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Get Set for Small Business Saturday

Cinda Baxter has been committed to a singular calling for the past 18 months, exhorting Americans to recommit to independent small businesses and devote $50 per month to three small businesses of their choice.

In April 2009, she wrote a blog about what she called the 3/50 Project and published a website. The campaign hit viral pay dirt, and she's been touring the country ever since, speaking at trade shows, national conferences and even chambers of commerce to galvanize small businesses around her idea -- and, in the process, essentially shutting down her retail consulting business.

Now an 800-pound gorilla has stepped up to the plate and come out swinging alongside her. American Express OPEN has joined Baxter in her quest to support small business -- becoming a premier sponsor for the 3/50 Project and creating a separate project as well: Small Business Saturday on Nov. 27, designed to support local businesses during Thanksgiving weekend.

Baxter, who's been tapped as spokeswoman for Small Business Saturday, explains the reasoning behind the movement. She points out that Thanksgiving weekend traditionally has been known as Black Friday because it was the day most businesses moved from red ink to black ink for the year.

According to Baxter, however, "That entire weekend has been gobbled up by big boxes and national chains, and small business has been elbowed out." Couple that with Cyber Monday, when many shoppers have opted to start their online holiday purchases, and the picture gets even worse for small business.

American Express OPEN decided to take that Saturday back for small business, and it's putting its money where its mouth is:

  1. The first 10,000 business owners who sign up at Small Business Saturday's Facebook page will receive $100 worth of free Facebook advertising to help build online buzz for Small Business Saturday.
     
  2. Small business owners can download promotional materials to publicize Small Business Saturday and use various social media tools to promote their own businesses in the process.
     
  3. The first 100,000 cardholders who enroll on Facebook will receive a $25 credit when they use their card at a small business on Small Business Saturday.
     
  4. For every person who "likes" Small Business Saturday on Facebook, American Express will donate $1 -- up to $500,000 -- to Girls Inc. to teach young women to become tomorrow's entrepreneurs.
The 3/50 Project has a presence on Facebook, too, and that's where Baxter says the conversation really takes place. People talk about the shops they've lost and the places they don't want to lose. "I get e-mails from consumers who print out my fliers and take them to businesses they love, and persuade them to get involved," she says.

The Small Business Saturday website presents these statistics:

  1. For every $100 spent at local small businesses, $68 returns to the community.
     
  2. Small businesses employ half of all private-sector employees.
     
  3. Small businesses represent 99.7 percent of all employer firms.
     
  4. For every year over the last decade, 60 percent to 80 percent of new jobs were generated by small businesses.
Baxter emphasizes that she doesn't expect people to stop patronizing big box stores and chains. What she advocates is a balance of purchases among small business and the big players.

Initially, Baxter was reluctant to partner with the financial services provider. She says she'd already received plenty of partnership offers and, in each case, the deal benefited the partner more than the 3/50 Project.

Then Baxter spoke with an American Express OPEN representative. "It wasn't about, 'Here's what we want from you.' It was, 'What are you all about?' and, very specifically, my stand on political issues, small business and the economy. This was the real deal," she says. Baxter notes that Kenneth Chenault, CEO of American Express, kicked off Small Business Saturday alongside New York City Major Michael Bloomberg at a news conference Nov. 8. 

"They are helping to push the message nationally faster than I can do it on my own," Baxter says.

The past months haven't been easy for Baxter, who took her speaking fee to a minimum for chambers and other local business organizations. "I tripled the hours I worked and took a huge pay cut," she says. But she insists it's all been worth it.

In June, she says, she had to choose between her business and the 3/50 Project. "I decided to go with the job with no paycheck," she says, adding, "I haven't had this much fun in my entire life."

Baxter says what keeps her going is her face-to-face encounters with independent business owners. Their creativity and enthusiasm are addicting, she says. Business owners aren't just printing out her 3/50 fliers; they're walking up and down the streets handing them to other business owners, as well. That's the goal, Baxter says. "We need to be a united voice ... to bring entire business communities together.

"All these mom and pop businesses are a huge force to be reckoned with," Baxter says, "but they've not been able to speak with a single voice. The 3/50 Project gives them that voice."

The 3/50 home page also encourages participation in Small Business Saturday: "Let's all pledge to purchase from locally owned, independent businesses of all types, from gift buying to lunch out with the kids," it says.


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