Small Business Saturday is a celebration of the millions of small businesses that are the beating heart of the UK economy. The event has been a resounding success since first launching in 2013, three years after American Express founded the initiative in the United States.
Last year’s event saw a record 17.6 million people shopping with small UK businesses. With this year's tour being moved online due to the pandemic, we explore what makes Small Business Saturday so special, and what you can do to make the eighth event the best yet.
What is Small Business Saturday?
Small Business Saturday was originally conceived across the pond, with the first event held on 27th November 2010. While the UK version takes place following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, it’s sandwiched between the two in the United States, and is always held on the first Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Of course, the event’s proximity to Black Friday and Cyber Monday is no coincidence. Whereas those events drive customers towards supermarkets, department stores and e-commerce giants, with huge discounts on thousands of big-ticket items, Small Business Saturday encourages customers to ‘shop local’ and support small, independent businesses in their surrounding communities.
The cross-party campaign to bring Small Business Saturday to the UK was driven by former shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna, and won backing from former prime minister David Cameron and 200 other MPs. “There is such a lot of talk about the American dream – small business succeeding against all odds,” said Umunna in 2013. “We do have a British dream, but we don’t talk about it, it’s not part of our imagination. But Small Business Saturday can give life to that British dream.”
Over the past eight years, small businesses across the UK have participated in Small Business Saturday by hosting events and cutting prices in time for the festive season, while local authorities have offered free parking in town centres, along with other incentives to get customers shopping locally.
Social media has played a big part in spreading the word – the hashtags #SmallBizSatUK and #SmallBusinessSaturday have regularly featured among the top trends on Twitter, with the latter first used in the USA to promote small businesses on every Saturday of the year.
How do I get involved?
It’s not too late to take part in this year’s Small Business Saturday. Here are some simple ways to prepare for the big day and make it a memorable one for your business and customers alike.
Register on the website
Small Business Saturday will promote your business before, during and after the event if you register for its online portal, My Small Business. Once registered, your business will be searchable on its Small Business Finder, an interactive map that allows people to search by town and type of business. You can also download a free marketing pack through the site, along with Small Business Saturday logos, which you can add to your website and social media posts.
Give people a reason to visit you
Think carefully about what discounts you can afford to offer customers on the day, or even across the whole weekend. On the one hand, the offers need to be good enough to entice people to shop with you; on the other hand, you probably want to avoid slashing some healthy profit margins. By getting the balance right, you should be able to win some new customers without putting too much strain on your business.
If your profit margins are already quite tight, consider other ways that you can draw people to your store or website. What makes your product or service a perfect gift for Christmas? Shout about it on social media with some eye-catching imagery, and make sure you use the #SmallBizSatUK or #SmallBusinessSaturday hashtag to maximize reach. For the more social savvy, you could also throw a small amount of money behind a targeted Facebook ad, or offer free samples if you’re a high-street business.
Don’t stop shouting
With more than 51,000 people following @SmallBizSatUK on Twitter, it’s a great opportunity to showcase your brand to a new audience without spending a single penny. By mentioning the account in all your tweets, and using the relevant hashtags, you’ll stand a good chance of being retweeted to thousands and seen by millions.
If possible, try to take photos throughout the day so that you’re not repeatedly posting the same thing, but don’t go overboard. Any more than four or five tweets per day is probably excessive, not to mention impractical. You’ve still got a business to run, after all.
Despite the temptation to promote your offer, most people on Twitter don’t like being sold to. With that in mind, use your posts to tap into the overall spirit and purpose of the day, while occasionally referencing your own event or promotion.
Let the local press know
There’s a good chance your local newspaper will already know about some of the events taking place in your area, but that doesn’t mean they won’t still cover yours. If they’re reporting throughout the day or regularly updating an event listing online, you should stand a good chance of being featured.
Drop them a call or email letting them know why you’re getting involved with Small Business Saturday, and what you’re doing to celebrate it. Those photos that you took for social media may also come in handy. The paper may even send a photographer down to your business if it’s really interested in what you’re doing.
Spread the small business love
Cross-promoting and engaging with other local businesses is one of the best ways to raise awareness of Small Business Saturday. There may even be an opportunity to collaborate if your brands aren’t competitive but share a similar target audience.
At its core, Small Business Saturday is a movement of businesses, organisations and public bodies that are united by a common goal. Your business will only gain from it if you champion the cause, and all others fighting for it.