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33 Creative Ideas for Small Business Holiday Marketing

By Rieva Lesonsky, Guest Blogger
Published: October 7, 2014

The holidays are coming, and we all know what that means for retailers. But retailers aren’t the only ones who can get in on the holiday shopping game. Whether you own a store, restaurant, service provider or even a B2B company, smart marketing can boost your holiday sales, too. Here are 33 marketing ideas to get your holiday sales sizzling.

  1. Invite B2B customers to a thank-you dinner or other special event.
  2. Invite B2B prospects to a “getting to know you” party.
  3. Stand out by holding your holiday party before Thanksgiving, or after the New Year when customers are more business-minded and thinking ahead to 2015 budgets.
  4. Stand out (and save money) by holding a holiday breakfast or luncheon instead of a full-scale evening party.
  5. Join forces with other small business owners in the area to hold a weekend “sidewalk sale.”
  6. Cross-promote your business with cards, brochures and flyers in complementary businesses’ locations.
  7. Put discounts or coupons for other nearby businesses’ products or services in customers’ shopping bags, and have them do the same for you.
  8. Hold a special sale for your best customers only, at a time when you’re normally closed.
  9. Choose a charity to get involved with, and get customers involved too. Offer a discount or free gift card for customers who volunteer a certain amount of time to the charity or donate a certain amount.
  10. Join other businesses to host a gift-giving tree. Find a local charity, put a tree in the business district or shopping area, post Christmas wishes on the tree, and have customers pick a wish and buy the desired gift.
  11. Exhibit at holiday shows. See if local crafts fairs or gift shows accept commercial vendors and, if so, rent a booth.
  12. Hold a Black Friday sale for your B2B business. (It doesn’t have to be on the real “Black Friday”—pick another Friday during the holiday season.)
  13. Send real holiday cards, not e-cards. They’re more likely to get noticed.
  14. Send Thanksgiving or New Year’s cards. They’re also more likely to get noticed than cards sent during the Christmas season.
  15. Hold a holiday open house for prospects. More relaxed than a regular party, it offers an opportunity for them to drop by at their convenience and learn more about your business.
  16. Capture customers through their kids. Hold a kids’ contest like a make-your-own-ornament contest or holiday coloring contest. Give a big prize or just give everyone small prizes, like candy canes.
  17. Make any business kid-friendly by providing a kids’ space with toys or books to keep tired, fussy children occupied while parents shop.
  18. Get listed in local bloggers’ holiday gift guides. It’s too late for most print gift guides, but there’s still time to get your products or services spotlighted by relevant bloggers. Reach out with a free sample.
  19. Feed the crowd. Hand out free cookies or beverages to energize tired shoppers.
  20. Make them comfy. Provide seating so shoppers’ companions can sit down if they don’t want to shop.
  21. Give it away. If your business is located in a mall or shopping area, station an employee outside to give away free samples of your product or service to passersby.  
  22. Hire masseuses to give shoppers free foot or shoulder rubs in your store if they buy something.  
  23. Have Santa come to your business. If you’re in a shopping district, join with other businesses to hire a Santa. You can even set up a photo booth and have photos taken with Santa and ask for donations.
  24. Hold a “12 Days of...” sale, event or contest. Give away a different prize every day, offer a different discount every day or spotlight a different product every day.
  25. Give away useful items with each purchase, like good-quality tissue paper or ribbons for gift-wrapping. Put your business’s name on it and you’ve got a marketing tool, too.
  26. Give away gifts with purchase. Offering items that can serve as stocking stuffers makes customers more likely to buy so they can get the gift.
  27. Try a two-for-one sale. This works great for subscription items; offer customers a free gift subscription or half-price gift subscription when they renew their own membership or subscription.
  28. Get personal. Instead of holding a big party for clients, take them out to lunch individually during the holidays (or early in the New Year if they’re too busy).
  29. Provide entertainment. Hire musicians to play in your store or restaurant, or right outside to attract customers in.
  30. Display holiday-themed art by local artists in your restaurant, coffee shop or bar and offer it for sale.
  31. Sell gift cards for shoppers who can’t make up their minds. Be sure to keep them by the point-of-sale as a last minute impulse buy.
  32. Create personalized food gifts by printing your business logo on M&Ms, candy bars, cookies or candy wrappers.
  33. Print a personalized 2015 calendar to give out to your clients. A restaurant could include photos of popular dishes; a dog wash could showcase cute dog breeds.

