There’s a big block party and networking event this November 30th, and you’re invited. It’s Small Business Saturday, a concept created by American Express in 2010 to entice shoppers to patronize brick-and-mortars in their communities. Its motto “shop small” encourages customers to support local businesses during the busiest shopping season of the year. #SmallBizSat (as it’s affectionately called on Twitter) falls on the day after Black Friday and two days before Cyber Monday – hefty competition, or perfect timing? According to a survey by the National Federation of Independent Business, consumer awareness of the holiday jumped to 67% in its first two years alone. Citing a study by Redshift Research, American Express reports that consumers spent an estimated $5.5 billion at small businesses in 2012 thanks to the effort.
And Amex walks the walk to get customers out shopping on its homemade holiday, providing participating merchants with free customized marketing materials, and in some cases, free online advertising. Small Business Saturday 2013 presents a unique opportunity not only for brick-and-mortars, but for anyone with something to sell. How? Two words: new customers. Because of the novelty, many people who don’t usually shop at local small businesses will be out spending money on SBS. These people will be perusing marketing spaces that they may never have seen otherwise. This is the opportunity to market to customers you’d never have seen otherwise. Whether your business is in-person or online, selling goods or selling services, this guide is designed to make Small Business Saturday work for you.
Identify a Cross-Promotional Network for SBS
Retailers are anticipating seeing customers they’ve never seen before, and they are eager to give them a reason to come back. There is one sure-fire way to accomplish this: the meeting of needs. Jim Haselmaier, owner of Accelerated Insight Consulting, explains, “One of the most unforgiving errors is not understanding your customers’ needs,” in an advisory article by Pragmatic Marketing. SBS provides a unique opportunity to meet needs in a new way: by building a cross-promotional network with complementary small businesses. Let us explain. Do you sell tuxedos? Meet customer needs by partnering with a bakery, jewelry boutique and dress shop. Do you sell cars? Contact a car wash, a window tint shop and an insurance agent. If you all refer clients and customers to each other, you’ll have a network of people supporting your brand that can extend well past Small Business Saturday. The key is to partner with complementary (not competing) companies that have the same target market that you do. But first you’ve got to find them. Amex has given you an advantage in finding out which merchants have decided to participate in SBS. Using their OPEN Forum, you can create or join a “neighborhood circle”, which will connect you with other enrolled merchants. The Small Business Association also provides an online search tool to find participating storefronts. You can also find other small businesses to partner with via traditional networking techniques. If you’re a TAB member, see if there are other members in your area that have the same customer base you do. Bring it up at your next BNI meeting, and see if anyone in the group has a referral for you. Contact the retailers who would fit into your cross-promotional circle, and if there aren’t any, you can personally invite the businesses that you would like to include. This is a great way to initiate partnerships and trust with other small business owners, which tends to increase sales across the board.
Create Your Small Business Saturday Marketing Strategy
Why should shoppers take interest in your business? This is where promotions come in. Running a promotion that relates to the products of the other businesses in your network gives you more relevancy on this day of novelty. Bonus points for incentivizing direct referrals within your network, also known as the “tell them I sent you” approach. Example: you own a car dealership. You partner with a window tint shop and an insurance agent for Small Business Saturday. You each establish some sort of perk for referring customers to one another – a discounted price, a two-for-one sale, a giveaway or an upgrade of some kind. The promotions can be advertised in a variety of ways within the storefronts: pamphlets and business cards on display, drawings or raffles, banners or posters. If anyone in your network has agreed to display physical marketing materials for you, be sure to approve of their placement and display beforehand to ensure that you’re getting the exposure you expect. Once you’ve nailed down the marketing efforts within your network, it’s time to move on to your own. Promote and Prepare For the Big Day You’ve chosen your promotion – a discount, a giveaway, a special – and you’ve established your cooperative advertising network. Now it’s time to bring the Small Business Saturday shoppers to your own proverbial front door. Your go-to advertising platform is, of course, your social media accounts. Promote your participation in Small Business Saturday one to two weeks in advance of the big day on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and any other platforms you happen to use. On Twitter, use the hashtags #SmallBizSat and #ShopSmall to catch the eyes of more people. Katya Constantine, a social media specialist at Econsultancy, writes a detailed guide to make your social media channels build on one another. Call it an exponential effect. Be sure to highlight your discount or special as the specific reason to come in, as specific details are more likely to stick in people’s minds than generic ideas. As a case in point, when Krispy Kreme told customers that stopping by to say “argh” on International Talk-Like-a-Pirate Day would get them a free doughnut, their customer count went through the roof. When it comes to staffing, it’s better to be over-prepared than underprepared. If you’ve been marketing well and taking advantage of the free promotions offered by Amex, you should anticipate double or triple the amount of traffic you would normally see on a Saturday. If your staff has handled this kind of volume before, you’re already set. But if this is your first time, you’ll want to staff up and stock up. Better safe than sorry.
