Your step-by-step marketing road map to a successful Small Business Saturday

When we decided to partner with Laurel Main Street to promote Small Business Saturday we did so because we believe that small-town small businesses deserve to succeed.

But, we can’t do it without you.

Without you Small Business Saturday is just an idea. As much as we want to see the streets of Downtown Laurel full of happy shoppers and hear the ring of bells as they swing open your doors, we simply can’t make it happen alone.

If Small Business Saturday is going to be the success we know it can be, we need your help.

In the coming weeks we will be putting all of our resources to work to make this the biggest shopping event of the year. If you, and other business owners like you, make a commitment to do the same then this will be an event that folks will be talking about for months to come and it could be the turning point your business needs for long term success. Are you committed to making this happen with us?

Here’s how we can do it together.

Your 6 steps to #shopsmall success

Step 1. Create a realistic, results-driven strategy

Have you ever stared at that little post box on Facebook and wondered what you could possibly say to get people to actually take notice?

One of the questions I get most often is “What do I talk about?“.

When you have a results-driven, realistic strategy in place, you’ll never ask this question again, because you’ll know what, when, how and where to say exactly what they need to hear.

To develop a strategy for driving people through your doors on Small Business Saturday you’ll need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What do I want to achieve? (Ex. More foot traffic, a new type of customer, a stronger following, etc.)
  • What is my specific measurement of success? (Ex. 10X more sales, 5 new referrals)
  • Are my expectations realistic? (If not, go back to step 1.)
  • What message will make this happen? (Ex. Solve their unique problem, offer something that is scarce, provide more value)
  • What resources can I use to communicate this message? (Ex. Social media, local media, relationships, referrals, etc.)
  • How will I do what I promised? (Ex. Better experience, prepare offer, prepare products)

Now that your event strategy is in place, let’s talk about the tactics you can use to make it all happen.

Step 2. Inspire your AUDIENCE

If you want to see great results during and after the event you’ll need to inspire your past, present and future customers to actually walk through your door. The best way to do that is to give them a good reason to care and to make sure they know about it! Here are my best tips for promoting your business and Small Business Saturday.

– Create your offer

An event like Small Business Saturday is a perfect opportunity to do something special for your customers, something that will bring them back time and time again and inspire them to talk about you and your business at every opportunity. The right offer could be the key to long term success for your business and a great way to test what works for your audience.

Your offer should:

  • Add valueSales and discounts can hurt your business in the long run by decreasing the perceived value of your products, but adding value can inspire customers to spend more, come back time and time again, and refer you to their friends. Here are some ways you can use an offer to add value:
    • Include an “extra” with every purchase during the event. (Ex. A free necklace with every clothing purchase, a free Christmas ornament with every purchase, etc., a free “upgrade” with purchase)
    • Include a service with every purchase during the event. (Ex. Free gift wrapping, layaway, etc)
  • Include their friends – Why wait for your customers to find an opportunity to refer you? Use the #shopsmall event as a reason for them to tell their friends about you! Here are some ideas:
    • Give them a gift to give their friends. (Ex. A card that lets their friend take advantage of the event offer after the event, a pre-gift wrapped token such as a Christmas ornament or other inexpensive item.)
    • Create a secondary value-added offer for referrals. (Ex. Give a free gift for every referral)
  • Make it fun, make it local – One thing we’ve learned at OYH is that Laurel folks love our town and Mississippi. Include a Mississippi-made or Laurel-centric item, gift wrapping or card with every purchase!

Step 3: Plan to succeed on Social Media

A great offer will not only inspire repeat business but will give you an authentic reason to promote the event on social media, through email and through traditional marketing methods. SBS is a great opportunity to flex those marketing muscles and really get your message out there. Here are some tips for getting the word out.

