Posted by MiriamEllis
“American business is overwhelmingly small
business.” – SBE Council
Small businesses have created 61.8% of net new
jobs in the US since the early 1990s. Local business is big
business. Let’s celebrate this in honor of Small Business
Saturday with 3 strategies that will support independent business
owners this week, and in the better future that can be attained
with the right efforts.
What’s Small Business Saturday?
It’s an annual shopping event
sponsored by American Express on the Saturday following
Thanksgiving with the primary goal of encouraging residents to
patronize local merchants. The program was launched in 2010 in
response to the Great Recession. By 2017, Small Business Saturday
jumped to 7,200 Neighborhood Champions (individuals and groups that
organize towns for the event), with 108 million reported
participating consumers spending $12 billion across the
Those numbers are impressive, and more than that, they hold the
acorn of strategy for the spreading oak of a nation in which
independently grown communities set standards of living, set
policy, and set us on course for a sustainable future.
Tips for small businesses today
If your community is already participating in Small Business
Saturday, try these techniques to enhance your success on the big
1. Give an extra reason to shop with you
This can be as simple as giving customers a small discount or a
small free gift with their purchase, or as far-reaching as donating
part of the proceeds of the day’s sales to a worthy local cause.
Give customers a reason to feel extra good that they shopped with
you, especially if you can demonstrate how their purchase supports
their own community. Check out our Local
Business Holiday Checklist for further tips.
2. Give local media something to report
Creativity is your best asset in deciding how to make your place
of business a top destination on Small Business Saturday, worthy of
mentions in the local news. Live music? A treasure hunt? The best
store window in town? Reach out to reporters if you’re doing
something extra special to build up publicity.
3. Give a reason to come back year-round
Turn a shopping moment into a teaching moment. Print up some
flyers from the American Independent Business Alliance and pass
them out to customers to teach them how local purchasing increases
local wealth, health, and security. Take a minute or two to talk
with customers who express interest. Sometimes, all it takes is a
little education and kindness to shift habits. First, take a few
minutes to boost your own education by reading How to
Win Some Customer Back from Amazon this Holiday Season.
AMIBA has a
great list of tips for Small Business Saturday success and
American Express has thebest
examples of how whole communities have created memorable events
surrounding these campaigns. I’ve seen everything from
community breakfast kickoffs in Michigan, to jazz bands in
Louisiana, to Santa Claus coming to town on a riverboat in
California. Working closely with participating neighboring
businesses can transform your town or city into a holiday
wonderland on this special day, and if your community isn’t
involved yet, research this year can prepare you to rally support
for an application to next year’s program.
Tips for small businesses for the new year
Unless your town is truly so small
that all residents are already aware of every business located
there, make 2019 the year you put the Internet to work for you and
your community. Even small town businesses have news and promotions
they’d like to share on the web, and don’t forget the arrival
of new neighbors and travelers who need to be guided to find you.
In larger cities, every resident and visitor needs help navigating
the local commercial scene.
Try these tips for growth in the new year:
- Dig deeply into the Buy Local movement by reading The Local
SEO’s Guide to the Buy Local Phenomenon. Even if you see
yourself as a merchant today, you can re-envision your role as a
community advocate, improving the quality of life for your entire
- Expand your vision of excellent customer service to include the
reality that your neighbors are almost all on the Internet part of
every day looking for solutions to their problems. A combination of
on-and-offline customer service is your key to becoming the
problem-solver that wins lucrative, loyal patrons. Read What the
Local Customer Service Ecosystem Looks Like in 2019.
- Not sure where to begin learning about local search marketing
on the web? First, check out Moz’s free Local SEO Learning
Center with articles written for the beginner to familiarize
yourself with the basic concepts. Then, start following the
recognized leaders in this form of marketingto keep pace with
new developments and opportunities as they arise. Make a new
year’s resolution to devote just 15 minutes a day, 5 days a week,
to learning more about marketing your small local business. By the
end of a single year, you will have become a serious force for
promotion of your company and the community it serves.
