How do you entice customers to come through your small business’s door? Oftentimes, bringing in new sales requires some out-of-the-box thinking. A creative, thoughtful, and attention-grabbing small business promotion is a fantastic way to bring in new business.
We asked entrepreneurs just like you to dish on their most successful small business promotions. So the next time you have the resources to put on a stellar promotion, take some inspiration from these 18 entrepreneurs.
1. Offer High Value Giveaways
“Our most successful small business promotions are our giveaways. A few months ago, we ran an Apple Watch sweepstakes campaign and were able to generate over 2,000 new users for our company—not to mention the brand awareness ParqEx received from the campaign. Giveaway campaigns sound easy to run and straightforward, but you must execute properly to reap the benefits.”
—Vivek Mehra, founder and CEO of ParqEx
2. Align Your Sweepstakes With Holidays
“Blu Skin Care ran a Mother’s Day sweepstakes and raffled off $390 worth of skin care products. In order to be entered into our drawing, people had to follow our social media accounts or purchase one Blu Skin Care product to be automatically entered into our drawing. To date, this has been our most successful promotion.”
–Zondra Wilson, owner of Blu Skin Care
3. Give Out Some Swag
“Our most successful small business promotion was an item—a branded stainless steel water bottle that keeps beverages hot for 12 hours and cold for 24 hours.
We gave the bottles to some of our clients around the holidays, and they were a huge hit. In fact, many clients ordered them for their businesses after using ours!
Another one of our top giveaways that we brainstormed for a client was a branded remote-control car. We created a two-touch mail campaign that included the car and a direct mail piece. If the prospective client accepted a meeting with our client, the sales representative would bring the remote for the car. Their ROI was over 100%!”
—Rachael Ekey, President of The Markey Group
4. Try Low-Budget Instagram Campaigns
“As an outdoor product company startup located in the Pacific Northwest region of the US, promoting our upcoming products and apparel is key to our success.
Our efforts have been heavily focused on social media. As a startup operating on a small budget, the power of Instagram and free marketing potential is very compelling. This platform has been the source for all of our successful small business promotions.
Specifically, we wanted to raise brand awareness to multi-sport individuals who participate in the outdoor adventures we provide products for. Ultimately, we wanted to direct them to our new web store so they could have access to early product releases and learn more about who we are via our story and blog webpages.
The most successful of our small business promotions was using the free app Canva to create our own advertisement on Instagram. Canva allowed us to use our own original photos, add custom fonts, and use pre-existing word art to make our ad modern and appealing. It also has set templates to make sure your promotion fits the parameters of whatever social media platform you plan to use it for. Also, it’s free.
We used this tool to alert our social media followers that we were starting our soft launch with a select few pieces of apparel and accessories. We not only sold out of multiple sizes of tees in the first day of the promotion but saw a spike of almost 400 visits on our website! I believe the key to its success was the diligent work of our social media team in providing quality content and constant engagement on Instagram, thus creating a following of over 1,000 people before launching the promotion.”
—John Smigaj, co-founder of Trxstle
5. Tap Into the Local Trends
“When I started Boost Rank SEO back in 2012, the hipster movement was in full swing. It was also around the time that Shahid Khan bought the Jacksonville Jaguars (my agency was in Jacksonville). Mr. Khan is well known for his iconic mustache—to the point where it was being used on Jaguars gear. So, I decided to have a second set of business cards printed on clear plastic with my business information and a likeness of Mr. Khan’s mustache. Then I handed them out at local bars and events.
The results were better than I had hoped. Not only did everyone love them, they took pictures with them and posted them to their social media profiles. Each one of those pictures had my contact information and spread my name much faster than I could have on my own.
While fake mustaches are always fun, what made this small business promotion really take off was that it piggybacked off of local and national trends. So my advice for anyone looking to run a campaign like that would be to make it fun and make it relevant.”
