If you're a tailor, think "free winter jacket tailoring," for example. He also recommends renting out a space or hosting a Small Business Saturday party with a DJ and other vendors to attract foot traffic.
Don't waste money
Businesses can make many mistakes when it comes to SBS, cautions Hannah Nash. One common mistake is misallocating inventory spending. "For example, businesses might spend too much money on advertising in the wrong places or targeting the wrong consumers," she says.
Think big picture
Small Business Saturday happens once a year, but attracting customers is an everyday goal, with small wins adding up as the months' pass. "Don't be disheartened if you don't see results right away. Don't think it's not going to come," says John Nash.
Of course, generating sales is at the top of the list, but remember to consider SBS as an investment, like any sales effort. "We measure success by sales and emails," he says. "Getting emails is a secondary win."
With all these strategies in mind, small business owners can reap the rewards of Small Business Saturday and be all set up for next year's event.