  • Find out which social networks your customers use most and reach out to them there – If your customers aren’t using Twitter, then your time may be much better spent on Facebook or another network. Don’t be fooled into thinking you need to be everywhere. The same goes for traditional media. A tip: Figure out who the social network or media outlet markets to for their own products, and you’ll know who their primary audience is.
  • Provide value – There’s that word again! It seems that everyone is trying to market to us these days. Break through the noise by talking about the things your people actually care about. Ask questions, provide answers, be authentic; treat your audience like the real people they are and they’ll be much more likely to pay attention to what you have to say.
  • Use native content for increased engagementNative content is the type of content that works best on each network. Links and big images (and albums of images) on Facebook, quick posts and hashtags on Twitter, beautiful images (not ads!) on Instagram and helpful content on Pinterest. Each network has it’s own type of conversation; make sure you aren’t interrupting it and you’ll see much better results from your social media efforts.

One of the hardest parts of communicating with your audience is finding the time to do it right. The professionals use tools and services every day to make our job not only easier, but possible! Here is how you can do the same:

  • Create a content schedule – Deciding when and where your posts should go live well ahead of the actual “launch” date will not only save you a ton of time and headaches, but will help you present a cohesive, consistent message that inspires engagement and action. Write out your plan for the next weeks, building up to a higher frequency of posts as the event approaches. Don’t overdo it though! A few well timed, varied and value-added posts throughout the week will get much better results than a barrage of the same advertisement posted 15 times a day. No fancy tools here! Use a handwritten calendar at this stage so you can see easily see any conflicts or badly timed posts.
  • Prepare unique graphics well before you need them – The graphics you see on the Laurel Main Street Facebook page aren’t made on the spot. Own Your Hill prepares them well in advance so that we know they’ll be ready when we need them. Tip: Use a free service like Canva to make near pro-quality graphics without expensive software. You can also get great free pre-made graphics as part of your promotional packet from the official Small Business Saturday website here.
  • Be a part of the movement – By using the official event graphics, hashtag and color scheme you’ll become a part of something bigger than your individual business and will be a part of a bigger cohesive message. We’ve provided some great resources at the end of this post to make this much easier for you. Remember, #shopsmall!
  • Use a scheduler – This one tool could completely change your outlook on social media. It’s just that good. A social media scheduler will allow you to create your posts days or weeks in advance and watch as they magically roll out while you play a game of golf or read a bedtime story to your kids. I recommend Buffer to all of my clients, and use it myself every single day. If you only use Facebook, take note of their internal scheduler next to the “post” button. You can schedule posts out in much the same way as Buffer while taking advantage of some of their native features. I tend to schedule Facebook posts using their tool to control link graphics and tagging, and all other networks using Buffer.
  • Rinse, and repeat – One of the best parts about marketing on social media right now is the ability to see what works and what doesn’t. Every network (except Instagram) has an analytics tool built in. Buffer has built in analytics as well. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover! A post that looks like it got very little engagement may have received a ton of click-throughs or momentary views. Figure out what is working well with your audience and deliver more of the same.

If you create a great offer, inspire action and present a consistent cohesive message Small Business Saturday could be your biggest sales day of the year. Take the time to do it right and the results could really surprise you! But, promotion isn’t a magic bullet by itself, sometimes you need a little help. Let’s talk about some outside resources that could be that added boost your business needs.

Step 4. Use your RESOURCES

Your resources aren’t limited to your own talents, time or energy. If you want to see better results than you’ve ever had, you’ll need to look for new ways to communicate your message and implement your strategy in a way that you haven’t tried before.

Finding new resources:

  • Reach out to your best customers – Your customers are more than another sale or another bill paid this month, they could be your best resource! Reach out to them and ask questions, gather ideas and find ways to make little changes to your services and products before the event. They might even have an idea for a killer offer!
  • Meet your neighbors – Reaching out to the business owners around you is a great way to find new ideas and partnerships that could help make your Small Business Saturday offer even better. Is there a music studio down the road from your retail shop? How about asking them to perform during the event for your customers? Could your shop use sprucing up before the event? How about checking out the antique store for new display options or something special for your window decor?
  • Become a LMS member or partner – Participating in an organization like Laurel Main Street gives you great opportunities to meet other business owners, local artists, experts and social influencers while helping to revive and restore Downtown Laurel, which can only mean great things for your business!
  • Get help sprucing up your shop or building – The LMS Facade & Amenities Grant could be your answer to that new paint job you’ve been waiting for, or even a small bit of outdoor decor. We want to help you fix up your downtown buildings! Apply for a Facade Grant now to be ready in time for the event.

