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DO NOT IGNORE SMALL BUSINESS SATURDAY

Remember Small Business Saturday. While this is an American Express event designed to promote the use of AE by shoppers and retailers alike, do not ignore it. According to New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, "Helping small businesses thrive is the biggest thing we can do to put our economy back on track and that's because small businesses are the economic engines to our neighborhoods."

As it is just a little more than a month away, I thought it would be a good idea to list a few ideas for this promotion. Whether or not you do business with AE, I recommend that you take advantage of the day under the "Buy Local" theme. Keep in mind, the "Black Friday", "Cyber Monday" and "Green Monday" shopping days are directed to the BIGS, but Small Business Saturday is for the local stores and, with a little extra effort, you can customize this shopping holiday to fit your business.

Read over our list of suggestions and customize them to fit your store. And don't let this be a holiday promotion idea. Refine it and use it year round to boost sales and encourage local shopping.

1. Define a social media plan and let this be the holiday season you stick with it! Make a plan and write down the various dates on the calendar and follow through! Do not use social media to push your product. The idea is to build relationships with new customers and add to the relationships with established customers. So, decide on your promotion(s) and get busy.

Think about it from the customers standpoint. What makes your sweaters, shoes, etc. better than anyone else's? Why should a customer shop with you? Do they know you and consider you a friend? If so, they will probably visit your store. After all, your enemies aren't going to shop with you so it has to be your friends and future friends. So make some "friends". Find common ground.

2. Use social media to allow your customers to get to know you. Perhaps have each sales person, cashier, tailor, etc. write out a short memory of a past holiday or of a memorable shopping experience. It can be funny or thoughtful-just something to be read quickly. Post a new one on your social media site and invite your friends to comment or "like" your comment. When your friends "like" it or comment on it, the wonderful world of social media sends notifications to all their friends that they liked whatever and hopefully their friends will read it and like it also and now your friend base is growing. That means your social media site will reach more people every time you add an update . . . like the new shipment of ______________ that just arrived today.

3. Invite your customers into your store to support your local business. Give them the outstanding service you are known for. Make sure the entire experience is positive. That means that sales personnel and cashiers alike are glad to be there and happy to greet them.

4. Ask them, while they are in the store to like you on facebook and to sign up for your newsletter for a gift certificate or coupon off a future visit (boomerang coupons are best) or a small free item just for signing up. If possible with your system, send the coupons in a welcome email so that you confirm it's a good email address. (It is a good idea to have a computer available so your customer can do this while in your store or so the sales staff can do it for them. They may forget by the time they get home).

5. Don't forget those people who have already "liked" you. Offer them the same deal if they will give you a review of their happy shopping experience NOW. Remember, all those posting on your social media will go out to their friends, and so on and so on.

6. You can also get social media sign ups via mobile phone - encourage people to like your page by texting "like facebook.com/yourbusiness" to FBOOK (32665), or create a QR code they can scan to Like your page right on the spot.  You can get your free QR code at QRstuff.com.  If you want something more sophisticated  that will allow for event notification or other special announcements, premium services are available.  But, at least get started.  Get your QR code and refer your customers back to your store. 

7. Keep the social media going. Why stop now that you have some exposure and friends? Be interesting: share tips and/or links on holiday food, fashion, travel, etc. This is a great way to way to move those inventory mistakes also. A local retailer will, from time to time, post a particular item at 30% between noon and 2pm up to 5 customers. (I have to wonder, did they really mean 5 customers or does that mean until the overbought item is gone?)

8. Be sure to use signage or banners to identify you as a local business. Use your advertising to showcase your strong points.

9. Greet every person who comes in to the store. At least send out your friendliest smile and a welcoming "Hi!" Try to avoid phrases like "May I help you" which typically leads to a "Just looking" response. Remember, you are there to engage the customer and make a friend.

10. Spotlight other non-competing local merchants, community events, and local organizations to build community. You could also partner with a local restaurant or another nearby non-competing business. The big thing is to keep people coming back to your store and telling their friends about their fun shopping experience.

Josie Leavitt, an independent Vermont retailer, said: "I think slowly the message is starting to seep in that it's vital to shop at small businesses. It's a little sad that American Express doing this promotion has had more of an immediate and positive effect on business than the Shop Local campaign has had. It excited shoppers to spend money and do something good at the same time. This appeared to be a very winning combination on Saturday [referring to Small Business Saturday, 2011]."

This year, when your customers shop small, think big! Create an emotional connection with customers and take your local business to the next level.   In a CNBC article, Todd Obolsky wrote, "Small Business Saturday hasn't yet reached the pinnacle of holiday shopping traditions like Black Friday and CyberMonday, but becoming well-known is a bit overrated. On the other hand, it could achieve something truly important: helping to turn the economy around.

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