A jamboree for smaller businesses

Five years after its launch in the UK, Small Business Saturday continues to go from strength to strength. This year’s event, which takes place on 2 December, is the biggest yet, with a five-week nationwide bus tour to promote the initiative, thousands of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) signed up to participate on the day itself, and widespread support from politicians and business leaders.

The initiative seeks to persuade shoppers to give more of their custom to smaller businesses and takes its cue from a similar event in the US, which has now been running for the best part of a decade and swells the coffers of SMEs by several billion dollars each year. Small businesses in the UK are now reaping similar rewards – last year’s event is estimated to have generated an additional £717m of sales for SMEs, a 15% increase compared with 2015.

Despite economic growth now slowing in the UK, many small businesses believe they are well placed to grow in 2017. In fact, 78% of SMEs are optimistic about the next 12 months, according to research commissioned by Small Business Saturday organisers, against only 10% who feel pessimistic.

However, smaller businesses face significant headwinds, with inflation continuing to squeeze consumers’ purchasing power and the prospect of rising interest rates and political uncertainty. The Small Business Saturday initiative also looks even more important in the context of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, which deliver a hugely valuable boost to major retailers with large marketing budgets and sophisticated distribution strategies. That event threatens to undermine smaller retailers in particular, which struggle to make themselves heard in the noise.

Small Business Saturday isn’t only focused on retailers or online businesses. It attracts a broad church of SMEs – any small business can take part; previous years have involved businesses ranging from tradesmen to professional-services firms, trading both online and offline.

The event is run by a not-for-profit organisation, though it is now attracting commercial sponsorship from backers including American Express, and more practical support from organisations such as the Federation of Small Businesses. That’s enabled organisers to expand the initiative, offering a broader range of free services to SMEs that want to get involved (see SmallBusinessSaturdayUK.com and below for more information). 

How to make the day work for you

If you’re looking to take advantage of Small Business Saturday, there are several things you can do to make sure you make the most of the event.

First, it’s a good idea to register with My Small Business Finder via SmallBusinessSaturdayUK.com – this is a free online directory which enables potential customers to search their local areas for a small business offering the goods and services they’re looking for.

Next, download any marketing material that is applicable to your business. Small Business Saturday offers a pack of free promotional material that small businesses can use to publicise their involvement with the initiative – logos for websites and social media are available, along with printed material for use in physical locations.

You may want to launch a promotion – many SMEs use Small Business Saturday as a hook for bringing in extra customers with discounts and special offers only available on the day itself. The organisation will publicise such offers for free on its social-media channels, though make sure to do your own promotion too. Some SMEs, for example, are asking local influencers to publicise their offers – think anyone from your local MP to a neighbourhood celebrity.

Be sure to attend an event. Small Business Saturday has spawned a series of free talks and workshops for SMEs and entrepreneurs, offering advice on a broad range of topics; if you can’t attend in person, many of the events are streamed online.

Finally, register for the Small Biz 100. Small Business Saturday highlights 100 small businesses, one per day in the days leading up to the event. In the past, these businesses have represented the group at Downing Street and the Treasury. It’s too late to take part this year, but you can apply to be part of next year’s programme from next June (see the website for details).

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