Start the New Year right with these 11 creative, cheap and easy promotions.
1. Look at your store with fresh eyes.
If you're like most small business owners, you enter your store through the back door when you open up. Or, even if you use the front door, you probably don't pay much attention to the exterior. Instead, pretend to be your customers when you arrive. How does your store look now?
"See yourself the way the customer sees you," says Kathy Doyle Thomas, EVP of Half Price Books. "Before you get out of the car, compare your place of business to those around you." Is your signage legible? Does it stand out from other signs? Is anything blocking visibility of your entrance? These quick fixes will make your location attractive and easy to find.
2. Pick up new customers.
Go the extra mile to make your customers happy, says retail marketing management consultant Denise Beeson. Offer rides to your business via your local cab service, especially during heavy shopping days when parking is difficult.
3. Offer Foursquare specials.
Small business consultant Marcie Macari suggests taking advantage of the easy-to-use feature of the mobile social media service Foursquare. After you "claim" your venue, you can use the site to offer discounts and prizes. For example, you can offer a special to the first five people who come to the store wearing your local team's baseball caps, bicycle helmets or whatever else fits in with your business' theme.
Macari says, "By then promoting the contest through Facebook, Twitter and local newspapers, you can increase your local foot traffic in a very short period of time." Foursquare also lets you track how much traffic it's sending you with free analytics tools.
4. Reach out to your neighbors.
Look around your location for stores or companies with lots of employees and offer them coupons, Doyle Thomas suggests. She gets her staff to carry baskets with healthy snacks and discount coupons over to large companies, as well as the staffs of nearby schools or libraries.
"No one realizes the volume of employees at big-box stores," she says. "Their employees have to wander somewhere for lunch."
5. Get your customers to use twitter.
Twitter is a free and excellent way to reach customers on the go. It's also a great way to build excitement for a limited-time promotion.
To promote successfully on Twitter, you should first gain followers by asking customers to sign up for your tweets. Then make sure you're sending important and interesting information without overloading them.
To promote his perfume store in Milwaukee, Sonny Ahuja created a special Twitter account. He mixes retweets of beauty tips from experts with "today only" discount announcements and more general sales messages, such as "Perfumes at Low Discount Prices."
"It's a great way to spread the word to thousands of people for free," Ahuja says.
6. Get compatible businesses to spread the word about yours.
Marketing consultant Richard Bailey, of Client by Design, suggests creating a luxe-looking, custom gift certificate to be distributed by partners. For example, if your company caters to women, approach local salons and spas and offer them some gift certificates to hand out to special customers as a premium.
Each card should be printed with the dollar value, your business information and an expiration date. He suggests certificates worth $15 to $2, to apply to purchases or more.
"Let them know this giveaway will help to build customer loyalty at their place of business and help yours as well, and that you will cover the costs," Bailey says. The payoff: Your partner merchant looks good to its customers and you win new ones.
7. Tie in with all the holidays.
Avoid the Christmas rush by designing promotions for off times of the year. Half Price Books' Doyle Thomas uses Chase's Calendar of Events to identify little-known holidays and National Months. For example, a hardware store could promote National Bird Feeding Month, which is January, by offering talks by wildlife experts along with specials on birdseed.
8. Offer private customer nights.
Beeson suggests offering senior centers and assisted living facilities private shopping nights when they can come as a group and take their time. Often, the center can provide bus or van transportation to your store.
9. Become a YouTube star.
It's free, fast and easy to shoot and post a video on YouTube, says independent video producer Michael Freeman of Oranj Productions. You don't need a fancy camera or slick production values; YouTube watchers prefer casual and quirky videos. Freeman suggests you create a short, how-to style video showcasing your expertise. Even if you don't become a viral sensation like the Blendtec guy, you can send the link to customers and post it on your website and Facebook page.
10. Throw a block party.
Get together with other businesses on your block to host a party or sidewalk sale. Creating an event lets each business introduce itself to the customers of the others. Invite local performers like the high school glee club and their fans will follow. You might even get free media coverage. For more details on how to do this, see 5 Ways to Lure Local Shoppers.
11. Put your employees' heads together.
Let one or two of your employees rotate promotional duties each month, Doyle Thomas suggests. They'll get to design the promotion and carry it out. That way, you'll get a variety of creative promotions that will appeal to different customer groups.
"This is a fun thing that the employee can own and promote," she says.
Image Credit: Susan Kuchinskas