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Small Business Marketing: How to Create a Sales Promotion Calendar

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What is a Sales Promotion?

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

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

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

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

Be aware that a promotional calendar is a practical 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 running and walk away from the ones that aren’t. (OK, walk away maybe a bit rough; if you feel you had a good idea and you didn’t see the effects, pinpoint why you didn’t have success and try again.)

promotional calendar

How do I begin a promotional calendar?

There are a few steps to get started. I first look at holidays and occasions in peoples’ lives by month. The holidays are obvious, but by events, I’m speaking to topics 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 pertain to your business, like National Relaxation Day which is Aug. 15. There are unlimited fun days to celebrate: Doughnut Day, Ice Cream Day, Pirate Day, etc. You can find a schedule of these here.

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

Some neighborhoods rally collectively 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 push traffic and to get to know your business neighbors.

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

Example of a promotional calendar

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

Example of a promotional calendar

Promotional Calendars for Franchises vs. self-supporting Small Businesses

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

If you started your own independent business, then getting established on what products or services you want to promote each month will be mandatory. You can get some motivation 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 schedule, you should have a document with notes by the month of which of your products or services you want to promote. Nice job! Next, you need to study the ways you plan to let your customers know about your great promotions.

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

Flyers

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

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

Email Marketing

If you’re collecting customer emails, this is a great way to communicate out what you are doing now as well as what’s coming. You can highlight your advertising and the products or services that will be featured. If you’re not collecting customer emails, this is something you will want to do if you’re running 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 talking to the offering. The most common signs are sandwich boards outside of your area, which are great for streets with sidewalk traffic. If you’re on an occupied street with fast traffic, you may need something larger that will intercept the eye of people drying by. You’ve seen examples of this with the air-filled characters or with people revolving signs.

Make sure your signage follows with your brand and offering. You will also want to think about your storefront and how you can incorporate a display that delivers to your promotion. Make sure you don’t get too wordy – keep the signage manageable and easy to understand.

Signage

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

If you plan your signage in the best way, 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 identical dates every year.

Creating a Promotional Calendar for Your Business Industry

I believe every business should have a variant of an annual calendar of events or promotions. It may be easier for a retail store to think of their promotions around clothes or food and when they’re in season. It’s pretty easy to outline marketing jackets or hot refreshments in winter and tank tops and iced drinks in the summer. For a service business, you may have to be more productive. 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 season 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 marketing around when you know businesses are doing their annual budgeting, or around back to school timing and concentrate on continued learning.

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

Calendar for Your Business Industry

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

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

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