Small Business Saturday -- Just How Naive Are You?

November 25, 2015

Can you feel it? The building anticipation for what seems to be THE small business event of the year. I'm talking, of course, about next weekend's Small Business Saturday. Sandwiched in between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, this is the day that all of America is supposed to be honoring small businesses. It's our moment. We're hanging signs and putting out the displays. "Support us!" we demand to our communities. "We're small businesses!"

Really? Are we that naïve? Do you really think that Small Business Saturday means anything to your customers? Do you really believe articles like this one that report that there were "88 million Small Business Saturday shoppers in 2014" and that they "spent $14.3 billion." Oh c'mon...where does this data come from? And how many of these shoppers would've been out shopping during that first unofficial weekend of the holiday season anyway? Do you think this was because of Small Business Saturday? Believe's not. But don't tell that to some.

For example, Small Business Saturday means a lot to American Express. And good for them, because American Express is a good company and they hit solid gold here. Who was the PR guy who came up with this idea? He (or she's) a friggin' genius. That's because Small Business Saturday is nothing more than a PR stunt for big businesses.

The marketing minds at American Express thought this up a few years ago and the day has ballooned into a national event. Their logo is plastered everywhere. Their name is associated with news stories, contests and promotions. And other big companies are getting in on the action. Banks, retailers and corporations that cater to small businesses are jumping on the "Small Business Saturday" bandwagon to use that day and show how much they care about America's small companies too - offering their own deals and discounts and love for those 28 million potential customers of their products and services. But no, it doesn't stop there.

Now, politicians are getting involved. Look for President Obama to take a stroll on Saturday, most likely with his daughters and most likely to some locally owned bookstore like DC's Politics and Prose, to buy a few items with a credit card that will be discreetly handed to him by a helpful aide. Turn the channel and you'll likely see most of the dozens of Presidential candidates doing the same in their own local communities while making sure everyone is well aware of their passionate "support for small businesses" (which is kind of like saying you support cancer research or puppies know...who doesn't support small businesses, right?). Congress is, of course, honoring the day with a special resolution. States and local governments across the country are issuing their own proclamations. You'll hear very similar sound bites about how small businesses "employ more than half of working Americans" and "how we're the backbone of this country." Yay for us!

But really, are you that naïve?

Are you naïve enough to think that your customers really give a crap about your business? That you deserve any more support than a charity for the homeless or a non-profit trying to eradicate multiple sclerosis? That, just because you have a little shop on Main Street selling crafts or coffee or whatever knickknacks people should spend their money with you just because they're "thinking small"? Especially if they can spend less money down the street at a Walmart or CVS? Exactly what does anyone owe to you, the small business owner? What's so special about you that there's a whole day on the calendar devoted towards drawing attention to your existence? So you're a small business. Big deal.

You don't need "Small Business Saturday" to succeed. In fact, if you're a successful small business owner you could very well be insulted by the idea. I am. You run a profitable business. Your customers buy from you because you simply give them a better product or service than the competition, large or small. You provide that extra level of attention that big companies can't deliver. You are involved in your community because it's the right thing to do. You pay your taxes. You hire. You fire. You know how to buy something for a dollar and sell it for three. There should be no national day that recognizes your profit-taking. This is just what you do and you do it well. There are other people more deserving of the country's attention - like our military, for example?

Pity the competitor who actually thinks that Small Business Saturday is going to benefit their business. And after you've pitied him on Saturday I know what you're going to do. You're going to go out and beat his ass on Monday. And his former customers will be all the recognition you'll need.

A version of this column previously appeared on

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