There’s More to Small Business Saturday than Just Sales
If you’re looking at SBS as an opportunity to get more sales, great. But that shouldn’t be your only focus, because there’s a lot more than money to be made from Small Business Saturday. You are about to encounter a crowd you’ve never met before, and who may never have thought to patronize your business before. Incentivize them to give you the information you need to keep them in the loop, and you’ll have multiple opportunities to market to them in the future. For online marketing purposes, there are two things that you should want from your customers: email addresses and follows/likes on your social media accounts. While you’ve got these people in your stores, give them a reason to “like” you on Facebook or sign up for your email marketing updates (preferably both). For instance, you may want to offer a “10% off your next purchase” coupon for people who “like” you on Facebook and sign up for your newsletter. This way, you get two points of contact for these customers, and they’ll have a reason to come back to buy from you again. Set Metrics, Record Results What are your sales on a typical day? On a typical Saturday? On a typical Saturday in November? Set metrics of sales and traffic that you’ve seen in the past, especially as they relate to prior promotions. With a proper understanding of the kind of business you would see if you didn’t participate in Small Business Saturday, you can accurately determine your return on investment. If possible, give yourself an extra advantage by determining which marketing avenue brought the most traffic: your cross-promotional network? Your social media? Word-of-mouth? Something else? Figure out what works best for you, so you can focus more attention on those avenues throughout the year. If you happen to sell your products or services online, it is especially advantageous to promote your Cyber Monday deals along with your SBS marketing. In your world, “two birds, one stone” translates to “two sales, one campaign.”
The Future of Small Business Saturday
As Small Business Saturday has continued to find its place between the two biggest shopping days of the year, there has been a call by some to host a monthly or even weekly version. Your participation this November 30th is exactly what you’ll need to determine whether you’d like to join such an effort. Using this guide and the free resources available to you from American Express, will you be participating in Small Business Saturday this year? If so, to what extent? Use the comment section below to swap ideas with other business owners on how to take advantage of this homemade holiday. Do you know a small business owner who could benefit from this guide? If so, please pass this article along to them – call it an early Christmas present.
There’s nothing more exciting than breaking free of cubicle life and starting your own business. Finally, you can be your own boss and make your own rules. You get to decide how your time is spent, who you partner with and how you go about doing business. To be sure, there are a lot of benefits to running your own company.
But there are also quite a few drawbacks to entrepreneurship. For one, there’s no safety net – you’re putting most, if not all, of your eggs in the basket labeled “I’m going to start a business, and it’s going to be a success.” There are stressful decisions to be made on a regular basis regarding hiring, firing, pricing, planning, partnerships and more. The scale of work-life balance tends to tilt toward the work side (if not crash to the floor).
But how many hours per week do entrepreneurs really work? Do they take vacations and/or weekends off? How do they cope with the day-to-day stress of running a business? Are there opportunities to delegate or outsource that are being missed – and do entrepreneurs trust their employees enough to pass the work off to them? What’s the lifestyle cost of being an entrepreneur? Most importantly, is true work-life balance possible for small business owners?
We decided to survey hundreds of entrepreneurs to get answers to these questions, as well as several others. The responses surprised us – pleasantly, in some cases. In others, not so much. Here’s what we found:
How Many Hours Are Small Business Owners REALLY Working?
When talking about work-life balance, the first question should be “how many hours per week do you work?” So we asked, and the general response was, “a lot.” Specifically:
19% work 60+ hours per week
30% work 50-59 hours per week
33% work 40-49 hours per week
14% work 30-39 hours per week
5% work less than 30 hours per week
Although around 1 in 5 business owners work less than the standard 40-hour work week – a major win for those who are able to achieve it – the majority are in the 40+ category. And there are still a significant number of entrepreneurs pulling 60+ hours per week.
Next, we asked the small business owners if they expected any change in the hours they would work in 2014. More than half said they expected no change, but one-third said they anticipated an increase in the hours they work. For 85% of entrepreneurs, there’s no light at the end of the tunnel – they’ll be working just as much, if not more, in 2014. This isn’t good news, especially considering that in 2013 the salaries of small business owners are down 5% from the previous year.