Tips for an independent business future: The time is right
I’ve been working in local business marketing for about 15
years, watching not just the development of technologies, but the
ebb and flow of brand and consumer habits and attitudes. What I’m
observing with most interest as we close out the present year is a
rising tide of localistic leanings.
On the one hand, we have some of the largest brands (Google,
Amazon, Facebook, etc.) losing the trust of the public in serious
human rights violations, and even
war. On the other hand, we have small business owners
uniting to revitalize their communities in wounded cities like
and tiny towns like Bozeman, in the
wake of the Great Recession, itself cited as a big
Where your company does business may influence your customers’
take on economics, but overall, the engrossing trend I’m seeing
is towards more trust in smaller, independently owned companies. In
fact, communities across the US are starting to map out futures for
themselves that are as self-sustaining as possible. Earlier, I
referenced small business owners undergoing a mental shift from
lone merchant to community advocate, and here, I’ve mapped out a
basic model for towns and cities to shift toward independence.
What most communities can’t access locally are branded
products: imported big label clothing, packaged foods, electronics,
cars, branded cosmetics, books. Similarly, most communities don’t
have direct local access to the manufacture or mining of plastics,
metals, and gases. And, very often, towns and cities lack access to
agroforestry for raw lumber, fuel, natural fibers and free food.
So, let’s say for now that the typical community leaves these
things up to big brands so that they can still buy computers, books
and stainless steel cookware from major manufacturers.
But beyond this, with the right planning, the majority of the
components for a high standard of living can be created and owned
locally. For example:
large cities can divest from big banks, putting their money
into small banks and community credit unions.
Communities can create their own solar energy, power
themselves, and even sell their excess product to others. Internet, water, refuse, and recycling can
be locally-owned, too.
- Whether in town or country,
farms as small as 3 acres can feed 10,000 people in a year.
Such farms can not only directly supply residents with fresh food,
but can also stock independently-owned grocery stores and
increasingly-popular farm-to-table restaurants. Communities are
building or restoring mills to process grain and other
products. Eventually, this could extend to fiber and lumber
- Communities in some areas are already
paying for the training and presence of their own doctors. And,
part of city budgets are already often earmarked for fire and first
- With the right craftspeople, the necessities and luxuries of
life can be produced by tailors, glass blowers, blacksmiths,
potters, carpenters, masons, and others. Local or regional products
can be vended directly or by independently-owned retailers. With
some effort, residents can live in, sit on, wear, drink and eat
products made not far from home.
- Some cities are experimenting with
free community colleges and others are opening local centers
for continuing higher education like TechTown which helps local
businesses launch and grow.
- Finally, there is the full menu of personal services like home
services, elder care, beauty, and fitness that are already often
independently owned and can continue to grow in a motivated
There are certainly some things we may rely on big brands and
federal resources for, but it isn’t Amazon or the IRS who give us
a friendly wave as we take our morning hike through town, making us
feel acknowledged as people and improving our sense of community.
For that, we have to rely on our neighbor. And it’s becoming
increasingly clear that it’s up to towns and cities to determine
whether neighbors are experiencing a decent standard of living.
Reading the mood of the economy, I am seeing more and more
Americans becoming open to the messages that the
percentage of small businesses in a community correlates with
residents’ health, that
quality social interactions lessen the chances of premature death
by 50%, that independent businesses recirculate almost 4x as much
community wealth, and that Main Street-style city planning
massively reduces pollution vs. big box stores on the outskirts
Small Business Saturday doesn’t have to be a once-a-year
phenomenon. Small business owners, by joining together as community
advocates, have the power to make it a way of life where they live.
And they have one significant advantage over most corporations, the
value of which shouldn’t be underestimated: They can begin the
most important conversations face-to-face with their neighbors,
asking, “Who do we want to be? Where do want to live? What’s
our best vision for how life could be here?”
Don’t be afraid to talk beyond transactions with your favorite
customers. Listening closely, I believe you’ll discover that
there’s a longing for change and that the time is right.
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