Small Business Marketing: How to Build a Sales Promotion Calendar

What is a Sales Promotion?

The term “promotional calendar” may feel like marketing speak. What this really means is that you’re highlighting or bringing attention to a product/service, set of products/services, event, etc. To create a promotional calendar is to think about the time of year and your business and outline what you want to draw attention to in order to push your business forward.

One question I get asked regularly is “does a promotion need to include a discount?” and the answer to this is no. A promotion is just simply bringing attention to a specific product or offering from your business. Many times promotions include a discount, but this is not necessary.

Why do I need a promotional calendar for my small business?

It’s important to think about the entire year and plan how you want to keep a buzz going for your company. When you are proactive versus reactive, you can drive your businesses momentum.

Be aware that a promotional calendar is a working document and you will want to add notes after each promotion that includes the results. Did you drive sales, increase brand awareness, create repeat purchasers or did the promotion not move the needle? You will want to build on the promotions that are working and walk away from the ones that aren’t. (OK, walk away may be a bit rough; if you feel you had a good idea and you didn’t see the results, pinpoint why you didn’t have success and try again.)

How do I start a promotional calendar?

There are a few ways to get started. I first look at holidays and events in peoples’ lives by month. The holidays are obvious, but by events, I’m speaking to themes like back to school in September or getting into shape as a new year’s resolution in January. You can also layer in fun holidays that apply to your business, like National Relaxation Day which is Aug. 15. There are limitless fun days to celebrate: Doughnut Day, Ice Cream Day, Pirate Day, etc. You can find a list of these here.

After I have these added to my calendar, then I think about my product and highlight the times these events or themes are relevant. For example, every fall, Starbucks offers their Pumpkin Spice Latte. This has become so popular that they create a new campaign for it each year. I even saw that the media picked it up this year and announced the first day the Pumpkin Spice Latte would be offered in store for the season. Another great example is every fitness center, whether it’s your local gym or 24 Hour Fitness franchise, offers lower rates promoted in early January.

Some neighborhoods rally together and offer sidewalk sales in the summer, Halloween trick-or-treating in October and winter fests between November and December holidays. This is a great way to drive traffic and to get to know your business neighbors.

The last consideration is if/when you want to offer a sale. Think about when you have out-of-season stock or when you have a slower service time, and then offer a sale or discount to draw in more customers. You will want to layer this into your promotional calendar, and plan for it. A sale isn’t any good if no one knows about it.

Example of a promotional calendar

Click here to see a template of a blank promotional calendar you can use to begin drafting your own. I’ve even added in major holidays and themes to get you started.

Promotional Calendars for Franchises vs. independent Small Businesses

If you are running a franchise, you’re probably held to the concepts promotional calendar, so it may not be necessary to create your own. But it’s still important to understand the benefit of managing to a calendar.

If you started your own independent business, then getting organized on what products or services you want to promote each month will be mandatory. You can get some inspiration from your local franchises as many of these businesses have been running for years and have mastered their promotional plans.

How to Drive Traffic for Your Promotions

Once you’ve completed your promotional calendar, you should have a document with notes by month of which of your products or services you want to promote. Nice job! Next, you need to think of the ways you plan to let your customers know about your great promotions.

Below are a few ways to drive traffic for your promotion:

Flyers

The easiest way to let customers know about a promotion is to provide a printed flyer or postcard with the details that you can include in your customers’ bags at purchase. This is a great way to drive repeat customers and hopefully a little word of mouth.

Many times local businesses, libraries and even parks have community boards where you can also post your flyer. Just make sure the business or location is serving a similar type of customer or this may not be an effective way to drive the right traffic.

Email

If you’re collecting customer emails, this is a great way to communicate out what you are doing today as well as what’s coming. You can highlight your promotion and the products or services that will be featured. If you’re not collecting customer emails, this is definitely something you will want to do if you’re going to offer annual promotions and events.

Signage

One of the easiest ways to let people know that you have something going on is to have signage speaking to the offering. The most common signs are sandwich boards outside of your location, which are great for streets with sidewalk traffic. If you’re on a busy street with fast traffic, you may need something larger that will catch the eye of people drying by. You’ve seen examples of this with the air-filled characters or with people spinning signs.

Make sure your signage aligns with your brand and offering. You will also want to think about your store front and how you can incorporate a display that speaks to your promotion. Make sure you don’t get too wordy – keep the signage simple and easy to understand.

Another great location for signage is the point of sale station. You can turn your flier into a mini poster board or free standing sign and keep it by your register (remember to point it out to customers when they check out).

If you plan your signage right, you may even be able to use the assets for a few years. If that’s appealing, it may be best not to include dates on your sign unless you’re sure the promotion will land on the same dates every year.

Creating a Promotional Calendar for Your Business Industry

I believe every business should have a version of an annual calendar of events or promotions. It may be easier for a retail shop to think of their promotions around apparel or food and when they’re in season. It’s pretty easy to outline selling jackets or hot beverages in winter and tank tops and iced drinks in the summer. For a service business, you may have to be more creative. For example, a mechanic or oil change business could promote oil changes and annual check-ups in January, winterizing the car from November through January and prepping the car for hot summer weather in May through July. If your business provides a service for other small businesses, like a business coach or consulting firm, you may want to build your promotions around when you know businesses are doing their annual budgeting, or around back to school timing and focus on continued learning.

Again, your calendar will evolve as you try different tactics and learn from your customer’s response and results.

If you’re looking for ideas and ways to get started, please leave me a comment and I’d love to offer suggestions for your business.

If you’re just getting into small business ownership and thinking about promotions is too much, you can take a step back and check out my blog on small business marketing here.

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