Even though we don't think of it this way, all of us have played a part in "helping" at least one struggling small business go out of business.
Its owner started with an interest or, more likely, a passion. So she decided to build a business out of her passion. Like many entrepreneurs who go into business with big dreams and small budgets, she did the best she could.
She chose the best location she could afford; small business owners can rarely afford an ideal location. So she hoped quality and service would transform an out of the way and even inconvenient spot into a destination.
She did the best she could with a minimal marketing resources; small business owners never have enough money for marketing. So she hoped great word of mouth would create awareness.
She knew there would be challenges; there are always challenges. So she hoped passion and desire combined with hard work and persistence would overcome every hurdle.
In short, she hoped. Every entrepreneur hopes. And every day, people like us dash those hopes. We never shop in their stores. We never call to ask for a proposal. We never dine, we never drink, we never try on clothes, we never check out their services... and we never give them a chance.
And we never find out just how awesome their products or services might just be.
Five years ago American Express started the Small Business Saturday campaign. Last year consumers who said they were aware of the campaign spent an estimated $5.7 billion with independent merchants. State and local governments supported the cause. Consumer awareness hit 71%, and 46% of those people reported making a purchase.
All that is great, but it's not enough.
As an entrepreneur you know your business is not just a business; your business is also an extension of you. When your company is booming your confidence is sky-high. When your company is struggling so does your self-belief. You know you can't serve every customer, make every sale, and hit every revenue target... but even so maintaining perspective is tough. When your company is struggling, the old saying, "It's not personal, it's business" doesn't apply. It may be business--but it also feels incredibly personal.
As an entrepreneur, you get that.
And that's why we as entrepreneurs should not just hope to benefit from but should also try to make a bigger difference by supporting Small Business Saturday with our wallets. (A huge number of local businesses are already gearing up for the day.)
How? Easy. Eat at a neighborhood restaurant. Shop at a nearby boutique. Buy from a locally owned mom-and-pop instead of a national chain.
And then go a step further. Since many small businesses aren't storefronts, buy your next supplies from a local wholesaler. Ask the little restaurant down the road to cater a non-critical event. Call a new vendor and ask for a quote.
What's the worst that can happen? You might spend a teeny bit more. The catered meal might be good but not great. The quote might miss the mark. That's okay. You don't have to go back.
The point is to pick a small business and give it a chance. Put aside your price/value calculations and rational market theories and steely-eyed belief in the survival of the business fittest and take a chance on a small business owner. Give an entrepreneur the opportunity to win you over.
Will we keep an otherwise struggling small business afloat? Of course we won't. We can't save every struggling company.
But together we can all make a meaningful difference in our communities. And together, as entrepreneurs, we can make a meaningful difference for other entrepreneurs.
At the heart of every small business is a person with a dream. Ultimately the day isn't about commerce--it's about people. On Small Business Saturday, give another person a slightly better chance of realizing their dream.
Buy small. Buy local.
Most of all, buy personal. Because it is.
If you're a neighborhood business, here's a handy guide to preparing for and maximizing Small Business Saturday. Start gearing up now; the clock is ticking.