We’re just days away from Small Business Saturday®, my favorite shopping day of the year. Celebrated the Saturday after Thanksgiving each year, it’s a time for consumers to support local businesses and recognize the contributions they make to their communities. Millions of other shoppers share my enthusiasm, spending $5.5 billion on last year’s day alone.

Small Business Saturday strikes such a strong chord because it reminds us of what makes our communities special. A recent AT&T poll suggests that small businesses benefit from this sentiment year-round. In fact, 79 percent of business owners say they enjoy running a small business, and 47 percent say it actually gives them a sales advantage. Given that most of these businesses lack the marketing resources of their larger counterparts, that finding speaks volumes.

The power of local connections

The poll also offered insights into how small businesses can make the most of their local ties. Here are four areas I suggest focusing on:

Provide superior service.

I rely on the sales clerks at my favorite stores to know what I like, guide me to the items I routinely buy, and follow up after purchases to make sure I’m happy. These expectations aren’t lost on small business owners: 26 percent of those surveyed give top priority to providing superior service. Want to build on the good service you already provide? Consider starting a loyalty program or using social media to respond to customers more quickly. One simple step I’ve seen some businesses take is snail-mailing birthday cards to loyal customers. Acts like these can signal customers how much you appreciate their business.

Strengthen your brand.

Having a strong business personality or brand can help your company stand out. This doesn’t mean being gimmicky—rather, it means making the most of your strengths. Twenty-one percent of the businesses surveyed say developing a distinct personality is key. A wine store might build its name by offering selections from hard-to-find vineyards, while a computer repair shop could provide fast, dependable service and guarantee its work. 

Share your experience.

Part of what makes Small Business Saturday so special is that it highlights small businesses’ connections to their communities. Hosting events year-round can reinforce these ties. A gourmet food store in my neighborhood hosts weekly cooking demonstrations highlighting different parts of the world, which is a nice way to educate customers and entice them to keep coming back. Businesses could host a range of events, including open houses, classes, and workshops. These give businesses a chance to share their expertise and showcase what makes them unique.

Build relationships.

Staying in contact with customers through tools — such as email, social media, and text messaging – is an important way to build relationships. Along with announcing new products and services, businesses can send appointment reminders, offer exclusive discounts, and share useful tips. Forty-five percent of the small business owners polled use some form of technology to strengthen customer relationships. As more consumers use smartphones, creating a mobile-friendly website and exploring such tools as location-based services can be other ways to build relationships.

Check out the American Express Shop Small® website for more resources that can help you stand out. Share your plans for Small Business Saturday in comments below.