Small firms are local by definition, often having premises on the high street, serving their communities, and maintaining close relationships with their customers. But SMEs can seem invisible, plugging away in their neighbourhood without getting recognition.
Small Business Saturday hopes to address this oversight. Taking place in the UK for the first time on December 7, the Government-backed campaign will celebrate smaller firms the length and breadth of Britain, with people encouraged to shop small, use trades people in their immediate vicinity, and generally think local instead of turning to larger, nationwide companies to fulfill their day-to-day needs.
But while the event has the support of the Prime Minister and all the major parties, it’s more than just a politicians’ exercise in flag-waving for enterprise. Much of the drive is coming from small businesses themselves. Participating firms will offer customer deals to reward the loyalty of old friends and generate trade amongst new ones. Business owners are working with local media to tell their stories, and events, including a nationwide bus tour, will showcase SMEs’ efforts, highlighting the unique nature and personality of small independent firms and the added value that they give to their customers and communities.
It’s not just bricks and mortar businesses that are being championed on the day. The event embraces internet-based enterprises and companies across all market sectors, including business-to-business (B2B) operations. While retailers and customer-facing firms may offer discounts or services for free, B2B companies can take the opportunity to demonstrate how they differ from their faceless corporate peers and the personal touch that they provide clients. Some are planning workshops for December 7 to show how their business works or are giving free one-off sessions to generate potential new custom. A Small Business Saturday 100 list has also been created, a selection of innovative companies taking part in the day who are being featured on social media feeds in the 100 days leading up to the December date.
The idea for the event is not a new one. It originated in the US, where a Small Business Saturday has been running since 2010. It’s been a great success across the pond, with more than 100 million people there using local small businesses on the day itself. Last year, the American event, which takes place on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, was estimated to generate $5.5 billion in sales.
Not surprisingly, the launch of the initiative in Britain has been welcomed by many of the UK’s business organisations. The Forum of Private Business has called for councils around the country to waive parking fees for the day to ensure the success of the occasion. Authorities in Pendle in Lancashire, Sutton in Surrey, and Morpeth in Northumberland, among others, look set to allow traffic concessions as a result. Meanwhile, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has hailed Small Business Saturday as a compliment to its longstanding Keep Trade Local campaign, which has been lobbying local authorities for some years to use small local suppliers, improve parking facilities near high streets, and speed up planning applications to enable smaller companies to compete with larger rivals. John Allan, the FSB’s honorary national chairman, said: “By spending locally with local businesses it generates more money in the local community for people to survive.”
So, if you want to make the most of this inspirational celebration of all things small business, what should you be doing in the run-up to December 7?
Use social media.
Small companies have been quick to embrace new technology and have often proved more effective at using social media tools than their bigger peers. As a result, much of the Small Business Saturday activity is taking place through these digital channels. Tweet your customers about what you’re doing for the day itself – the hashtag #SmallBizSatUK will help you and them keep up-to-date with what’s going on. Retweet interesting events that are taking place locally, and write on your Facebook page or blog about how you’re getting involved. As well as the official Facebook page and Twitter feed, you can also add Small Business Saturday to your Google Plus Circles to keep track of the latest news and developments.
Make yourself attractive.
What are you going to offer customers on the day itself? Think about your customer base and what they want, then design an offering that is likely to appeal to them. It could be discounts, free gift wrapping, or a complimentary session of the service you provide. And, if you work near other small businesses, think about working together to create a local event or attraction that could amplify all of your efforts. A Christmas market or street party is likely to make more of an impression than one company promoting itself alone.
Emphasise your independence.
Small businesses are unique and many consumers are keen to spend their money in one-off shops that contribute to the local economy rather than big, identikit chain stores. Make a strength of your small size and individuality via your marketing.
Remember this is not just one day, but a longer term opportunity.
You should harness the energy generated on December 7 by taking pictures and using them to market your business via social media or future promotions. Take advantage of the event by collecting email addresses or other contact details to keep in touch with the people you encounter. And think about creating a loyalty programme to capture, reward and retain these new customers.
There will be much more noise around Small Business Saturday in the coming weeks, and on Thursday, October 31, Skills and Enterprise Minister Matthew Hancock MP will be tweeting via @SmallBizSatUK about what the day hopes to achieve. To find out how you might become involved keep an eye on the event’s many social media channels and get in touch with the organisers to express your interest.