Small Business Saturday only comes once a year, but the work that small businesses put in ahead of time should last far beyond November 24.

By Bill Brunelle

With support from American Express, Neighborhood Champions rally their communities in support of Small Business Saturday. Beyond preparing their businesses for the big day, these advocates ready their fellow small businesses, local leaders, and shoppers. They spread the word about Small Business Saturday, organize community events, distribute promotional materials and connect with other businesses. This work generates enthusiasm around the community’s small businesses — and it’s precisely the rallying that Main Streets need all year long.

Ahead of Small Business Saturday, business owners and community leaders can register with American Express to serve as a Neighborhood Champion. Each Neighborhood Champion will receive a Small Business Saturday event kit which includes free marketing resources such as branded signage, bags, pens and balloons. American Express also keeps in touch with Neighborhood Champions by sending emails with event-planning tips, guides and ideas from seasoned Neighborhood Champions. In preparing for the big day, Neighborhood Champions can use these ideas and resources to guide their activities throughout the rest of the year.

Guide Shoppers through Main Street

Last year, the Bellevue Initiative for Growth and Revitalization (BIGr) in Bellevue, Penn., registered as a Neighborhood Champion ahead of Small Business Saturday. To boost the celebration, BIGr compiled and distributed a holiday gift guide to get shoppers thinking local for their holiday shopping. The guide highlighted local businesses on Main Street and the products and services they offer. With a little legwork, this sort of gift guide could help shoppers year-round by highlighting these businesses during each season, rather than just the holiday season.

Bring Consumers to Main Street

Perhaps more than guiding shoppers through Main Street, it’s essential for Neighborhood Champions to bring consumers to Main Street in the first place. On Small Business Saturday, consumers are likely to look to Main Street on their own, in the spirit of celebration. Throughout the rest of the year, community leaders and business owners can draw these consumers back to Main Street with their creativity. Organize a local food tour, food truck fair, bar crawl, sample sale or some other shopping experience to give consumers a reason to come downtown. Many communities already fill their community calendars with dynamic events, so business owners may have the opportunity to join an established local tradition.

Promote the Local Brand

Neighborhood Champions and other Small Business Saturday celebrants often display and distribute the recognizable Shop Small® window clings, stickers, buttons, tote bags and more. This type of branding has created a unified and familiar identity for Small Business Saturday to establish its legitimacy in the crowded holiday retail market. Similarly, creating a local brand for small businesses in the community can unite Main Street businesses under a single theme. Bring visibility to the brand by producing and distributing promotional materials, social media graphics and more.

Turn to National Resources

While creating a brand for the community, it can help to pay attention to national campaigns. Groups like Independent We Stand, the American Independent Business Alliance and others spread the buy local movement on a national level, through both local and national media outreach. By keeping up with these organizations, community leaders can stay up-to-date on the latest news and strategies, as well as learn from other communities across the country. In this way, Neighborhood Champions can rally their communities in new and strategic ways throughout the year.

Make Lasting Connections

Success throughout the year can begin with Small Business Saturday. If past years are any indication, this year’s occasion will bring millions of shoppers to small businesses thanks in part to the vital work of Neighborhood Champions. Many of those shoppers are likely to be first-time small business shoppers. As a result, Small Business Saturday can be an opportunity to make a lasting first impression that can serve small businesses well throughout the rest of the year. Ahead of Small Business Saturday, Neighborhood Champions can encourage local businesses to build lasting connections with their shoppers by prioritizing customer service, rewarding customer loyalty and telling their Main Street story.

Neighborhood Champions make Small Business Saturday a success for their entire communities. With the lessons learned and strategies used on November 24, these important community advocates can make the whole year a success for Main Street.

Bill Brunelle is co-founder of Independent We Stand, a cause-marketing campaign sponsored by STIHL, Do it Best Corp. and PPG Paints, which is dedicated to educating communities about the importance and strong economic benefits of supporting locally owned businesses. Independent We Stand inspires small business owners across the country to celebrate their locally owned status and help consumers understand the importance of supporting them. For more information, visit

Shop local stock photo by Thinglass/Shutterstock