12 tips for Small Business Saturday

Are you ready for Small Business Saturday?

The event encouraging holiday shoppers to patronize local brick and mortar businesses falls on the Saturday after Thanksgiving during the busiest shopping period of the year. First observed in 2010, it’s a small business counterpart to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, which feature big-box retail and e-commerce, respectively.

Small Business SaturdayWhether it’s a holiday luncheon for your best customers, a workshop for business owners at your accounting firm, an in-store reading by a beloved local author at your children’s bookstore or just a way to thank your customers, hosting an event is a great — and can be a very inexpensive — way to attract new customers, cement relationships with existing customers and build buzz about your business.

But the idea of hosting an event intimidates many small-business owners. Yes, there can be lots of moving parts involved in pulling an event together, but don’t let that scare you off.

These 12 tips will help you plan and execute your Small Business Saturday event:

  1. Set a goal. Do you want to attract local media, create awareness of your business, build a mailing list of potential customers or sell slow-moving products? Set goals first, then determine the type of event to best achieve them.
  2. Figure out the scope of the event. Will you have refreshments, entertainment, workshops or speakers? Scale the event’s scope to your level of experience. If you’ve never held an event before, don’t start by trying to host a day-long business conference for hundreds of attendees in a hotel ballroom. A one-hour workshop at your office will probably work just as well.
  3. Time it right. Timing is crucial to the success of your event. Consider key dates, such as holidays or annual events in the community, that might compete with yours, or choose a theme to highlight. Also consider how much time attendees will spend at the event and how much time you’ll need to prepare for it.
  4. Choose your team. Who will be in charge of the event? Whether it’s you or a key employee, you need one person to take ownership and manage all the details, then others to help with the rest of the moving parts. Making sure responsibilities are well-understood ensures you don’t end up without chairs at your conference or glasses at your wine tasting.
  5. Think it through. Sit down with your team, and mentally walk through every step of the event. Envision it happening. Picture everything you will need — from chairs and a PA system to napkins and clipboards. Also consider how much manpower you’ll need, what could possibly go wrong, and what and who you’ll need to have on hand to handle those snafus.
  6. Set a budget. You may find costs are adding up to a price beyond your means. That’s when it’s time to either scale back or find a way to bring in additional money. Depending on the event, consider seeking a sponsor (perhaps one of your vendors or suppliers), selling tickets in advance or partnering with a complementary business to share the costs.
  7. Create a marketing plan. Allow plenty of time to get the word out. Depending on the type of event you’re planning, your marketing plan could include email, direct mail, in-store signage and radio, print, online and cable advertising.
  8. Alert the media. Local media are critical to building awareness of your event. Send local reporters and bloggers a press release or notice about your upcoming event, invite them to attend and then send a follow-up press release. The publicity will help get the word out about your business even to those who can’t attend but who may drop by afterward.
  9. Build buzz. Use social media to get your target audience excited. You can tease the event well in advance, post pictures of and news about your preparations and invite customers. Keep the social media energy high by having an employee live tweet and post pictures and video from the event. People respond very favorably to news and photos of themselves and their circle.
  10. Develop promotions. Figure out how you’ll market to customers when they’re at the event, whether with business cards and brochures, discount coupons or gift cards, product giveaways or contests. Be sure to capture attendees’ contact information, too. This can be as simple as having them write their email addresses on a form or putting their business cards in a fishbowl for a drawing to win a great, not necessarily expensive prize.
  11. Be positive! Be prepared the day of the event. But also accept that you probably haven’t planned for every eventuality. When mistakes happen, your attitude is what matters most. If you stay positive, keep your sense of humor and make your customers feel welcome and happy they came, it won’t matter too much that there aren’t enough chairs. Chalk it up to a learning experience, and know you’ll do better next time.
  12. Follow up. Your work isn’t done when the event is over — in fact, that’s when it really starts. Follow up with customers who attended the event to thank them and offer them something special such as a discount, free trial or invitation to your next event. Ask them to rate the event so you can learn for your next one. Assess how well your event achieved your goals. How many new customers showed up? How many were returning customers? How many units did you sell? How many attendees make purchases in the months following the event? Developing your own metrics and tracking them will help ensure your events pay off in much more than good feelings.

For help with marketing, finance, business ideas, management or growing your business, visit your local Small Business & Technology Development Center.

Contributed by Rieva Lesonsky, American Express Open Forum. American Express is widely credited with conceiving and promoted the first Small Business Saturday in 2010.