About the Author:

Rieva Lesonsky
Rieva Lesonsky

Guest Blogger

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and President of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Follow Rieva at Twitter.com/Rieva and visit SmallBizDaily.com to sign up for her free TrendCast reports. She's been covering small business and entrepreneurial issues for more than 30 years, is the author of several books about entrepreneurship and was the editorial director of Entrepreneur magazine for over two decades

How to Become a Supplier to Larger Manufacturers

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: October 6, 2014 Updated: October 9, 2014

Across the country, manufacturing and production is returning to the U.S. And it’s a trend that’s likely to continue thanks to lower energy costs, higher U.S. worker productivity, increasing labor costs overseas and, of course, the logistical advantages of U.S.-based production.

This is great news for the U.S. economy and the small business community.

Tapping into a large commercial supply chain and becoming a supplier to a big company can be a game-changer for small businesses – and the data proves it. Studies show that when a small supplier lands a contract with a larger company, its revenues increase in the region of 250 percent and they create 150 percent more jobs in only two to three years.

So how do small businesses take advantage of the positive outlook and wealth of opportunity that entering the manufacturing/production supply chain can bring? Here are two key steps any small business should take:

1. Have a Plan

Entering any new market requires planning. And for small businesses looking to join the supply chain of larger companies, getting it right and proving your credentials is essential. For help and guidance, check out this blog for tips on how to up the ante and start selling to larger companies.

2. Join the “Supplier Connection” Initiative

Small businesses should also be aware of a valuable public/private collaboration known as the American Supplier Initiative (ASI). The ASI is aimed at helping small businesses strengthen their revenue streams by gaining access to billions in combined supply chain spending by a consortium of America’s largest corporations including AT&T, Kellogg’s, Caterpillar, John Deere, Siemens, IBM and more.

How does it work?

ASI connects small businesses with large organizations through its Supplier Connection website. This free, cloud-based business-to-business community makes it easier for small businesses to market their services to Fortune 500 corporations, mid-market firms and other enterprises by giving them exposure and presenting their products and services to procurement agents of these companies. For the buyer, Supplier Connection makes the process of making a sourcing decision easier, faster and smarter.  

To participate, simply register here. Once approved, eligible businesses then create a profile to showcase their goods and services to participating buying members. You’ll also get access to business development tools, training and collaboration features that connect you with other small businesses and potential partners.

Since its inception, Supplier Connection has grown from six corporate Buying Members to over 25. These companies have spent over $2.5B with the small businesses that are a part of Supplier Connection. 

For more information, read the site’s FAQs and check out this quick video for an overview of how Supplier Connection works.

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

6 Good Reasons to Start your Holiday Marketing Plan Now

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: October 1, 2014

The holidays creep up on us fast, and it seems like each year the big retailers start their holiday sales sooner and sooner. Last year, for example, retail giants Walmart and Target both began their holiday deals well before Thanksgiving, with campaign planning no doubt starting several months prior.

Should your small business be doing the same and can you really benefit from jumping on the holiday marketing bandwagon sooner rather than later? Of course you can! Here’s why – and how:

There’s a lot of ground to cover

According to a 2013 report by Accenture, 23 percent of shoppers start shopping in the early fall, and nearly three quarters will be finished by the end of November! That’s a lot of ground to cover. Start late and you’ll miss the boat. Start sooner and you’ll have a rolling strategy to stay top of mind as key holiday milestones come and go.    

The early bird gets repeat customers

According to a 2013 survey by Constant Contact, participating in holiday season marketing is a rewarding venture for small businesses, with 52 percent of respondents reporting that new customers attained during the holidays become repeat, loyal customers.

Poor planning = poor performance

Constant Contact also reports that only 31 percent of small businesses surveyed start planning for the holidays between two and three months in advance. Now this doesn’t mean that these businesses won’t be ready, but it’s more than likely that the campaigns and events that they run will be pretty generic. Without planning, these campaigns won’t take into account what’s worked well in the past (and I don’t mean gut feelings, but real, hard metrics). They also won’t allow much time for originality, no matter how creative you think you are.

These campaigns will probably work to drum up some business, but will they be wildly successful? Will they make your business stand out so much that new customers become loyal customers, even when the holiday décor is taken down?

Last-minute budgeting isn’t easy

Reactive marketing can quickly erode your marketing budget – cutting back money allocated to other areas and, at worst, eating directly into your bottom line. If you start planning your holiday marketing ahead of time, you can spread the costs over several months so that cash flow isn’t impeded and you are ready to roll come the holiday season.

Get better pricing

Starting early may also pay off in terms of securing a better deal on design and printing costs as well as other vendor incentives to help keep your campaign costs lower. Coming off the long slow summer, these companies will be eager to entice companies to start spending sooner rather than later.

