'Small Business Saturday' Gets a Makeover

The program, designed to give a boost to small business sales, will feature more incentives for shoppers than ever.

Here's what's going on in the world of small business:

Small business Saturday

The Small Business Saturday program is getting a makeover this year.

American Express, which sponsors the program, is tripling to $30 the amount that cardholders can receive for each AmEx card when they spend at a small business on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. To receive the full amount, cardholders must spend at three separate small businesses.

The program is aimed at increasing sales for small businesses like independent retailers, restaurants and spas and other service providers. Last year, consumers who were aware of Small Business Saturday said they spent $5.7 billion at independent merchants that day, up 3.6 percent from 2012. AmEx started the program in 2010.

Cardholders will receive the money as a credit on their statements. AmEx gives the credit to a limited number of cardholders; the company does not disclose what that number is. It has a website about Small Business Saturday.

Caution signal

Small businesses are hiring more slowly in the last quarter of 2014 as they've lowered their sales outlook, according to a survey by human resources provider Insperity.

Thirty-one percent of the 423 business owners surveyed last month said they're adding staffers, down from 41 percent in a survey in July. Only about half expect to end 2014 with a sales increase, down from 56 percent.

Many companies are also holding back on raises. Nearly 70 percent said they would maintain employees' pay at current levels. Twenty-three percent plan to increase pay, down from 28 percent in July.

Social media ad dollars

Small and medium-size businesses with a sizable advertising budget are devoting more of it to social media, according to a survey by BIA/Kelsey, a media consulting company.

Companies that spend more than $25,000 a year on advertising and promotion plan to allot 17.4 percent of those budgets to social media. That's up from 15.6 percent in 2013 and 10.5 percent in 2012. On average, the companies spend nearly $79,000 on advertising and promotion.

More than 81 percent of the companies said they use social media to promote their businesses, up from 76.6 percent last year.

Facebook was the most popular social media service, used by 58.5 percent of the businesses. No. 2 was Google, used by 26.4 percent. Twitter was third, used by 26 percent; followed by Instagram, 16.3 percent; Pinterest, 13 percent and Yahoo, 12.6 percent.

Business credit cards

Small business credit cards can be unpredictable when it comes to interest rates and fees, according to a study by CardHub, a company that matches businesses and consumers with credit cards. While the Credit CARD Act of 2009 gives consumers protection from some interest rate and fee hikes, business card issuers are not required to treat companies in the same way.

CardHub examined the terms eight major card issuers put on their business cards. It found most don't agree to not arbitrarily raise interest rates on existing balances, something that is generally prohibited for consumer accounts under the Credit CARD Act. But half the issuers do agree to give their business customers 45 days' notice that their terms on business cards are changing, matching a requirement for consumer cards.

To determine whether a business card offers similar protections to consumers, companies should read the terms of their card agreement, and compare them to the Credit CARD Act. You can learn more about the law at the Federal Reserve's website.


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