The biggest small-business event of the year is almost here, and it's grown into an economic force: Small Business Saturday reigned in more than $14.3 billion in independent stores last year, and in recent years the number of shoppers has reached near 100 million.
Launched in 2010 by American Express to encourage consumers across the country to support local businesses, Small Business Saturday has grown so popular, it now even boasts an app.
The Independent We Stand Buy Local app was recently launched by Independent We Stand (IWS), a cause campaign dedicated to helping independently-owned businesses educate their communities about the importance of buying local. The free app, available to Android and iOS users, makes it simpler for consumers nationwide to shop, dine and play locally.
Social media is a powerful marketing tool for small businesses. According to IWS, a whopping 97 percent of Internet users look for local goods and services online, and 3 out of 4 people have contacted a business they've found on their phone.
So what are the best ways local, independent business owners can tap into the growing Small Business Saturday action? Here are a few tips from small-business experts to get customers through the front door and to the register.
1. If you haven't already, you need to promote deals now.
Nicole Kroese, vice president of marketing and partnerships at Likeable Local, which helps small businesses use social media, said it's important to highlight promotions through social media, but a great deal may not get attention if the social promotion isn't thoughtful and creative.
Social media makes it easy for customers and fans to share with friends, but for a deal to go viral, your social media presentation needs to stand out.
Kroese gave the example of a jewelry store that created a Facebook promotion asking people to like its Facebook page and then post a comment about someone they love on the store's page. The "loved one" with the most likes won a gold-and-diamond necklace.
"Since they got dozens of comments with lots of likes on each one, they were able to expand their social media reach to the friends of their fans and beyond," Kroese said.
For business owners who don't use social media tools, like Instagram or Twitter, that doesn't mean you have to be left behind, according to Kroese. Old-fashioned flyers work just fine, Kroese said. But she added that even mom-and-pop small businesses should, at minimum, have a Facebook page.
2. The more interactive your social campaign, the better.
For businesses that have an extensive social media presence, offer discounts to customers that use the Facebook check-in tool.
"Encourage and incentivize customers to check in and interact with your business during the day," Kroese said. "Any way you can make it interactive with the customer."
Using hashtags like #smallbizsat, #shopsmall and #dinesmall allows businesses and customers to join and contribute to the social conversation.
3. Tap the physical community, too.
Check-ins aren't just for your smartphone. Business owners should actually check in with the local chamber of commerce and other business owners in the area. There may be a major Small Business Saturday push happening in the community that you should join, according to Miguel Ayala, a Small Business Administration spokesman.
"There are thousands of events that local business networks have already set up for the day and are happening across the country," Ayala said.
4. Get the government to help.
Government officials may not be the first thing that comes to mind when planning a successful Small Business Saturday, but these officials can help drive business.
"Invite local officials," Ayala said. "Reach out to the mayor, members of Congress or the city council. Many of them are looking for opportunities to support the day."
5. Let your customers know they are appreciated.
Social media may expand your reach, but nothing beats gratitude shown to loyal customers. It never goes out of style.
"Say thank you publicly or even surprise and delight customers to show your appreciation for their business," Kroese said. "A surprise discount or a random token of kindness can be shared online and can win loyalty and trust from customers."
In fact, letting both new and repeat customers know their patronage is appreciated is more important than any Twitter hashtag or marketing push, she said.
— By Angela Johnson, special to CNBC.com
For more ideas on how to run a small business, tune into all-new episodes of The Profit, Tuesdays 10p ET/PT on CNBC.