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The ultimate guide to a successful Small Business Saturday®

Thursday, November 10, 2022

The holiday shopping season incites a lot of emotions for small business owners. Excitement, for sure, for festive crowds and high sales plans. But also stress and anxiety — how will I get it all done? Will I have enough staff? And even self-doubt: How will I compete with the mega retailers and chain establishments?

The good news is, consumers have shown increasing support for small businesses in recent years, particularly during the holiday season. Over 70% of consumers say they intentionally go out of their way to support a local small business, and 8 in 10 will even spend more money in doing so.

It's clear why the Shop Small® Movement is something revered by both small business owners and consumers — and why one out of every two Americans is planning to support Small Business Saturday® this year.

Should you participate? How can you make the most of the day? Read on to learn why Small Business Saturday is an excellent, worthwhile opportunity for small businesses of all industries to celebrate and take part in.

Over 70% of consumers say they intentionally go out of their way to shop small, and 8 in 10 will even spend more to support a local small business.

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What is Small Business Saturday?

The brainchild of American Express, the first Small Business Saturday — which was essentially a marketing campaign — was celebrated in 2010. Its goal was to put small businesses that were struggling through the recession in the spotlight, by encouraging shoppers to spend at local establishments over national chains.

It has turned into so much more than a hashtag: Just one year later, the U.S. Small Business Administration cosponsored the initiative. Now, the SBA-backed day generates over $20 billion for independent shops and restaurants. In the same way that Black Friday is a staple of the holiday season, Small Business Saturday, too, has become a tradition as custom as office gift swaps and neighborhood cookie exchanges.

And just like the snickerdoodles and peanut butter blossoms those cookie swaps yield, there are some tempting benefits for consumers who Shop Small. They don't just do it in support of the small business movement. They get something too — be it a discount, free service, physical goods, giveaway entries or some other promotional perk — and will make a point to seek out small businesses offering such on Small Business Saturday. If you participate, you're more likely to capture those folks on a mission who may not be regular customers (yet).

When is Small Business Saturday 2022?

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Small Business Saturday takes place on the Saturday following Thanksgiving, which means you can mark your calendar for November 26, 2022 this year.

Who is Small Business Saturday for?

Don't read too much into the “Shop Small” tagline: Small Business Saturday honors industries beyond retail, including restaurants, cafes, bars and other service businesses — like salons and groomers. The threshold for participation is quite generous. By the official Amex definition, you must have at least one but no more than 25 locations (for brick-and-mortar businesses) and have no more than $5M in American Express annual charge volume.

Is your business online only? That's ok — there's a category for you too!

While Small Business Saturday is an Amex-sponsored movement, there's no requirement to be a cardholder to participate as a consumer. But, American Express does frequently hold promotions that reward its members for supporting small businesses.

person opening their shop and flipping an open sign

How can my business participate in Small Business Saturday?

Let's start by putting your business on the map — literally.

The Shop Small Map helps consumers get information about the local businesses they already love, plus discover new favorites. Think of it like a Google or Yelp listing, with your address, contact info, website, social media handles and more. The map is live year-round, but consider what an especially beneficial marketing tool it is during the holidays: Aunt Janice is in need of a vinyl record store to impress her teenage nephew. Mom and Dad just made it through their entire gift list and now want to crash at a nearby restaurant. Uncle Jim wants to send his niece a coffee shop gift card but has no idea what's around her college campus.

Plus, everybody is trying to stretch their dollars given the tough economy, so they plan to Shop Small to earn the max amount of credit card rewards they're entitled to through Amex's Shop Small promotions.

To qualify for a listing on the Shop Small Map, you do need to be an American Express Card-accepting merchant. Fortunately, when you use Heartland's credit card processing, it's easy to accept not only Amex cards, but also digital wallets, gift cards, ACH payments and all of the other ways your customers want to pay.

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Add or update a Shop Small Map listing

Take advantage of Small Business Saturday marketing materials

American Express offers free, printable marketing materials that help you remind customers to Shop Small (on 11/26 and every day). And if you've ever stressed about designing your own graphics, the Shop Small Studio is a dream: Just plug in some key business information and you can download custom social media, web banner and poster imagery instantly.

Digital signage is just the start: Order window clings, open/closed and social distancing signs — even hand sanitizer dispensers.