Remember, your resources aren’t limited to what you can do by yourself. Laurel is a great community full of talented, helpful people who want to see us all succeed, and who are willing to do what it takes to make it happen. Need help? We’re happy to help connect you with other business owners or local experts.

Step 5. Provide an EXPERIENCE worth talking about

Your job doesn’t end the morning of the event! The best way to ensure that Small Business Saturday gives you long term results is to WOW your customers as they walk through your door. Give them a reason to talk about you and growth will follow! Here are a few ways you could create an experience worth talking about:

  • Entertain – Laurel is full of talented musicians, storytellers, comedians and artists. Enlist one (or more!) of them to perform or provide a demonstration during the event, right in your shop! Many of them will have their own local following who will likely visit your shop to see the performance and could become regular customers! Tip: be sure the act fits with your brand and will appeal to your unique customer.
  • Educate – Online marketers know that the best way to gain a new follower is to teach them something of value. Use the same methods we use online to turn your casual shoppers into lifelong fans! Do a demonstration of your own or bring in an expert! Ideas: DIY decor projects, styling an outfit, holiday decorating, etc. You’ll have the added benefit of promoting individual products used in the demonstration while providing great value to your customers!
  • Engage – Be present during the entire event. Answer questions, talk with your customers as they come through, share in the fun with them!
  • Excite – SBS could be the perfect time to reveal any big news you’ve been waiting to talk about. Use the added excitement of the event to get extra attention for your big reveal!

Step 6. Evaluate your SUCCESS

Small Business Saturday should serve as a kick-off point for years of success for your business, but it all depends on what you do after the event is over. Take a few moments after the event to write down your thoughts so that you’ll not only be ready for next year’s event, but also know how to make better marketing, promotion and offer decisions in the months to come.

Some things to consider:

  • Did you reach your goal? Was your goal realistic or perhaps, not big enough?
  • Was your offer well received? How could it have been better?
  • Did you inspire your audience to action? What do your analytics tell you to do differently from here on out?
  • Did you use all available resources? What relationships can you nurture this year to be better prepared for next year’s event?
  • Did your customers enjoy the experience of shopping with you? What would you do differently next year?
  • How can you use your successes to help other downtown business owners? How about your failures? Be a resource to our community by sharing what did and didn’t work for you.

You’ve refused to fail, and we’re ready to see you succeed.

You’ve made a commitment to refuse to fail, to see this thing through to the end. We’re here to help you in any way we can and we’re excited to see your success. Leave a comment below telling us why you think it is important to shop locally and share your best ideas for a successful Small Business Saturday.

Hattiesburg & Laurel Entrepreneurs: Come to church with me.

You’ve heard it before.

Networking is the key to success!

What does that even mean?

Another event full of people who are much less interested in what you have to say than in how fast they can get a business card into your hand?

One more date on the calendar, one more obligation.

Silvia Selman of The Starupist reminds us that “connections come as a results of other connections,” but the quality of those connections and their lifetime value is hard to quantify.

The inability to determine the usefulness of such a time-consuming, introvert-bashing practice is enough to tempt you to rush to Google Analytics to seek solace in the predictable (and quantifiable) ebb and flow of pageviews and visitor stats.

But web stats can only provide comfort for so long, and blog posts and their tweety counterparts can only answer so much.

We need something more – something tangible, personal and inspiring to keep us moving through this treacherous landscape of solo entrepreneurship.

Pine Belt Entrepreneurs: Networking for the Rest of Us

I found myself driving home late one Thursday night in January – feeling an intense, unfamiliar rush of … relief. Finally. I had found my tribe.

Earlier that night I had attended my second PBE meeting. Afterwards a few of us stayed back to share our ideas, to seek out the expertise of others in the group and to bask in a shared appreciation for innovation, creativity and challenging the status quo.

