Monday, 1 June 2020

Bouncing back with Small Business Saturday

Tough times bring out the best in many people.

Throughout this year's crisis, the Small Business Saturday UK campaign has been blasting out positivity and energetic compassion through its social media channels. It's held Facebook Live chats to share timely advice with small businesses and the self-employed. There have been many cheerful giveaways of prizes donated by small businesses on its Facebook page. Businesses who have connected online and in the real world in recent years, thanks to the campaign, have continued to be there for each other - showing the true spirit of collaboration over competition.

If you don't know what Small Business Saturday is all about, let me tell you. This isn't a membership organisation and you don't pay a subscription fee. It's a grassroots, non-commercial campaign that shouts about the importance of small businesses to our economy, our communities and our happiness.

Celebrating 100 independent small businesses

The campaign runs all-year-round, but its name reflects the highlight of its year. Since it was founded in 2013, it has called the first Saturday in December in the UK 'Small Business Saturday'. On this day, everyone is encouraged to make a special effort to support small businesses and to shout-out about their favourite local independents. Businesses might hold a special event on the day. Five years ago, we held a 'flash' conga of small businesses through Burton-on-Trent town centre.

Burton Small Business conga
Each year, the campaign team chooses a #SmallBiz100: 100 independent, small businesses that are representative of the five million-plus small businesses across the country. They are celebrated nationally and given a day to themselves in the 100 days running up to Small Business Saturday, which this year falls on December 5.

The good news is that applications are NOW open for this year's #SmallBiz100 and will be for the whole of June 2020.

It's free to apply but it's NOT a competition as such. The Small Business Saturday campaign team is always keen to avoid using the word 'WINNERS' about the 100. That would imply that if you didn't make it into the 100 you are a 'LOSER'.  No-one who sets up their own enterprise is a loser.

Every year, the Small Business Saturday team aims to create a 100 that represents both a geographical spread across the UK and the diversity of the small business community. So, for example, you'll not find a 100 that includes 50 businesses from London, or 30 accountants.

A ready-made free campaign for any small business

Over the years I've seen a host of fascinating businesses, and some not-for-profit and social enterprises, make the list: a zoo, a magician, a filmmaker, a manufacturer of wheelchairs for disabled pets, a flotation therapy centre and a murder mystery experience business, to name but a few. So, don't be put off from applying because you think you're a bit different. The beauty of the #SmallBiz100 is the range of businesses that make the list.

One firm rule is that once you have been chosen for the #SmallBiz100 you can't apply again. You are a #SmallBiz100 for life and can join a Facebook group for alumni. Applications are only open to independent small businesses, so franchises and network marketing businesses cannot apply. The reasoning behind this is that they already get support from their parent or umbrella company. Small Business Saturday is creating a FREE, ready-made promotional campaign that every #SmallBiz100 company can pick up and use.

I was fortunate enough to be chosen as one of the #SmallBiz100 in 2015 It gave me a great springboard to promote what I did. I also loved attending events organised by the campaign to bring businesses together to network and to meet politicians.

The bus called at Burton in 2016 & 2018.
This year will, of course, be a bit different. No-one can know at this stage whether some of the usual face-to-face events can go ahead, but campaign director Michelle Ovens confirmed today, on a live Facebook launch, that the national small business bus tour WILL go ahead towards the end of this year. The team members are still deciding exactly HOW it will work, but the bus WILL tour the country to highlight the Small Business Saturday message.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has always been a supporter of Small Business Saturday and promotes any of its members who join the annual #SmallBiz100. As some of you know, I host a monthly #FSBConnect meeting (currently online) for businesses in and around Burton-on-Trent and Staffordshire.

Karen Woolley, of the FSB has said several times in recent weeks that the FSB was born for times like these, and I think she's right. The organisation's focus on lobbying Government on behalf of the nation's small businesses and self-employed has been invaluable. The FSB has listened to its members and relayed their issues to Government policymakers throughout the crisis. Positive changes in financial support have resulted. The solutions are not perfect and there are still gaps, but the FSB continues to fight for all small businesses and self-employed, not just its members.

Top tips for entering the 2020 #SmallBiz100

In other years, along with my Burton Small Business colleagues, I have helped to run free workshops for people interested in applying for the #SmallBiz100. I have also encouraged businesses I work with to enter and I'm delighted that some of them have been successful. So, here are a few tips for you to consider:
  1. Has 2020 been the toughest year yet for your business? Have you had to furlough staff? Have you faced financial challenges? DON'T let this deter you from entering. It's not about having the strongest balance sheet, it's about celebrating the businesses that are fighting on, perhaps adapting and finding new ways to work and stay in contact with customers. Small Business Saturday WILL accept applications from businesses that are temporarily closed at the moment. Being one of the #SmallBiz100 in 2020 would give you a powerful story to tell on your website and in the local media. Share your plans to bounce back.
  2. The application form is quite simple and straight forward. It's online here. The team wants to get a feeling for what makes you tick, the story behind your business and your values and vision. Businesses that work closely in the business community and give back are often well-received. 
  3. It's 'optional' to send a video but I would advise you in the STRONGEST possible terms that you NEED to make one. It can be simply filmed on your own iPhone. You DON'T need to pay anyone to direct and edit it. The key is to be authentic and honest. It won't be seen by anyone except the campaign team unless you CHOOSE to share it. You can show where you work, who you work with and what you do. Don't be shy about showing your passion for what you do.
  4. If you don't already follow the Small Business Saturday team on social media, do it now. Start engaging with them and other businesses and building relationships. It's not all about YOU. I've connected with people that have become good customers and trusted suppliers through the campaign. This isn't so much a tip about entering the #SmallBiz100, but it's the reasonWHY it makes a real difference. You can raise your profile but you can also help others. You can become a role model for future entrepreneurs and right now we need that more than ever.
I was on a Zoom meeting this morning where wellness business founder Rachael Field shared the thought that 'we're all going through the same storm but in different boats'.

Perhaps uniting through organisations such as the Small Business Saturday campaign and the FSB is one way we can link those boats together and sail off into a future that's different - but hopefully even better?