Only 15% said they expected to work fewer hours in 2014 than they did this year. Is working long hours necessarily a bad thing, though? Maybe not. In fact, some small business owners just enjoy working a lot.
How Many Hours Do Entrepreneurs Want to Work Each Week?
It’s difficult to tell if somebody is working too much without first knowing how many hours they prefer to work each week. Surprisingly, 1% of the business owners we surveyed actually want to work more than 60 hours per week, and 43% prefer to clock in a minimum of 40 hours each week. By contrast, 56% want to work 39 hours or less each week. The takeaway: although small business owners don’t mind putting in the hours to grow their companies, most are still spending more time working than they’d prefer.
Although entrepreneurs are putting in a lot of hours, they agree that there are some advantages to owning your own business – like increased flexibility. Sure, some small business owners may be working 55 hours per week, but at least they have more say in exactly when those hours are.
When we asked, “Compared to your former career, does owning your own business give you more or less flexibility with pursuing outside interests?”, 73% reported they do have more flexibility with their hours now than they did when they were working for somebody else. Nearly one in ten small business owners who responded to our survey are lifelong entrepreneurs, with no other job to compare it to. There’s a hefty price tag (read: time investment) that comes along with owning your own business, but the vast majority of entrepreneurs find that it gives them the flexibility many cubicle dwellers only wish they had.
Small Business Owners Are Working Weekends, But Taking Vacations
How many of those extra working hours are spilling over into the weekend? Quite a few. In fact, an astounding 97% of small business owners work weekends, with 40% working “always” or “often”. The survey also found that members of The Alternative Board are less likely to work weekends than non-members, which probably has a lot to do with their focus on strategic planning – more on that later.
Even though almost all small business owners are working weekends, the good news is they’re able to take an extended break every now and then. When we asked about their vacation days (or lack thereof), we were pleasantly surprised by the results:
44% take 16 vacation days or more each year
26% take 11 to 15 vacation days
19% take 6 to 10 vacation days
11% take 1 to 5 vacation days
2% never take any vacation days
The good news here is that almost all small business owners are able to get away from their companies and recharge their batteries. The vacation days may not be in the summer – or other peak sales times – but they do exist, and almost half of entrepreneurs are able to take more than the standard two weeks off each year. Very few are working straight through the year, which can’t be sustainable for very long. On a TAB-specific note, the TAB members we surveyed take considerably more vacation days than non-members do. Again, this can largely be attributed to strategic planning.
Why Entrepreneurs Have Trouble Achieving Work-Life Balance
If the “average” job consists of 40 hours per week with a two-week vacation, small business owners are working far more than average. But are they working too hard? In most cases, yes – 79% believe that they are working too much. Still, that leaves almost one in five business owners in the sweet spot of working without feeling overworked.
The biggest reason small business owners are working more than they should? Because they feel like there are some tasks only they can handle (32%). A significant number also reported that their business requires a temporary increase in working hours (16%), that they need to make more money (13%), or that they’re worried about falling behind (8%).
How Stressed Out Are Small Business Owners?
There are consequences for working long days that bleed into weekends, leaving you feeling overworked. Namely: stress. Only 24% of the business owners surveyed claimed they have never felt any larger issues stem from work-related stress. However, the supermajority aren’t as lucky. The most common symptoms entrepreneurs experience as a result of business-related stress include:
Mood swings (8%)
Temper outbursts (4%)
Even worse, most small business owners experience multiple symptoms as a result of work-related stress. Fortunately, there’s a solution to the long hours, nonexistent weekends and work-related stress symptoms: handing a lot of this work off to another person. In a word: delegating. If entrepreneurs are able to hand off some of the tasks that they normally do to a competent employee, the ‘treps will have more free time and less to stress out about.
The Entrepreneur’s Delegating Dilemma
To be sure, delegating is a skill that can be learned. But as of right now, how do small business owners feel about their ability to delegate tasks to those who work for them? When asked to rate their personal ability to delegate responsibilities to others, 65% of respondents said they are “good” or “very good”. Only 5% said they were “poor” or “very poor” at delegating tasks.
If small business owners are so comfortable with their delegating skills, why are they working as hard – and as many hours – as they currently are? Before entrepreneurs can delegate tasks they’re accustomed to performing, they must have confidence in their team. Perhaps that’s where the problem is?
