Small Business Saturday is here. By following the 8 steps below you can keep the spirit of Small Business Saturday alive and well—and keep the customers coming back—all year long.
1. Inspire. Begging for customers to support you just because you’re local gets old quickly. “Rather than taking on the spirit of the underdog, pleading for people to remember you, become a brand that inspires so that people cannot possibly forget you,” says marketing and branding expert Merry Carole Powers, CEO of Branding Powers. How to inspire? Tie your profit to a social purpose your customers care about. “Then, the value of a purchase becomes much bigger than the product or service itself,” explains Powers, citing Toms Shoes as a company successfully leveraging the power of inspiration.
2. Start a relationship. “When new customers visit your business, whether it's on Small Business Saturday or any other time of the year, capture their name and contact information to keep track of their purchase history,” says small-business marketing expert Rebekah Henson, who blogs for e-mail marketing company AWeber Communications. (Visit AWeber's site to download a free Small Business Saturday Action Plan.) “Throughout the year, you can use this information to send them e-mails, provide customized shopping recommendations and greet them by name when they visit your store. That personal relationship goes a long way to gaining their loyal business.”
3. Think value, not price. “While you may not be able to compete with big-box retailers on price, you can offer a tremendous amount of value in the form of knowledge, service and small touches,” says retailer-turned-marketing consultant Aalap Shah. Co-founder of digital marketing agency SoMe Connect, Shah formerly owned a toy store that grew to two locations and over $1.5 million in sales despite being next to a Walmart and a Toys R Us. As a retailer, he built loyalty by offering extras like free gift-wrapping, home delivery and providing toy experts in the store to advise customers.
4. Serve with a smile. Hiring happy employees is a small step that makes a huge difference. “One thing customers look for from independent retailers is a friendly face,” Shah says. “Too often, we're used to shopping by ourselves in gigantic stores. The minute someone greets me or offers a smile, I feel good about shopping at a local retailer.”
5. Localize your marketing. Featuring local people and places in your advertising and promotions can yield big dividends, says Tyrus B. Sturgis, business development and corporate strategist at marketing and PR firm Purry Communications Group. “Most people love attention and are more likely to spread the word about your shop if they have the potential to be recognized and rewarded for doing so,” he explains.
6. Support your community. “One of the biggest advantages any small retailer has is that you live, breathe and work in the community your store is in,” says Shah. “Make an effort to be active in the local chamber, nonprofits and other activities. The more people know your name, the more they'll remember you the next time they're shopping for what you sell.”
7. Hold events all year long. “Small Business Saturday is an event. It's easy to promote because it has a clear date and purpose. Create events around your business that do the same thing,” says Sturgis.
Lifestyle and jewelry boutique betsy & iya did just that last November when they launched a Black Friday shopping event. “Little Boxes is a prize raffle that [shoppers] can enter only by visiting one of the 170-plus participating Portland shops on Black Friday and Small Business Saturday,” explains betsy & iya co-founder Betsy Cross. Shoppers get discounts and more entries into the raffle the more they buy. “The event was so successful last year, we’re extending it into Small Business Saturday this year,” says Cross.
8. Start a “buy local” campaign. A survey by the Institute for Local Self Reliance shows that in 2011, independent businesses in communities with an active "buy local" campaign saw revenues grow 7.2 percent, compared to 2.6 percent for businesses in areas without such a program. It takes a village to start a successful Buy Local campaign, says Jeff Milchen, co-founder of the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA). Start by talking to local elected officials, other business owners and civic organization to get ideas.
AMIBA has developed a model for forming your own Independent Business Alliance, and offers tools, templates and ideas to help. (With any order of educational materials, you get a free 12-page guide to establishing an effective buy local campaign.)
In the first week of July AMIBA also facilitates Independents Week, which promotes buying local as a way to support American ideals of independence and freedom. Next year they’re introducing new materials for Valentine’s Day. “Talk to us,” says Milchen. “We can save people huge amounts of time and money by enabling them to adapt business plans, campaign ideas, graphics templates and much more, while providing personal guidance to avoid common mistakes.”
Don’t forget: November 24th is Small Business Saturday—a day dedicated to supporting small businesses nationwide. Learn more at SmallBusinessSaturday.com.
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