The Ultimate Guide to a Successful Small Business Saturday®

The holiday shopping season incites a lot of emotions for your small business clients. Excitement, for sure, for the festive crowds and high sales plans. But also stress and anxiety — how will they get it all done? Will they have enough staff? And even self-doubt: How will they compete with the mega retailers and chain establishments?

The good news is, consumers have shown increasing support for small businesses in recent years, particularly during the holiday season. Over 70% of consumers say they intentionally go out of their way to support a local small business, and 8 in 10 will even spend more money in doing so.

It's clear why the Shop Small® Movement is something revered by both small business owners and consumers — and why one out of every two Americans is planning to support Small Business Saturday® this year.

So, if you're wondering whether your clients should participate and how you can support them as an ISV, read on to discover:

  • Everything your small business clients need to know about Small Business Saturday
  • Why it's a worthwhile opportunity for small businesses of all industries to take part in
  • How you can help them make the most out of the day and harness that spirit all year long
Woman with blond hair wearing glasses, a green shirt and black apron merchandising in a plant store, with holiday decorations in the background

Small Business Saturday Q&A

What is Small Business Saturday?

The brainchild of American Express, the first Small Business Saturday — which was essentially a marketing campaign — was celebrated in 2010. Its goal was to put small businesses that were struggling through the recession in the spotlight by encouraging shoppers to spend at local establishments over national chains.

Since then, it has turned into so much more than a hashtag: Just one year later, the U.S. Small Business Administration co-sponsored the initiative. Now, the SBA-backed day generates over $20 billion for independent shops and restaurants. In the same way that Black Friday is a staple of the holiday season, Small Business Saturday, too, has become a tradition as custom as office gift swaps and neighborhood cookie exchanges.

And just like the snickerdoodles and peanut butter blossoms those cookie swaps yield, there are some tempting benefits for consumers who Shop Small.

They don't just do it in support of the small business movement. They get something too – be it a discount, free service, physical goods, giveaway entries or some other promotional perk – and will make a point to seek out small businesses offering such on Small Business Saturday. If your clients participate, they'll be more likely to capture those folks on a mission who may not be regular customers (yet).

When is Small Business Saturday 2022?

Small Business Saturday takes place on the Saturday following Thanksgiving, which means you can tell your clients to mark their calendars for November 26, 2022.

Who is Small Business Saturday for?

Don't let your clients read too much into the “Shop Small” tagline: Small Business Saturday honors industries beyond retail, including restaurants, cafes, bars and other service businesses — like salons and groomers.

The threshold for participation is quite generous. By the official Amex definition, qualifying businesses must have at least one but no more than 25 locations (for brick-and-mortar businesses) and have no more than $5M in American Express annual charge volume.

While Small Business Saturday is an Amex-sponsored movement, consumers don't have to be Amex card holders to participate. But, American Express does frequently hold promotions that reward its members for supporting small businesses.

Woman wearing a white tshirt and brown apron hanging “Open” sign in the window of a bakery

How can merchants participate in Small Business Saturday?

They can start by putting their businesses on the map — literally.

The Shop Small Map helps consumers get information about the local businesses they already love, plus discover new favorites. Think of it like a Google or Yelp listing, with a business' address, contact info, website, social media handles and more.

The map is live year-round, but be sure to stress to your clients what an especially beneficial marketing tool it is during the holidays: Aunt Janice is in need of a vinyl record store to impress her teenage nephew. Mom and Dad just made it through their entire gift list and now want to crash at a nearby restaurant. Uncle Jim wants to send his niece a coffee shop gift card but has no idea what's around her college campus.

Plus, everybody is trying to stretch their dollars given the tough economy, so they plan to Shop Small to earn the max amount of credit card rewards they're entitled to through Amex's Shop Small promotions.

To qualify for a listing on the Shop Small Map, your clients do need to be American Express Card-accepting merchants. Fortunately, with the right credit card processing solution, it's easy for your clients to accept not only Amex cards, but also digital wallets, gift cards, ACH payments and all of the other ways consumers want to pay.

American Express Small Business Saturday Shop Small Map

Clients wondering where to access the map? They can add or update a Shop Small Map listing here.

PS. Are some of your clients' businesses online only? That's ok — there's a category for them too!

3 ways to help your clients make the most of Small Business Saturday

1. Connect them to Small Business Saturday marketing materials

American Express offers free, printable marketing materials that help businesses remind customers to Shop Small (on 11/26 and every day). And if you have clients who are stressed about designing their own graphics, the Shop Small Studio is a dream: All they have to do is plug in some key business information, and they can download custom social media, web banner and poster imagery instantly.

Digital signage is just the start: They can also order window clings, open/closed and social distancing signs — even hand sanitizer dispensers.

Are they tapped out when it comes to writing social media posts? Well, they can borrow straight from Amex's library of tweets and other suggested copy.

Email marketing graphics are free too. Small businesses will want to share their SBS plans with their entire customer list, but it's also a good idea to reach out to those who shopped or ate with them last year on Small Business Saturday.