When the small business owners were asked why they choose not to delegate the tasks that they technically can, only 3% said that they don’t delegate because they “don’t trust anyone else” to do the job. With lack of trust out of the equation, these were their top reasons for not delegating:
They feel they’re “the most capable option” (30%)
Their employees “do not have the right skills” (20%)
They’re “in a hurry to get it done” (20%)
They “like doing the tasks” (19%)
The first three can be resolved by training and empowering employees, which may take some forethought and – once again – strategic planning. Since the survey shows that 70% of entrepreneurs can benefit from setting themselves (and their staffs) up to spread the work around a little more evenly, allocating a good chunk of time to strategic planning is an investment that will pay dividends for years.
Delegating vs. Outsourcing
Obviously there’s a big difference between delegating and outsourcing tasks – and each has its benefits. With delegating, you’re using existing employee resources. With outsourcing, you’re going outside of your talent pool to bring in people who are more efficient or effective at a particular task – and depending on the job outsourcing may be cheaper, making it a very attractive option for many small business owners.
When asked about outsourcing tasks that aren’t currently delegated to employees, 56% said that they were likely to outsource. This still leaves 44% who are “somewhat unlikely” or “very unlikely” to outsource work to other contractors or companies. But why not?
19% say they can’t afford to outsource
19% say they’d rather have employees do the work
18% are afraid an outsider won’t do the work correctly
13% are concerned that the quality of work would be sacrificed
12% prefer not to lose control of the work
12% are worried about confidentiality or think outsourcing is generally too risky for their companies
6% just don’t know much about their outsourcing options
So for some, it’s a money issue. But to a large degree, the biggest barrier to outsourcing tasks to other companies is lack of trust. As a result, small business owners are more likely to keep their work to themselves.
The High Cost Business Owners Are Paying for Keeping the Work to Themselves
Business owners are constantly faced with alternative ways to spend their time. Any one thing they choose to do comes at the expense of literally everything else they could be doing at that moment. With this in mind, we asked, “If you could work fewer hours, how would you spend your time?” The top four responses were:
To spend more time with family and friends (31%)
To travel for fun (23%)
To improve personal health (14%)
To pursue strategic growth opportunities for their business (10%)
Only 8% reported that there was no need to change the number of hours they were working, which indicates that a whole lot of entrepreneurs should probably reevaluate their stances on delegating and outsourcing.
Free time outside of work is one thing – but what about company time? If entrepreneurs could free up more time to work on their businesses (instead of in their businesses), how would they allocate their extra working hours? Here’s what they had to say:
26% would spend the time on sales revenue growth
13% would spend the time on increasing marketing effectiveness
13% would spend the time on developing new products or services
10% would spend the time on developing strategic partnerships
9% would spend the time recruiting talented employees
All of these options are important and deserve the focus and attention of the small business owner, and illustrate that there’s a significant price tag associated with holding onto tasks and not outsourcing or delegating. This clearly underscores the fact that by spending time on specific tasks that could be delegated, business owners are missing out on the more important, high-level things that really can’t be delegated or outsourced.
What’s the cost of spending five hours working on a project that somebody else could handle? Those hours go missing from the sales, product development or marketing departments, which very likely all have higher revenue potential than the five-hour task that could be delegated. In short, business owners are missing out on increased sales and revenue because they’re not outsourcing or delegating as much as they could (and probably should). A lack of planning leads to a lack of prioritization.
Work-Life Balance for Entrepreneurs is Possible, but Only With Strategic Planning
Though the survey showed there were some definite majority trends – the desire to spend more time with friends and family, a tendency to work weekends and a level of stress in the workplace – we were surprised at how truly eclectic and diverse our entrepreneurs revealed themselves to be. We were also able to pinpoint some of the common benefits of working with The Alternative Board, including fewer working weekends, more vacation time and increased success with strategic outsourcing.
Small business owners will always be faced with the challenge of achieving a healthy work-life balance. At its core, entrepreneurship comes with a list of inherent risks and responsibilities – if it was easy, everyone would do it. But it’s difficult for a leader to be effective in a business (or any) setting if they’re stressed out, working nonstop and hoarding tasks that could be passed off to somebody else. There has to be some sort of work-life balance.
Finding this balance – or at least consciously pursuing it – should be a top priority for all small business owners. This is where strategic planning comes into play, because without a game plan in place to move forward entrepreneurs are forced to fly by the seats of their pants, putting out fires by completing tasks that nobody else is trained or trusted to do.
If you’d like to learn more about strategic planning and what it can do for your business, check out these blog posts on the subject:
Still want more? Contact TAB today, and we’ll help you develop and execute a strategic plan that will help grow your business and put more life back into your work-life balance.
Some of the results of TAB’s work-life balance survey of small business owners can be seen in the infographic below. If you’re a reporter and would like to see the full survey results, please contact jason(at)contentfac(dot)com.