American Express Co. is encouraging independent sales organizations to use Small Business Saturday to stimulate transactions, increase charge volume and differentiate themselves from competitors.

Some ISOs see it as an opportunity to share the success of the small-business outreach effort and position themselves as an advocate for small to midsize merchants. Doing so, they say, may pay off in profit down the road, even if the actual return on investment is hard to quantify.

“The days of the hard sell are gone,” says Kevin Jones, president of SignaPay, an ISO based in Irving, Texas. “I believe that establishing yourself as a true advocate [of small business] is a way to build business.”

Sandwiched between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Small Business Saturday was created by American Express Co. in 2010 as a day to support the local businesses that create jobs, boost the economy and preserve neighborhoods around the country.

The buzz around Small Business Saturday prompted an estimated 103 million Americans to shop at independently owned small businesses in 2011, according to Amex. Even President Obama took part in the day by shopping with his daughters at an independent bookstore a few blocks from the White House.

Meanwhile, the “movement”–as Amex calls it–has taken on a life of its own, beyond anything the initial sponsor originally envisioned. Without contacting Amex, businesses, associations and even local governments are creating events keyed to the Amex promotion. Support for the day was so widespread that the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution, designating Nov. 26 last year as Small Business Saturday.

Now acquirers that haven’t already done so are looking to stake their claim to the event.

Though the holiday season is months away, it’s not too early for ISOs to get involved with Small Business Saturday initiatives if they haven’t already, says Scott Krugman, a Small Business Saturday spokesperson and director of corporate affairs and communications for American Express OPEN business cards.

Indeed, while public awareness of the day rose to 65% compared with 37% in 2010, there’s still work to be done to reach the some-odd 26.8 million small businesses in the U.S.

“It’s so new that not all small businesses know about it yet, so there’s still a need for marketing to create awareness,” Krugman says. “There’s a lot of potential here.”

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