Are You Ready to Promote Small Business Saturday?

by Jamie Bsales

Small Business Saturday encourages consumers to shop at locally owned small businesses the day after Black Friday. We've got tools to help you turn the hype into holiday traffic.

Small business retailers have watched the shopping spectacle known as Black Friday soak up ever-more attention from the media and precious disposable income from shoppers -- to the tune of $10.7 billion in 2010 according to some estimates. The vast majority of that revenue goes to a relatively small pool of big-box retailers, which entice shoppers to get up at 4 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving with loss-leader deals on big-screen TVs and must-have toys. The arrival of Cyber Monday, where the Amazonian online retailers do the full-court press for holiday dollars, just adds insult to injury.

But thanks to American Express and its partners, local retailers now have an opportunity to fight back with Small Business Saturday. Launched last year by American Express -- which has been joined this year by Federal Express, Facebook, Google and Twitter -- Small Business Saturday is a national initiative that encourages people to visit locally owned merchants in lieu of the chain stores on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

The goal is to drive more traffic to small businesses, of course, while also recognizing the importance of small business and their contributions to the economy, job creation and local communities.

To help turn the happening into a full-fledged movement, this year American Express has also partnered with the non-partisan Women Impacting Public Policy to build the Small Business Saturday Coalition to expand the reach and impact of the effort. More than 200 advocacy organizations across the country have signed up to participate in the second annual initiative.

Also new this year, American Express will sponsor live events that day in 15 U.S. cities -- Boston, Chicago, Fort Worth, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington DC, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Detroit, San Diego and Scottsdale -- to drive participation. The events will include holiday celebrations, block parties, giveaways and raffles.

In addition to online, print, radio and TV marketing, AmEx and FedEx are enticing consumers to participate with the ultimate motivator: cash. FedEx distributed 40,000 $25 "Shop Small" gift cards through a Facebook site. The gift cards were snapped up in less than an hour. American Express, meanwhile, offers a one-time $25 statement credit to the first 200,000 cardholders who register their card at www.facebook.com/SmallBusinessSaturday. To automatically receive the credit, registrants need only use their AmEx card to spend $25 or more at a small business on November 26.

Free Business Tools at Facebook

To make the most of the event, small business owners will want to employ a range of tools and services to drive the most traffic to their doors. Where to begin? How about right at the sponsors' main site: facebook.com/shopsmall. Here you'll find a toolkit that includes a host of free offerings to ramp up your online and social-media campaigns.

Again this year, American Express is giving $100 in free Facebook advertising to the first 10,000 business owners who sign up at the site. The ads can help even social-media debutantes build online buzz and drive customer engagement, because they can be targeted to potential customer's real likes and interests. And if you don't yet have a Facebook presence, don't worry. American Express offers a tool that takes you step-by-step through the free Facebook Page-creation process.

Another partner in the effort, Google, is offering My Business Story, a tool to create and post free online videos about your businesses. If you don't think you need a video, think again: Google's research has shown that online video boosts brand recall by 50 percent and likeability by 26 percent, and that companies who effectively leverage video can expect better customer engagement and retention. With the free My Business Story tool, you can create personalized, professional-quality videos for YouTube, social networks, business websites and more.

The SmallBusiness Saturday toolkit also helps you take advantage of Twitter's Follow button to expand your reach and keep your business top-of-mind as the big day approaches. The kit walks you through the process of placing a "Follow" button on your websites, so with a simple click, customers will be able to follow you on Twitter. As Small Business Saturday approaches, you'll have a direct line to customers to let them know about your sales and specials.

The toolkit also helps you get started with Go Social, a one-stop shop for American Express merchants to create coupon-less offers for card members. Go Social simplifies the creation of customized deals for small merchants to further incent AmEx card members to shop with them. Card members will find these offers on Foursquare, Facebook and the American Express Mobile App.

To drive even more social media engagement, the kit includes YourBuzz, a tool from American Express Open that enables you to view and respond to customer reviews and online mentions all from one place. YourBuzz aggregates conversations across highly influential review sites such as Yelp and CitySearch, as well as social services such as Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter, to ensure that listings are accurate, to build customer relationships, and to mitigate the damage that can be caused by bad reviews.