—Mike Evans, founder of Relevant9
6. Partner With Your Clients
“Our most successful small business promotion was something we called our ‘marketing partner program.’ For a limited time, we offered a discount to clients who wrote a published review of our product. One of our clients contributed their review to the top magazine in our industry. The resulting article generated over 20 inbound leads, and continues to be one of our most valuable backlinks for SEO.”
—Trey Gordner, CEO of Koios
7. Go Above and Beyond
“We joined a local networking group that was lacking a website development expert. We were invited to present to the group to see if it would be a fit us. Instead of doing a standard introduction to the group, we directed everyone to visit a private link with a newly updated networking group website. Our goal and promotion was to showcase our work and offer the website for free.
They loved and kept the website, provided us a free membership, a monthly retainer, and landed six other website projects within the group. Our total investment was approximately three hours of our time.”
—Pete Polgar, Clickz Digital
8. Send Out an Intriguing Mailer
“After I launched my business in May of 2010, I simply mailed a lone black ‘Cheek’d’ card that read, ‘This card could change your life’ in a plain black envelope to 20 of the main journalists in New York City. This stunt cost $12.50 and a few weeks later, we were featured on the cover of The New York Times Styles Section and coined as ‘The next generation of online dating.’ That article led to our site crashing for hours, orders from hundreds of customers all over America, inquiries from all over the world, and an invitation for an interview at Oprah Winfrey’s studio.
My advice? Don’t just think outside the box—get rid of the box! Be creative. Think guerrilla. And if that doesn’t work, sometimes it just doesn’t hurt to ask. I’ve ended up on the news many times by just calling up the news channels and asking them if they’d be interested in featuring my business. Sometimes it’s that simple.”
—Lori Cheek, founder and CEO of Cheek’d
9. Try a Groupon Promotion
“We ran a small business promotion on Groupon last year and were overwhelmed with the response. The Groupon was $100 gift card of botox treatment for $50—limited to one per customer.
Sure, the initial offering was not profitable on a stand-alone basis. But we have seen over half of those patients return and become regular customers. In the long run, our ROI is well over 200%.”
—Dr. Alex Roher M.D., San Diego Botox Inc.
10. Put a Great Reviews System in Place
“Although I’ve tried several odd ways of marketing my business—the thing that worked was truly great. Reviews are great for attracting online customers to your store, and I made sure to try to take advantage of it.
Most customers that visit our lighting showroom get a card on the way out with a short link to redeem a modest coupon code in exchange for their feedback. When that customer follows the URL, they are presented with two options: ‘Thumbs Up’ and ‘Thumbs Down.’
The trick is when they click ‘Thumbs Up,’ they are taken to a page with all of our review pages listed out for them to review our business. But if they click ‘Thumbs Down,’ they get taken to a contact form that goes directly to me. That way, I am giving satisfied customers a chance to leave a positive review while giving myself the chance to fix any issue that may have happened at the store. It’s a great way to improve how your business operates, and it’s fairly easy to set up.”
—Vitaliy Vinogradov, CEO of Modern
11. Help Out and Promote at the Same Time
“Last summer we needed to figure out a repeatable way to leverage the activity inside of our platform to get exposure to promote our business and get free PR for our marketplace. So, our team began implementing a little program to get connected with our local community in Nashville, Tennessee.
We have a few hundred lawn care professionals that utilize our system, and we ask them to submit to candidates that are in need of a lawn-mowing for free because they are in a tough personal situation.
So, once a month we’ll go and mow a stranger’s home whose grass has gotten 2 to 3 feet tall because they are in a jam and don’t have time to keep up with it. For instance, one person was facing foreclosure and another was getting ready to be cited by the city. We also try to help out single moms more than anybody.
This is an easy way we can help out and have a personal connection with our local community.”
—Bryan Clanton, CEO of GreenPal
12. Try a Social Media Campaign
“Our most successful small business promotions have been done via social media. Encouraging our followers to repost a photo, follow our account, or tag it in the photo works really well for contest entries.
