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The Appalachian Small Business Series: 21st Century Collaboration

To grow any business community, a level of local excitement is necessary. In Appalachia, too many towns and cities have struggled for years, and there's often little faith in economic opportunities. In order to change the narrative, small businesses need to unite for joint initiatives. Thankfully, November is the perfect month to plan and initiate collaborative events. Chambers of Commerce, poorly utilized in some communities, are the perfect vehicles for event development. One small business cannot afford enough marketing and advertising to compete with national chains, so entrepreneurs must pool resources and be creative!

The best events generate media buzz. Why? Free publicity! Every small business should have at least one media contact. (We have several.) Chambers of Commerce need to regularly communicate plans, news and events to print, radio, TV and digital media in order to create interest in local companies. In November, the best way to attract significant media attention is to connect a local event to Small Business Saturday! By linking a community's business marketing effort to a broader celebration, a PR boom is almost guaranteed. (Appalachia unfortunately doesn't stay connected to broader trends very effectively. Time to change that!)

Small Business Saturday occurs on the Saturday after Thanksgiving every year (11/26 in 2016), and American Express initiated the effort in 2010. The U.S. Senate unanimously endorsed Small Business Saturday in 2011, and it has now became a truly national movement. According to American Express, $14.3B was spent at local businesses on Small Business Saturday in 2014 and 95 million shoppers enjoyed Small Business Saturday in 2015. If you're not taking advantage of this opportunity to kick-off the holiday shopping season, you're missing a great chance to grow your sales!

To get started on a Small Business Saturday event, Chambers of Commerce should click here. American Express will send a free box of Shop Small merchandise and marketing materials to small business organizations that submit a brief event plan for November 26th. Individual restaurants and retail stores can request a different set of free Small Business Saturday supplies and digital assets by clicking here. Non-retail small businesses, such as Forward View, can create free digital marketing content on the American Express website, too.

Remember to promote your Small Business Saturday events on social media (use #ShopSmall hashtags and even create your own such as #ClintwoodChristmas!), on websites, via email, with advertising and through the media. An app like Beakn, with its associated technology, can also be utilized. Maybe you invite Christmas carolers and Santa to your town's Main Street each weekend from Small Business Saturday through Christmas. Maybe you have a special Small Business Saturday breakfast. Maybe every retail store and restaurant in your community gives gifts to kids every Wednesday night between Thanksgiving and Christmas. No matter what event(s) you hold, commit to doing so for years. Create a new local tradition that builds annually. Happy customers your Appalachian business earns this holiday season will return outside of November and December, too. And, remember to host joint business events all year long, not just for Christmas! Enliven our wonderful Appalachian communities through all of the seasons!