As you may have read here, I’m totally behind an initiative put forward by American Express OPEN and a growing list of small business advocacy groups called Small Business Saturday. It’s a small business focused effort that asks you to think about shopping at your local small business this Saturday. I’ve written a post with Small Business Saturday details here.
As you may also know American Express OPEN is a client of mine, so some folks have asked me why OPEN is putting so much behind this effort. I had a chance to pose a few questions to OPEN President Susan Sobbott. What follows is our interview.
Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving
1) What’s behind AMEX’s decision to get on board promoting Small Business Saturday, a day focused on support of the local business?
We’re launching Small Business Saturday to help raise awareness about the critical role small business plays in cities and towns across our country. We know the role they play in the economy, creating 65% of net new jobs over the past two decades. But they also play a critical role in our communities. According to Civic Economics, every $100 spent in locally-owned, independent stores, $68 returns to the community through taxes, payroll and other expenditures. We want to help make more people aware of the importance of small business and to drive more customers to these businesses.
2) Has this past, yes I said past, recession changed the way you’re seeing small business doing business?
What I’ve heard from small businesses is that an upside of the recession is that it’s helped them do business smarter. They’ve found ways to be more efficient, finding ways to streamline operations and cut costs. According to the American Express OPEN Small Business Monitor, many business owners appear to be in a stronger financial position, as a result. Fewer report having cash flow issues, and, the number of business owners who plan to hire full time employees in the next six months has doubled. But still, we know that 54% of SBOs say what they need most to help grow their business is “more customers”. So we’re hoping Small Business Saturday will help drive more customers to these businesses.
3) In my experience AMEX is very customer focused, what advice would you give small business owners when it comes to building a customer-centric business?
The best way to gain a customer is to not lose one you already have. Great businesses don’t only make a sale, they make an impression. Being customer-focused means knowing your customers and thanking them for their business. And it means training your staff to embody this commitment to service. Look for ways to measure customer satisfaction – casually and formally – to ensure you have a customer-focused organization through and through.
4) What lessons did you learn as leader trying to steer an organization through a severe economic downturn?
I think some of the most valuable lessons were those gained from talking to our customers. In fact, our recent Booming campaign evolved from wanting to recognize the amazing strategies they’ve adopted to adapt and grow their businesses, in spite of the downturn. You can find some of those stories at www.openforum.com/booming.
5) What can businesses and consumers do to support Small Business Saturday?
Shop at your locally owned small businesses, of course, but also spread the word. Encourage your friends, family, and colleague to shop small businesses on November 27th. You can also show your support through promotional materials and social media tools available at facebook.com/smallbusinesssaturday.