We love doing contests on social media because it gives incentive for our followers to get involved and win free products. We then like to have the winners give us feedback or reviews on the products they won. Our contests tend to spark interest on our website, and we typically see more sales in the week we do a contest than any other week.”
—Christina Flach, CEO of Pretty Girl Makeup
13. Make a Viral Video
“The one-time small business promotion that worked the best for us was to create a humorous video about our industry (graphic and web design). The video was a humorous take on a few very specific industry traits (how designers choose fonts for their projects). The video went on to be viewed by tens of thousands of people and, subsequently, allowed us to gain a little bit of traction and a little bit of revenue—enough to keep us going.
For other small businesses looking to do a one-time video promotion we have a few tips: If you can, partner with an established brand or personality. Try to make it humorous, but not offensive. Humor can be tough, so it may take a few script iterations. And finally, keep production costs as low as possible. That way, if the first video doesn’t work, you didn’t blow your entire budget on a dud video.”
—Andrew Elliott, founder of GoDesignerGo.com
14. Don’t Forget the Power of a Good Newsletter
“Our most successful small business promotions happen in our newsletter. In fact, our newsletter is a sort of weekly promotion that has consistently served us well.
We send out a weekly newsletter, and we see success by filling it with calls to action that lead our readers back to our website. Our website is where we make money, so the more we can get our newsletter readers back to our website, the better.”
—Eric Anthony, founder of StreamingObserver.com
15. Don’t Rule Out Inexpensive, Simple Promotions
“My most memorable and most successful small business promotion is also my least expensive promotion. We set up a lemonade stand outside our building, on the street, and gave out free lemonade while introducing our service to our customers.
I could not believe how many people contacted us just from that one event. My advice for other business owners is to just get out there and introduce your services. Effective promotion does not have to be expensive. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to see results. You’d be surprised how effective some nearly free promotional methods can be.”
—Jesse Harrison, founder and CEO of Zeus Legal Funding
16. Focus on Existing Clients
“Our client base is our most successful and efficient promoter. The most successful small business promotion that we have done with my small business is one that is focused on our existing customers and clients.
Last year, we sent out a postcard, during our busiest time of year, requesting our clients refer us to their friends or family members. It was a very basic postcard—on one side it had a message to our existing clients, asking that they give it to a friend or family member.
On the other side, it had a clear message about what we could offer to a new client and how to contact us. In exchange, the current client would receive a $50 gift card. The postcard was a hit, with our agency gaining dozens of new clients in a short period of time from this referral system.”
—Garrett Ball, president of 65Medicare.org
17. Tie In Community Service
“The most successful small business promotion was an indirect promotion we received from doing a fundraiser for a local child battling cancer. Although the primary reason for hosting a fundraiser should not be growing your business, it helped with our ‘genuinity’ and gave us heart in our community—directly resulting in more enrollments. We have hosted several fundraisers since, raising anywhere from $800 to $18,000 for kids battling childhood cancer. Every time we host a fundraiser, we have received media attention. The PR value from this is something I could never afford as a small business owner. Every fundraiser generally generated additional interviews with a focus on keeping kids active, happy, and healthy—our mission!
—Jamie Dicks, owner of My Gym Layton
18. Engage the Twitter Community
“One of the best strategies we ever ran involved trying to increase our Twitter following by holding weekly Tweet chats with co-hosts from other sites where we would give away a gift card to a random participant at the end of each Tweet chat. We sometimes also awarded additional gift cards for social media mentions as well. Overall, it was quite a success as we saw a fairly decent uptick in followers, and the overall cost of the small business promotion wasn’t that difficult to handle.”
—Andrew Schrage, CEO of MoneyCrashers
What Makes a Great Small Business Promotion?
As you can see from these 18 entrepreneurs, the best small business promotion is one that caters exactly to what your customers are looking for, but in a unique and innovative way. (But free swag never hurts, either.)