As part of the Small Business Saturday promotion, YourBuzz will offer additional ways for small businesses to market themselves online. For example, you'll get $200 in free advertising credits on two online platforms where discussions about small businesses take place: $100 credit for LinkedIn Ads (for the first 6,500 business owners that register) and $100 in additional advertising credits on Facebook (in addition to the aforementioned Facebook ad credits). Business owners will also get free offerings or 50 percent off of any package from Pagemodo, a company that helps small businesses create professional Facebook Pages.

Back in the bricks-and-mortar universe, the business owner toolkit will also include downloadable, point-of-purchase displays for small businesses to let customers know you are involved in the initiative. The displays will allow merchants to include their own branding, details about their business, and any special offers they are promoting for Small Business Saturday.

Customizable email templates will also be made available for businesses looking to conduct email campaigns to customers and prospects. And FedEx Office has announced a special 20-percent savings on all Small Business Saturday materials that can be printed via FedEx Office Print Online. The offer extends to all online print orders through November 26.

Other Small Business Saturday Strategies

Of course, you shouldn't rely solely on the offerings in the Small Business Saturday toolkit to ramp up interest. Forge your own path by signing up with a leading small business email marketing service such as Constant Contact. The service's online tools let you execute email marketing campaigns and gauge the results, including the ability to track which users opened a given email.

You can even make any word or phrase in the email a hyperlink, which lets you see what verbiage clicked with your audience. There are a host of pre-designed templates for a range of email types (newsletter, promotions, events and so on), and you can build recipient lists by location, interest categories, or other criteria you've tagged each customer with. And if you are planning an in-store event for Small Business Saturday, Constant Contact Event Marketing will help you professionally promote and efficiently manage registrations and RSVPs.

Another option is iContact, which offers email marketing, social media marketing, contact management and more. It features MessageBuilder, a drag-and-drop tool that lets you build great-looking custom messages, no HTML coding required. The company also recently introduced built-in social media analytics tools for small businesses to publish, schedule and track their social media marketing efforts on Facebook and Twitter, either as standalone campaigns or integrated with their email marketing programs.

If you want potential customers to find you as they search for local businesses, turn to a service such as ReachLocal. As part of its offerings, ReachLocal provides small businesses with a service for creating online marketing and advertising campaigns, ideal to promote your store for Small Business Saturday. ReachLocal's ReachCast service lets you connect with consumers via Google AdWords, Facebook, Twitter, YellowPages.com and so on, and it includes analytics so you can measure its effectiveness.

Once you've got them in the store, you'll want to keep shoppers informed about specials and promotions. One impressive way to do that is with state-of-the-art digital signage. For that, look to SignChannel by Scala, a do-it-yourself digital signage service that lets small business retailers implement a promotional system with very little effort in a short amount of time.

SignChannel includes pre-designed templates that allow you to create professional-looking promotions and manage your content online, and download them to SignChannel-certified display devices via Wi-Fi when you're ready. Digital signs are more engaging than handwritten messages on a blackboard at the door, and much more flexible than pre-printed traditional signage that can't be changed on the fly.

And if Small Business Saturday has your business hopping, you'll want to be sure the check-out process can keep pace. Of course, lining up more cash registers for peak demand is not practical or cost-effective, but Verizon Wireless and Intuit have a solution. With Intuit GoPayment, it's possible for your employees to process credit card payments wirelessly on smartphones and tablets using a pocket-sized credit card reader and the GoPayment app.

This lets you set up temporary check-out areas anywhere in your store or even outside -- sidewalk sale, anyone -- to better handle busy shopping times. The app and the credit card reader are free. You just supply your own compatible smartphone or tablet (the system supports iOS, Android and Blackberry devices) and pay a fee per swipe: as low as 1.7 percent for the high-volume plan, or 2.7 percent for the pay-as-you-go plan.

Jamie Bsales is an award-winning technology writer and editor with more than 18 years of experience covering the latest hardware, software and Internet products and services.

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This article was originally published on Wednesday Nov 9th 2011
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