Advise your clients to thank those customers for their patronage and let them know that they look forward to seeing them again this year (maybe they can even throw in a voucher for a free gift or appetizer with a purchase). If your clients are wondering how to get a hold of their customer history, just direct them to their point of sale customer data analytics tools to pull the lists they need.

Are your clients after more holiday marketing ideas? They can get additional marketing ideas for Small Business Saturday and beyond here.

Woman wearing a pink shirt and black leather jacket smiling while window shopping outside a clothing boutique

2. Brainstorm Small Business Saturday ideas that will keep fans coming back all year

Just a handful of years ago, there was a harder line between who participated in what: The big box stores flourished on Black Friday, small businesses were honored on Small Business Saturday and ecommerce merchants shined on Cyber Monday. Now, it's commonplace for all commerce businesses – no matter size or specialty – to participate for the entire weekend (throw Sunday in there too).

So, while your clients can keep sales and specials going all weekend, Saturday is the big day for small businesses to shine, and an excuse to create an extra memorable event. Here are a few ideas you can share with your merchants:

Small Business Saturday event ideas:

  • Hold a character meet and greet: Families have lots of opportunities to meet Santa, so have your clients consider hosting a different winter-themed character, like Buddy the Elf, the Grinch or Elsa.
  • Provide free gift wrapping, or partner with a local non-profit for a donation-based wrapping station.
  • Create a photobooth: Make sure your clients remind visitors to tag their business and #ShopSmall and #SmallBizSat when they post.
  • Showcase live music, like a local singer-songwriter or college acapella group.
  • If space allows, create a kid-friendly area with designated staff to watch kiddos while parents shop or receive services.

…read on for even more in-store event ideas.

Though Black Friday weekend feels synonymous with major sales and promotions, merchants don't have to go slashing prices left and right to delight customers. Plus, if your clients haven't worked such promotions into their overall pricing and markdown strategy, that big box-style discounting could really hurt them.

Alternatives to deep discounting:

  • Mark down specific categories or collections, instead of a blanket discount off the entire store.
  • Provide a discount code or coupon only after customers have signed up for their newsletter.
  • Keep items and services at full price, but reward shoppers with bounceback incentives they can spend in the new year, like a $20 gift card for every $100 you spend.
  • Offer free gifts with purchases of tiered spend levels.

Staffing is critical for small businesses this weekend. Shoppers and diners will be faced with big crowds and long lines, and patience will dwindle. Make sure your clients use data analytics to staff strategically, keeping everyone's stress levels low and spirits high.

Woman talking on phone and taking handwritten notes in a retail store, surrounded by unpacked holiday decor

3. Encourage them to team up with neighboring businesses

That's what Small Business Saturday is all about, after all: each of us supporting our local economy and community.

Advise your clients to connect with their neighbors and brainstorm cross-collaboration initiatives. We've seen brick and mortars host makers and artisans who don't have a storefront, gift shops host tastings with local brewers and fitness studios partner with ecommerce athleisure brands – just to name a few.

If you've got online-only businesses on your client roster, spread the word that they can join forces with entrepreneurs in the same boat to plan a holiday market. Community centers and co-working spaces are great venues for holiday shopping events like this. They can also connect with Neighborhood Champions who may be able to help them find a space. The best part: They'll feed off each other's customer bases, amplifying their brand and getting in front of tons of new faces.

Join a community of Black-owned businesses

As your clients prepare to join forces with local businesses in their communities, be sure to alert them to this important opportunity: American Express recently announced ByBlack, a platform dedicated to supporting and amplifying Black-owned businesses and Black entrepreneurs. Leading up to Small Business Saturday, if you have small business clients that identify as Black-owned or operated, they should be sure to add themselves to this directory of Black-owned businesses.

One male and one female restaurant employee wearing teal aprons looking at a laptop and laughing

Keep the momentum going all year long

After the weekend wraps, it's a good idea for your clients to send an email blast to everyone who shopped or dined with them, thanking customers for supporting their small business. Encourage your clients to stress their gratitude for their customers' choice to Shop Small, and to encourage those customers to continue doing so throughout the year. In the spirit of the holiday, your merchants can even recommend some of their own favorite local shops and restaurants, or online businesses.

The major takeaway? Shop Small is a movement, not just a day. When people shop, dine and support independent businesses, everyone wins. Every hot coffee, haircut and handcrafted gift that we buy from a local establishment means revenue staying in – and bolstering – our local communities.

By now we hope it's clear that participating in Small Business Saturday is easy, and the festive day is an invaluable opportunity for your clients to create a memorable customer experience, helping them lock in repeat business for the new year.

Be sure to bookmark and check our blog regularly for more ways to help your small business clients win better business. You can also contact us today to learn about how we can help your clients keep up the momentum all year long with the right tech.

Emily Fanning

Senior Copywriter

A senior copywriter at Heartland, a Global Payments company, Emily lives retail and loves technology. She is passionate about the small business movement and strives to help retailers, restaurateurs and other hospitality businesses grow through her writing and storytelling.

Emily Fanning