Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9pm ET. This week’s guest is Gene Marks @Genemarks. Gene is a nationally recognized management columnist and speaker specializing in small and medium sized businesses. He writes regularly for the NY Times, Forbes and Huffington Post. This chat was sponsored by Can Capital. CAN Capital has helped more than 55,000 small businesses access over $4 Billion in working capital since 1998. For more details www.cancapital.com
SmallBizLady: What is Small Business Saturday?
Gene Marks: #SmallBusinessSaturday is held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving to encourage holiday shoppers to support their communities by shopping at locally owned businesses, which usually can’t afford the deep discounts that big-box retailers promote on Black Friday.
SmallBizLady: Why is this day important for small businesses?
Gene Marks: #SmallBusinessSaturday is a highly publicized day that gives SMBs the opportunity to stand out from the corporate retailers that tend to take the spotlight during holiday shopping. This also is an opportunity to engage with new customers and convert them into regular shoppers. But it’s critical that small business owners are prepared, with inventory and extra staff on hand. Small business supporters like @CANCapital can help with this by providing access to funding for additional inventory for the day or special marketing campaigns.
SmallBizLady: How can small businesses make the most out of Small Business Saturday?
Gene Marks: The key is planning ahead so your small business stands out and is seen as a destination for holiday shoppers that day. Try hosting a special event for the day to give shoppers a memorable experience – promote it the entire week before through email marketing, social media and signs throughout the neighborhood. Give customers an incentive to come in – whether that’s discounts for one day only, free snacks and drinks, or even free gift-wrapping. The first step is bringing the customers in for the day – the next step is making them want to come back. Don’t be afraid to spend money to make money. This is one of those cases where a little extra investment can have a very strong – and very fast – return.
SmallBizLady: What are some tactics for small businesses to build on that day to convert one-day shoppers into regular customers?
Gene Marks: Every person who enters your door on #SmallBusinessSaturday should be personally greeted. Be sure to also have pens and papers laid out near the entrance and by cash registers to give customers the opportunity to list their email and sign up for your small business’ mailing list. And if you don’t have a mailing list, now is the time to create one! Also, don’t be afraid to interact with each customer and tell them how your business contributes to the local community. Customers will remember that personal touch and should keep coming back for the friendliness that local businesses provide.
SmallBizLady: For small businesses with a tiny budget, what are some low-cost ideas that a business owner can do to drive customers into the door?
Gene Marks: Make signs stating that your business is locally owned with its address and information, and then hang them around the neighborhood. Reach out to local media about your plans for #SmallBusinessSaturday and encourage them to come by to hear your business’ story. Make sure all your social media pages are up to date and post content about your business’ plans for the day. If you’re still struggling with budget and need some last minute cash for marketing, try reaching out to alternative finance companies like @CANCapital – they provide access to working capital for small businesses with funding usually available within a few days. They’re a much quicker option than traditional resources and can help get you the money you need to make #SmallBusinessSaturday a success.
SmallBizLady: How can small businesses use this day to differentiate themselves from big-box, corporate retailers?
Gene Marks: Local, local, local. That’s the message you want to push out on #SmallBusinessSaturday. Engage with each customer, promote your participation in the community, share your story and relate with each person that comes in the door.
SmallBizLady: How can small businesses leverage their social media pages to drive customers into the door for Small Business Saturday?
Gene Marks: Start posting your #SmallBusinessSaturday plans a couple weeks ahead and engage with your followers while doing so. Run a contest encouraging followers to answer questions like “What’s the hottest holiday gift this season?” Anyone who answers gets a 5% discount with the winner getting a 15% discount. Post photos of your employees getting ready for the day and post your business’ story of how it got started. SMBs can also incorporate #SmallBusinessSaturday hashtag in their posts to attract more eyes. This could work well if they use promoted tweets or Facebook ads targeting by geography. With social media, you want to engage with your followers and start a conversation with the goal of having them wake up on November 29th remembering that its #SmallBusinessSaturday and they have places they need to go – like your business!
SmallBizLady: Most shoppers think of only retailers for Small Business Saturday, how can restaurants or bars get involved?
GeneMarks: #SmallBusinessSaturday is definitely for everyone – not just retailers. A day of shopping can certainly make one hungry. I suggest using a lot of the same tactics: posting on social media with one day discounts and hanging signs outside. Try teaming up with local retailers by leaving coupons in their stores. Offer discounts if customers show a receipt from a locally owned business. Try even coming up with a new meal or drink item for the day – anything with a local tie to it to help incentivize customers. Offer promotions via “daily deal” websites (like Groupon, etc) if your business is set up to handle the flux that may occur as a result of the promotion. Again, think about whether a quick capital infusion obtained with help from a small business-focused organization like @CANCapital can give you the extra boost you need to make the most of the day.
SmallBizLady: How can small businesses improve their online presence for Small Business Saturday?
GeneMarks: Make sure your business website is completely up to date – address, phone number, directions. Be sure to have a business description, “About Us” section with your businesses story, and if you don’t have an e-commerce platform, at least have descriptions of the products available within the store. Next, have graphics or text on your website promoting your businesses participation in #SmallBusinessSaturday. List what your business is doing for the day and why customers should be coming in.
SmallBizLady: What are some creative incentives for the day that small businesses can consider offering to customers?
Gene Marks: The biggest incentive is special discounts for the day. But if you want to get creative, try planning a special event unique to your target customers. For example, if you’re a retailer targeting the under 18 crowd, team up with some local teenagers. Host a talent show where if someone shares their special talent, they win a prize just for participating. That could be a discount, free food or drinks, or even free products.
SmallBizLady: How can small businesses cross-promote with other small businesses in their area for the day?
Gene Marks: One idea is to create a local map with other participating businesses. Once a customer comes into each business, they get a stamp on that map. If they walk in to every participating business, that customer can then enter a raffle for some sort of prize like a gift basket with a product from each participating store. Each store can reach out to their individual mailing lists ahead of time to let customers know about this group contest, which will help promote your business to new customers.
SmallBizLady: What about Cyber Monday? Should small businesses with an online presence get involved on this day as well?
Gene Marks: If your business has an e-commerce platform, there’s no reason your business shouldn’t participate in #SmallBusinessSaturday and Cyber Monday. You’ll need to offer some discounts or maybe even free shipping, but it’s another day to incentivize customers to purchase for the holidays.
SmallBizLady: There’s just over one week left until the big day. What are some last-minute planning tips?
Gene Marks: If your business has not started planning, get on your social media accounts right now and start posting about your participation. Reach out to your neighboring businesses and try and plan some cross-promotion deals. Make a sign stating your businesses participation. And make sure you have enough funding on hand to make the investments required to give customers the great experience they expect and deserve.
If you found this interview helpful, join us on Wednesdays 8-9 pm ET; follow @SmallBizChat on Twitter. Here’s how to participate in #SmallBizChat: http://bit.ly/1hZeIlz
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