How Your Small Business Can Stand Out on Black Friday and All Season

  •    A freelance reporter and writer based in Philadelphia, Pa., Dinah previously worked as a staff reporter for The Associated Press and Dow Jones Newswires.

With mega-retailers dominating Black Friday and Cyber Monday promotions, small business owners may feel they can do little to stand out and compete for customers' frenzied holiday purchases.

Creative moves, however, can help mom-and-pop shops and other small businesses attract shoppers on those two big sale days and throughout the holiday season — including Green Monday, a unique cyber sale day occurring on the second Monday in December.

You may host a Black Friday event that only a small business can do well, or work around the calendar and focus your holiday promotions on another day altogether. And with an eCommerce site, even a solopreneur can offer coupon codes and make special offers to existing customers.

"As soon as Halloween ends, the big box retailers immediately pivot to promoting their Black Friday deals. By mid-November, consumers are already inundated with hundreds of ads and promotions. This obviously makes it difficult for small businesses to stand out," small business expert Taylor Johnson of Legaltemplates.net says.

"One advantage that small businesses have over the big-box retailers is that they are more in touch with their local communities. That's why I always suggest that small businesses combine forces and organize a community event over the Black Friday weekend. Get the small businesses on your block together and brainstorm if there are any opportunities to create 'cross-business promotions,'" he says.

Play to the Small Business Advantage

Business coach Jennifer Martin, founder of Zest Business Consulting, suggests that small businesses "play another game" if they can't compete with the big-box-store discounts. During the holiday season, for example, throw a "gratitude party" for your regular customers and their friends and families — either in person or online.

"Offer them a special sale or discount and here's the big one — do it before Black Friday. There's no bad time to be grateful for the people who keep your business running," says Martin. In the same spirit, send your best clients a small gift, like a plant, to let them know you appreciate and enjoy your business relationship, she says.

Martin, too, suggests teaming up with neighboring businesses to have special events, like a late-night open house, a weekend meet-your-neighbors day or seasonal extended hours. Remember to have hot apple cider and plenty of staff on hand, she says.

Andrew VanderLind, co-founder of Where I'm From Apparel, which has an eCommerce site and 11 mall locations, notes that it's crucial to have proper inventory and a staff with a good attitude.

"The first year at one of our mall locations, we didn't have enough shirts due to demand and we had to learn the hard way. Ever since, we have planned well in advance on inventory. We'd rather have too much apparel and find clever ways to get rid of it versus the alternative.," VanderLind says.

"At our physical location, you can't overlook the attitude of your staff. This is game seven of the championship for our company. We realize how important our team members are at our stores and when they feel valued, they give 110 percent and the customers value this."

Where I'm From saves its biggest and best eCommerce deals for Cyber Monday. "We understand there is a ton of competition around Christmas time so we utilize Facebook advertisements and Google Shopping ads to get the word out about our great deals and promotions."

​Cookie Bouquets offers its biggest deal of the year — free shipping, which can amount to a 30 percent discount — on Cyber Monday, owner Christian McCoy says.

"For Cyber Monday, we have the motto 'go big or go home.' By offering free shipping, we're able to lure in more customers and grow our business," McCoy says.

Teresa LaFountain, who owns Pop City Popcorn with her husband in Kalamazoo, Michigan, focuses the shop's marketing efforts on the Saturday after Black Friday — Small Business Saturday — and says consumers have started to reserve some of their holiday budget to "shop local."

"We open earlier and stay open later and offer free coffee for early morning shoppers. We create a special holiday popcorn flavor and allow our Small Business Saturday shoppers to sample it before we offer it to the public," says LaFountain. Customers placing holiday gift orders on Small Business Saturday receive a 10 percent discount.

Rob Baldino, co-founder of Balitello Performance Dress Socks, cites several Black Friday and Cyber Monday techniques his business uses: posting to social media hourly — items like photos of happy customers; offering free products to the first 100 people who subscribe to the Sock Club; contacting bloggers, gift guides and publications in advance; live-streaming the packing of boxes on Facebook; having influencers post at the same time you do.

Make It Fun

"Giving our customers personal attention and making sure they know how much we appreciate them is how we stand out. We know our regular customers by name and their favorite popcorn flavors," says LaFountain, who notes that American Express offers free promotional items for Small Business Saturday.

Lisa Chu, who owns Black N Bianco Kids Apparel, warns against getting into a price war with the big-box retailers, suggesting instead that entrepreneurs focus on creating a memorable experience for their customers. She held a Black Friday scavenger hunt around her neighborhood, with free holiday gifts and store coupons.

"It was a pretty big turnout because businesses around my area hardly made any attempts to create a family holiday event. Every store around me was focused on promoting their outrageous sales. I instead used Black Friday as the catalyst to bring awareness to my scavenger hunt," which attracted new customers. "Developing a strong and genuine relationship with my customers will have lasting benefits way beyond Black Friday," she says.

Here are some other ideas:

  • Send exclusive discount coupons to the customers on your email list on Black Friday, suggests Frank Lee, head of marketing at Rebates Zone.

  • David Mercer, who runs a small business blog called SME Pals, uses social media like Facebook and Twitter to share data about product sales, i.e. , "We've sold 100 copies of this item today." He tracks sales using RankTracer.

  • each out to bloggers, podcasters and other influencers and offer free items that they can mention to their audiences, Mercer suggests. "Influencer marketing is great way to reach out to a large audience effectively over this insane time when everyone is competing like mad to get in front of buyers," he says.
    "There is generally a higher return from traffic arising from influencers than other channels," Mercer says.

  • If you're holding a contest or other special event, use Twitter or Facebook to build excitement, suggests small-business expert Dionne Morrison. Post pics of prep work, invite clients via your mailing list, and post live updates with photos and videos.

  • If you have funds for a small pay-per-click ad campaign, use PPC ad timers, suggests Sean Martin, content marketing manager of digital marketing agency Directive Consulting. "You can specify when your ads are running to make sure that they are being seen when your key demographic is online," he says. This will also cut back your cost per click "because the ad won't be up nonstop wasting your money."

  • Use keyword optimization to grab Black Friday shoppers. One way to do this is to go through your website and if you find deals or posts relevant to Black Friday, put those words in the title, Sean Martin says. You should also see a jump in traffic if you change your anchor text — the highlighted words that link to another site — to include Black Friday, and then link back to your source pages, he says.

  • Niche, sub-holidays may be smaller than Black Friday or Cyber Monday but can mean a lot to small businesses, says Mike Catania, co-founder and chief technology officer of PromotionCode.org.

Online or offline, you have more tools than you may have realized to win your share of holiday sales.