“This wasn’t networking,” I told my husband later, “this was church!”

This wasn’t another business-card-trading, let’s-hang-out-and-drink, let-me-tell-you-about-my-golf-game event. This was a quantifiable, measurable learning experience with tangible results. The connections we made were just the “free gift with any purchase”. Everyone who attended that meeting walked away with something new, something to propel them forward.

And like any good religious movement, we want to bring you into the fold.

What is Pine Belt Entrepreneurs?

Pine Belt Entrepreneurs was organized by Chris Spence, a USM and Harvard graduate, “to bring together past, present, and future/potential small business owners who are in or near the Hattiesburg area, and use this fellowship as a platform for free feedback and support with their ideas.”

“I started this group because I think too many potential entrepreneurs are unable to take the plunge, too many existing entrepreneurs are stuck at a specific level, and too many small businesses fail before they are even able to get off the ground.

This Meetup Group was created to form a community of likeminded go-getters who are ready and willing to hear about each other’s challenges and to brainstorm and provide the desperately needed feedback to help each other propel further in their entrepreneurship goals.” – Chris Spence

During each meeting a member of the group presents an idea, challenge, success or formula.

We discuss, offer up new viewpoints and perspective, and sometimes, criticism.

The result is that we all take something away with us that we didn’t possess before, and we learn and grow together so that we can meet our goals, and perhaps, seek to reach further than we had thought possible.

Each month we meet on a Tuesday or Thursday night from 6-8pm at the William Carey University School of Business (Room 221) to do just that, and we want you to join us.

Click here to join us on Meet-Up.


5 Steps to Festival Marketing Success

When you are planning a large local event, it’s easy to get caught up in reactionary marketing tactics and a “we’ve always done it this way” mentality.

Sure, you’ve got your tried and true press releases and a few scattered Facebook posts, but the time has come to refocus your energies on the strategies and tactics that will help you achieve real engagement and success. Content marketing is here to stay, and local organizations should be taking advantage of its unique power to reach, engage and motivate.

Before a content marketing strategy can be put into place, you need to know who you are trying to reach, how you are creating a unique connection with your audience, and how the “world-view” of your organization and event aligns with that of your local community.

As a partner of Laurel Main Street, my small town’s growing downtown association, I’ve had the opportunity to fine-tune and test my 5 step content marketing formula. As with anything I do, the strategy I’ve outlined below is based on my own 15 years of experience, constant testing and data analysis and the principles of persuasive copywriting and motivation. I’ve included links to each post for last year’s “Loblolly Festival” – the largest event put on by LMS each year. We continue to use the formula to promote their seasonal events and have seen great results.

By joining a conversation, providing unique insight and an understanding of the deeper connections that exist between the group, all while focusing on opportunities to be helpful – your organization can create a content strategy that brings together a tribe of people in your community who see your event as an important part of their own story.

[su_note note_color=”#2B5973″ text_color=”#ffffff” class=”whitelink”]Featured Download: Get your free step-by-step local event content checklist at the end of this post. Click here to get it now.[/su_note]

Follow these 5 steps to create content that accomplishes these goals:

Step 1: Build your Foundation – The Event Page

By creating an “evergreen” home for your event on the web you not only provide valuable information to those seeking it before, during and after your event, you provide a home base for all other content created in the future.

The event page should remain much the same from year to year and should provide general information and a big picture perspective.

This page should be housed within your organization’s website, not as a separate website, to enhance your overall brand, for ease of use and search engine optimization. Also, work with your web designer to push festival blog posts to this page automatically or link to them one by one as they are created each year.

View: The Loblolly event page.

Step 2: A Call to Arms – The Sponsor & Vendor Post

Your first post should be published when vendor and sponsor registration opens – usually several months out.

This post should highlight the past successes of your event and provide all of the information necessary for potential sponsors and vendors to immediately complete the registration process.

Focus on strong calls to action and find ways to simplify and streamline the registration process to optimize conversions.

Read:The crowds are coming: will you be there to welcome them?