Tapped out when it comes to writing social media posts? It happens to the best of us! Borrow straight from Amex's library of tweets and other suggested copy.

Email marketing graphics are free too. You'll want to share your SBS plans with your entire customer list, but it's also a good idea to reach out to those who shopped or ate with you last year on Small Business Saturday. Thank them for their patronage and let them know that you look forward to seeing them again this year (maybe even throw in a voucher for a free gift or appetizer with their purchase). Use your point of sale customer data to pull this list.

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Read more: Holiday marketing ideas for Small Business Saturday and beyond

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Throw a Small Business Saturday that will keep fans coming back all year

Just a handful of years ago, there was a harder line between who participated in what: The big box stores flourished on Black Friday, small businesses were honored on Small Business Saturday and ecommerce merchants shined on Cyber Monday. Now, it's commonplace for all commerce businesses — no matter size or specialty — to participate for the entire weekend (throw Sunday in there too).

So, while you can keep sales and specials going all weekend, Saturday is the big day for small businesses to shine, and an excuse to create an extra memorable event.

Small Business Saturday event ideas

  • Hold a character meet and greet: Families have lots of opportunities to meet Santa, so consider hosting a different winter-themed character, like Buddy the Elf, the Grinch or Elsa.

  • Provide free gift wrapping, or partner with a local non-profit for a donation-based wrapping station.

  • Create a photobooth: Remind visitors to tag your business and #ShopSmall and #SmallBizSat when they post.

  • Showcase live music, like a local singer-songwriter or college acapella group.

  • If space allows, create a kid-friendly area with designated staff to watch kiddos while parents shop or receive services.

  • …read on for even more in-store event ideas.

Though Black Friday weekend feels synonymous with major sales and promotions, you don't have to go slashing prices left and right to delight your customers. Plus, if you haven't worked such promotions into your overall pricing and markdown strategy, that big box-style discounting could really hurt you.

Alternatives to deep discounting

  • Mark down specific categories or collections, instead of a blanket discount off your entire store.

  • Provide a discount code or coupon only after they have signed up for your newsletter.

  • Keep items and services at full price, but reward shoppers with bounceback incentives they can spend in the new year,like, a $20 gift card for every $100 you spend (snag more gift card promotion ideas here!).

  • Offer free gifts with purchases of tiered spend levels.

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Staffing your small business is critical this weekend. Shoppers and diners will be faced with big crowds and long lines, and patience will dwindle. Use POS data to staff strategically, keeping everyone's stress levels low and spirits high.

person on the phone taking notes and looking at a laptop wondering how her small business can improve

Team up with neighboring businesses

That's what Small Business Saturday is all about, after all: supporting your local economy and community.

Connect with your neighbors and brainstorm cross-collaboration initiatives. We've seen brick and mortars host makers and artisans who don't have a storefront, gift shops host tastings with local brewers and fitness studios host ecommerce athleisure brands — just to name a few.

If you're an online only business, consider joining forces with entrepreneurs in the same boat to plan a holiday market. Community centers and coworking spaces are great venues for holiday shopping events like this, or connect with Neighborhood Champions who may be able to help you find a space. The best part: You'll feed off each other's customer bases, amplifying your brand and getting in front of tons of new faces.

Join a community of Black-owned businesses

American Express recently announced ByBlack: a platform dedicated to supporting and amplifying Black-owned businesses and Black entrepreneurs. Leading up to Small Business Saturday, if your business identifies as Black-owned or operated, be sure to add yourself to this directory of Black-owned businesses.

Join or support ByBlack

couple going over notes while having friendly discussion about their small business

Stay top of mind and keep up the momentum

After the weekend wraps, send an email blast to everyone who shopped or dined with you, thanking them for their support of your small business. Stress your gratitude for their choice to Shop Small, and encourage them to continue doing so throughout the year. You could even recommend some of YOUR favorite local shops and restaurants, or even online businesses.

Shop Small is a movement, not just a day. When people shop, dine and support independent businesses, everyone wins.

Every hot coffee, haircut and handcrafted gift that we buy from a local establishment means revenue staying in — and bolstering — our local communities.

By now we hope it's clear that participating in Small Business Saturday is easy, and the festive day is an opportunity to create an excellent, memorable customer experience, helping you lock in repeat business for the new year.

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