Already, it is May, my favourite month. Spirits are lifting; sun-drenched holidays, or even just lazy days in parks, filter into our collective consciousness. Creativity abounds with Handmade in Britain, Clerkenwell Design Week and Graduate Fashion Week showcasing the UK’s finest emerging talent. May is abuzz with colour, innovation and loveliness! But how can your business be part of it? How can you make your work stand out?
Promotion for small businesses
This post and my next post will explore the basics of promotion for your fashion or creative small business. This will help you if you are promoting your business before its launch, for a launch event, or to reach existing customers and those who have lapsed. These posts will take you through the initial considerations, your promotional objectives, different types of promotion you can use, developing a promotional idea for maximum impact, and planning your promotions. But first, you need to do some thinking.
Consider the questions below. Too many times I have had conversations where these are still unknown. For your promotion (and business) to stand the best chance of being successful, you need to know these inside out. Otherwise you risk wasted time and money, two things in very short supply for a creative small business!
What is your product/service/experience? Do you know your exact offer? Can you describe it in one sentence?
Who is your customer? This is your target market or target audience that you will aim to reach. Think specifics about age, gender, location, income type, frequency of purchase etc.
What are you trying to promote? Is this for a new product, an event or launch, or nurturing an ongoing relationship to maintain their loyalty?
Where is your customer? Are they local? Market stall or boutique? Which social media platforms do they follow you on? Have they bought from you before?
What are your competitors doing? How and where do they promote their offer? Why are they different to (or better than) you?
What level of market are you? Value or luxury, high street or niche?
What is your budget, timeframe and ability to do or to outsource this? Does this match your personal strengths or is it better to find someone else who can?
Now we need to explore your promotional objectives – the reason for your promotion. ‘Sales, income, money!!!’ I hear you cry. Yes, all promotion ultimately leads – we hope – to income, but sometimes it is more of a soft sell than a direct sales push. We need to win customers, build and nurture our relationships with them – existing customers are more likely to buy from you if they are happy than new ones. Plus, it takes time to find new customers… Either way, how do we capture their attention and encourage them to buy?
I think there are three main areas that your promotional objectives fall into: the launch of your business or a new product range; building the relationships with your customers for long term sales; and short term sales. Let’s look at each of these in turn.
Launching your business or product to create awareness
Obviously, this is when you are setting up the launch event or new product launch… But I always also recommend doing pre-launch marketing – getting a buzz out either locally or on social media (more later) before you start. This might be speaking to people and building up a following, asking them to spread the word. The goal here is to catch the attention of the event or opening and build footfall or traffic to it.
Building relationships for brand loyalty
Here you have your very lovely customers that you should nurture, thank and reward. Keep them close to you by promoting the benefits of the relationship – which might be VIP treatment or exclusive discounts or access – and attentive rather than being drawn instead to your competitors. If the customers are lapsed, try and win them back with the above suggestions – they valued you once and can do again! Here, you are in it for the long haul with a loyal group of customers who will, hopefully, recommend you online and off again and again…
Boosting short term sales
This is the direct sales push, probably discounted, to generate income, the go-to action of all small cash-strapped creative businesses. Bear in mind, however, that too much ‘shouting’ about money off and competing on price can dilute your brand when you are small, differentiated and niche. Here, I recommend only promoting the limited edition or exclusiveness of your special (discounted) offer, and piggy-backing onto appropriate seasonal promotions such as Christmas or St Valentine’s Day or, as one client has successfully done, the birth of a new Royal baby!
In all these options, I have emphasised the uniqueness and exclusivity of the promotion. You can’t compete on price with the big brands, but you can offer something different and better, more unique, so try not to get into discounting as a habit. Try and offer free gifts or extras etc rather than discounts. These should cost the same to your business as the discount and, conveniently, can be good quality stock that you need to clear…
One last tip here, use a different voucher or offer code for each promotion. This will help you keep track of what promotions are successful and which less so. You can add this on website, your social media or flyers that you distribute at your launch event.
Planning your promotions
Each year or season every business will need to mark down stock, to sell it a reduced profit to the business. Plan this in advance and don’t wait until you need to boost your cash-flow. You will get to know which are the busier periods and which are the slack, before and after Christmas for example. Develop a promotional calendar, to map these out and plan ahead. For this, remember to piggy-back onto national, local or seasonal events as I suggested above.
You can find out about events by Googling for different templates of promotional calendars or by visiting websites such as www.teachingideas.co.uk Think laterally, what else can you take the opportunity of joining in with that you know your customers like?
Measuring the success of your promotions
Now, thinking ahead to next season or year (yes, already!), you will need to record what has worked well, or disastrously, for you this time around. So, remember to monitor and track the success of your promotions (as outlined above) so that you optimise the time and money spent on them in the future. There is no bullet-proof way of ensuring a high return on your investment that is affordable for start-ups, so be prepared to test and try out different approaches on a small budget. And anticipate that some of these will be more successful than others…
So, remember the soft sell as well as the hard push. Know your customers and where they are, what they like and value. Keep tabs on ideas that you can ‘emulate’ from the competition, and trends that are around you. Devising promotions can be creative in itself, and as creative thinkers that you all are, the concept behind them should come easily, but do keep it relevant.
This will be the subject of my next post Easy Ways to Promote Your Business: Part 2. We will look at the different options open to you to promote your business and step-by-step tips on how to do these.
If you have any questions after reading this, or would like me to work with you on your creative business, then feel free to email me on firstname.lastname@example.org, or drop a comment on the blog.