Step 3: Spark the Conversation – The “Story” Post

This post is vital to the success of your strategy and should be published about 1 month prior to the event.

First, carefully research and craft the story of your festival’s message and meaning to your local community. Give them a story to tell themselves and those around them.

Secondly, help readers imagine themselves at your event. The time for vendor details and schedules comes later; for now, guide them through the feelings and senses and experiences they might encounter as they attend your festival in the near future.

Read:What is a Loblolly? The power of a historical name and the celebration to come.

Step 4: Be the Resource – The New Press Release

The final pre-event post should serve to both inspire your audience as well as to provide all of the information necessary to both attend and promote the event. Publish this post 1 week out from the event and promote it heavily.

Begin again with a summary of the experience of attending the festival. Next, provide every detail as a walk-through guide to the vendors, sponsors, activities and special events they can expect at this year’s event.

This serves as both a guide to your attendees as well as a fantastic resource for those in the media seeking to promote your event. By providing all of the information yourself, you are likely to inspire new perspectives and insights to be revealed as the media seeks new angles and unique stories for their readers.

Read:It’s time for the 2014 Loblolly Festival.

Step 5: Highlight Your Successes – The Recap

Immediately after your event, when the funnel cake grease is still hot and the vendors are packing up their wares, you have one story left to tell. The first business day after your event, your final post should be published describing the success of the event in detail.

By mentioning and thanking all of those who promoted and contributed to the event, you both express your gratitude and capture a strong element of “social proof” as prospect partners, members and economic developers see the support your organization garners.

Use this post to provide visual proof of your success through professional photos taken at your event, as well as to capture the unique essence of your story through the shared experiences of your community.

Read:The 2014 Loblolly Festival: The best one yet!

What about Social Media?

Content is the book, social media is the book club. [ Tweet This ]

Each of these posts brings with it an opportunity to start or join conversations that your people actually want to have.

By planning how you will reveal your story, you’re given the opportunity to plan the conversations as well. However, social media isn’t just about the conversations you think should happen. Listen to your people. Watch for opportunities to join in.

Tips to help you on your way to a meaningful conversation:

  • Your sponsors are important, but posting their logo 15 times on Facebook isn’t helpful to either of you if it drives down engagement or drives away followers. Find ways to incorporate their story into yours or bring them along for the ride as you post fun facts or trivia about your event.
  • Find the “sound bites” in your story. Offer them up to your people and invite them to react. For instance, what do they think of the origin of your name?
  • Be consistent. Decide on a branding scheme for the event and stick to it. Be sure your social media manager has all of the working graphic files they need to provide appropriate images for each platform. Consider your promotional committee as well. Create a simple document stating what fonts are to be used, colors (provide HEX and Pantone colors), images, etc.
  • Plan your schedule months in advance. Sometimes, you’ll need to quickly create a post in order to join a conversation or because of new developments, but the majority of your social media posts should be planned out along with your content strategy. As promotion for one post ends, the next should be on its way.
  • Don’t repeat, repeat, repeat yourself. Each post can be promoted using different parts of the information and story it contains. Don’t post the same thing more than once and use your previous engagement data to help you determine when the best posting times and frequency are for your unique audience.

The results

Through the use of this strategy we saw increased traffic before, during and after the event, vastly improved engagement on social media and developed a deeper connection with our audience that has lasted well beyond the event itself.

We are continuing to use this strategy to promote other LMS events and expect great results from these as well.

Remember, focus on the story your audience will tell themselves, help them to imagine themselves as a part of the event and be a resource for those looking to assist you along the way.

If you would like help telling your organization or business’ story, or in implementing this specific formula, reach out to me through my website or by emailing me directly at


I presented this formula during the 2015 Back Stage Pass event hosted by Mississippi Main Street, Visit Mississippi and the Mississippi Arts Commission as part of a presentation entitled “Building & Promoting an Annual Event: The Loblolly Festival” with Laurel Main Street Executive Director, Judi Holifield.

My company partners with LMS to work towards the revitalization and preservation of Downtown Laurel. Click here to read about the event, our presentation and the results of this content strategy.





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