Alternative Promotional Ideas

Posted: 11th May 2015

This article focuses on some of the low-cost, no-cost promotional ideas particularly suited to the budget restrictions and entrepreneurial spirit of the smaller business.


Promotion is essentially a communications activity. We want to hit our target audience with a specific message and persuade them to do something as a result. Traditionally, the five main promotional tools are advertising, public relations, sales promotion, direct marketing and personal selling. Even if we don’t have a big budget, we can use these tools just as effectively as the big boys do – if not more so. As long as we are focusing on our chosen market segments and understand how we can reach them effectively.

A chartered accountant and the owner of a beauty salon both generate regular new customer enquiries from advertising in their local monthly “Advertiser” publication. They don’t need a half page advertisement in the FT or Cosmopolitan. And public relations has long been the main stay of many a small business’s promotional strategy – whether they are aiming for local or national markets.

Doing it electronically

Probably the one development that has done the most to level the playing field in the past ten years has been the internet. We can all be both local and global now and there are many case histories of small businesses that have taken advantage of new markets way outside of their traditional location by selling online. Initially, however, the digital age means that we can now take advantage of a fairly low-cost means of implementing more traditional direct mail activities.

Email is a great way to stay in touch with someone who has already had contact with you. He or she is a good prospect – they already know about you and, if they have actually bought something, then they are likely to do so again. If I sign up to your news email or electronic newsletter, I’m genuinely interested in what you have to offer. You can make the most of this by prompting me to make a return visit or place an order.

Left to my own devices, I may just never get around to it. I may find it easier to buy my meat at Tesco, but if you are my local organic food shop and you email me to let me know you now take telephone orders for locally reared meat and do home deliveries, then this could be just the trigger I need to switch. If I have visitors coming this weekend and you email me to let me know that you have clowns, jugglers and fire eaters performing at your farm park on Saturday, then this may well make it to my list of things to do.

Be legal and follow best practice, and you can carry on a worthwhile dialogue with your prospects and customers. Even if they’re not always enticed by your offer, they may well recommend you to someone else. Compare the cost of doing it this way with, designing, printing and distributing a printed newsletter or posting out special offers.


A very powerful way to get introductions and build relationships. Approach it in the same way you would placing an advertisement. Who are you targeting, where are you likely to find them, what is your message and what outcome do you want from each networking “event”?

And networking is not just a way to find customers. Use it to find out and explore what is going on in your area (geography or industry) that might present an opportunity for your business. Use it to build useful contacts you can team up with to implement joint activities or create reciprocal arrangements.

Doing it with someone else

If you are a therapist, what mutually beneficial ideas could you think of if you teamed up with your local GP or the person who owns your local independent bookshop? Could you run a joint campaign with a supplier or another business (not a competitor) with the same target audience as you?

The basic idea here is that you both have something to gain from the relationship and you achieve synergy from working together. Take care when choosing a partner however, they must have the same values as you and be consistent with your own brand image.

Deliver your knowledge and expertise in different ways

In running our own businesses, we build up a wealth of knowledge and experience – sometimes in quite specialised areas. And we are often passionate about what we do.

Look at what you have to offer. Could you use your expertise in other ways? If someone will pay you to do this, so much the better. But sometimes it is a good marketing opportunity in itself.

Ideas include

  • Run a workshop or seminar
  • Write a book – or an e-book
  • Write an article, a case study or a review – for your local magazine or newspaper, or for someone else’s website or workshop
  • Offer yourself as an “expert voice” to local or even national media – be available when they need expert comment, or offer to write a regular column
  • Create educational materials for local schools or adult learning organisations
  • Public speaking – from the local WI to industry conferences

Give something away for free

Now with this one, you do have to be clear about what you’re doing. The trick is to do something that has a high perceived value to your audience, but is a relative low-cost or no-cost to you. This approach often teams up well with “showing people what you do”. The most important thing is that your audience gets to actually experience a little bit of what you do and, if you are a key part of the offering, they also get to know you.

Therapists often give a free initial consultation where the prospective client doesn’t actually experience the full therapy but can discuss it in general terms, ask questions and actually meet the therapist. If you are offering a service, I would, however, guard against giving away exactly the same thing for free that you are then going to ask your customer to pay for as this will only dilute the value of your proposition.

If you make or grow something, you could offer an item of your work or produce for free. Make sure you are getting your freebie in front of as many prospects as possible in a single hit. So, you could provide a dish or food for an organisation’s networking lunch, or offer a craft item as a competition prize.In some cases your free offering could be a talk or an article or one of the other ideas above. And once you’ve written one article, then you can recycle the contents for many other purposes in many other places.

Be media wise

Whatever idea you come up with, keep the media in mind. What’s newsworthy or topical about what you are doing? Is there an angle that will make a good press release or a mention in a “what’s on” listing? Will a journalist be interested in attending or participating? Is there a good photo opportunity?

Generating ideas

Once you start thinking, ideas will start to flow. Start off by simply generating ideas – don’t try to evaluate them, it’ll slow you down. Come up with as many options as you can. Get together with someone else or a small group to share ideas and trade skills.

In choosing exactly what you will do, refer back to your marketing plan. Does it fit with your overall marketing strategy, is it targeted at one of your chosen market segments, what role is it playing in your marketing process, how will you measure your success?

You will also need to look at what resources you need to implement your idea. Can you, or do you want to, do it yourself? If it’s a great idea but you don’t know how to make it happen or you need advice, seek out someone who can help.

And finally

If you want to find some new ways to promote your business, hopefully these ideas will get you started. There are endless ways to combine both traditional and more alternative approaches to achieve the results you want. So, be creative, be focused and have fun!

Jane Heaton is a freelance marketing consultant who works with large and small companies, in the private and public sector, in both business and consumer marketplaces.


Telephone: 01386 701944