Take a weight off your shoulders

Planning now can make an already stressful time easier to manage knowing that your campaign is up and running and delivering you a health return on investment.

Get tips!

Whether you’re a retailer or not, check out these tips amassed by SBA.gov contributors and small business experts.

And if you really must leave it to the last minute:

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

Your Business, Your Brand – 7 Simple Brand Identity Tips

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: September 29, 2014 Updated: September 29, 2014

What’s your small business brand identity?

Sure, you’ve got a logo, a website, business cards, signage and perhaps even a storefront – but your brand is so much more than the “look” of your business. While all these can help you project a carefully crafted image to your customers, true branding runs a lot deeper.

Think of Apple and Zappos, for example – two brands that spring to mind as exemplary in their markets. Customers like doing business with these companies. They feel a connection with the brand. But how did they get there? Much of this is down to great products and business innovation, but it’s more than that. Customers know what they are going to get when they interact with these brands, they’re invested in them, and that this requires a brand strategy.

So how does your small business do the same? Here are seven simple steps for nurturing and maintaining your brand.

Get the Basics Right

I already mentioned logos, website, signage, etc. These are the foundations of your brand and it’s very important to establish brand guidelines that stipulate how these elements are used. For example, applying rules around brand colors, use of your logo, images and fonts. Don’t forget to register or trademark your logo too.

Brand guidelines also apply to your “voice,” i.e. the tone your business adopts. For example, a software company that sells to other businesses might want to adopt a voice of authority, expertise and trust. While a software company that markets software apps to consumers could adopt a more conversational voice in its marketing materials.

Capture Your Value

Above all, make sure your brand elements reflect your company and its value proposition. Not to be mistaken with price, value encompasses what you do, what business problem you solve, how your business is different and how you make your customer’s life different after doing business with you.

Use clear language to communicate your value. Don’t be so vague that your message is meaningless. Use simple, clean imagery that resonates with your customers, and use a tagline that succinctly sums up not who you are, but what you do for your customers.

For more help developing your marketing voice and message, read 7 Tips for Getting your Marketing Message Right or watch this on-demand webinar: Practical Marketing – A Five Step Marketing Program for Small Business from National Small Business Week.

Let Your Customers Get to Know the Face Behind the Brand

I have a favorite restaurant; the food and service are great, but something is missing – the owner. Despite being a frequent diner, I’ve never had a single interaction with the owner and, for small businesses, this is a huge mistake. Customers want to feel that their business is appreciated and they want to connect with the face behind the business, especially if the transactions are frequent or substantial or one, such as a home renovation project.

This doesn’t mean you have to be on-site for every meeting or visible 100 percent of the time, but ask yourself if you’re really getting to know your customers. Are you responsive and in-tune with their needs? What do they really think about your business?

If you know what you want your brand identity to be and have invested in building it, make sure you’re out there maintaining its integrity. Small business owners need to be just as much an advocate for their brand just as Steve Jobs was for Apple.

Use Social Media to Help Your Brand Shine

Social media has changed the way brands connect and engage with their prospects and customers, opening up new opportunities to talk directly to and with them in real-time. While your basic brand guidelines should apply to the foundation of your social media pages, there are lots of other quick and easy ways to use social media to grow your brand. Anita Campbell of SmallBizTrends suggests 12 ways to get started. Read part one of “6 Ways to Use Social Media for Branding” and part two here.

Get Involved in your Community

What better way to get exposure for your brand than giving back and getting involved in the community. Sponsor the local 5k marathon or participate in fairs, farmer’s markets or events – all of these can help build community and extend the trust you’ve earned for your brand.

Become a Trusted Advisor

Becoming a trusted advisor to existing customers and prospects is a great way to differentiate and build your brand. Think about what your business does and the challenges your customers have. Host workshops or webinars and write blogs that offer advice and tips for overcoming these challenges, without plugging your own product or services (use follow-up emails and calls to attendees to do that).

Winning new business becomes a lot easier if customers already know that you’re an expert at what you do (and that you’re excited about doing it).

Police Your Brand’s Usage

So you’ve decided to advertise your business – always make sure whoever designs the ad adheres to your brand guidelines. If not, the power of your brand starts to get slowly diluted. Make sure that partners who use your logo or company messaging stick to those guidelines too.

Likewise, be on the lookout for trademark infringement or any potential copyright theft by competitors. For instance, a competing business could lift copy from your website and use it, unchanged, to promote their business.

Don’t forget employees and if your brand extends to how they greet and interact with customers. Monitor and coach them regularly to ensure they’re upholding your brand values.

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

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