Small business holiday sales strategy

Free & Low Cost Ways To Market Your Business This Holiday Season

The holiday season is usually a make or break time period as many businesses make the bulk of their yearly sales and profits during this time.  With many businesses having to close or stay open with many restrictions this year, this holiday season is going to be one of the most critical ones ever for many of them.

The pressure to have a strong holiday sales season coupled with that fact many businesses will have limited funds to market their business means that the pressure is on to get creative with their marketing.

This is a great time to examine your past marketing practices to see what has worked and what has not worked in the past.  You should not be wasting time and money on marketing activities that did not bring much of a return for you in the past.  It's time to focus and to start thinking creatively on how to reach as many people with your marketing as possible.

Below are some free & low cost marketing tactics you should consider adding to your marketing mix this holiday season.  Most are free, though require some time, while others are low cost.  If you have a bigger advertising budget to spend then consider increasing your budget for the online advertising tactics listed below.

Review & Plan

Review Prior Year Sales

Before you do anything you want to analyze sales from prior years to get an idea of what worked and what didn't work.  Hopefully you have a CRM (customer relationship management software) or point of sales software to help gather your data.  Things you want to look at:

Total sales during past holiday seasons. These can serve as a guide when making your sales projections.

Source of sales. If you were able to track the source of sales in prior years (Google Adwords, print ads, email marketing, etc.) this can give you a great idea what your most valuable marketing sources are.

Best sellers.  What products or brand lines sold the best in prior years?  Do you think this will stay similar or have new products and brands entered the market since then?

Once you have this information you'll have a better idea of what worked in the past and this can help guide you in preparing for this years holiday season.  While past sales figures are helpful, be sure to analyze current trends and changes in your industry and adjust accordingly.

Review Google Analytics

Hopefully you have Google Analytics or a similar website analytics software installed on your website.  Google Analytics can provide a wealth of information about your visitors as well as their likes and dislikes.  Some things you will want to look at are:

Traffic sources.  What are your best sources of website traffic, both in terms of traffic totals as well as engagement.  You may find that Facebook is your number one source of traffic but they only spend a few seconds on your website before leaving.  Take a look at what sources are driving the most traffic as well as delivering the best engagement in terms of time spent on site, # of pages visited, etc.

Google Analytics-Traffic Sources Example

Behavior.  When you look at the Behavior section of Google Analytics it will tell you what pages on the website are the most popular with visitors.  This will give you a good idea on what products or services people are drawn to on your website.  You may find certain products or brands get a lot more attention than others and this information can help gauge what your visitors find more interesting.

This is how your find the page behavior section

Google Analytics-Pages Example

You can also break down your traffic by Landing Page (the first page they “landed on” when they entered your website.  This can help you see what pages are being found organically in Google as well as traffic volumes for any paid advertising you are doing.  You can sort this page by “Medium” to separate your organic traffic and paid traffic sources.

Google Analytics-Behavior by Medium Example

Conversions.  Hopefully you have Goal tracking setup in Google Analytics so you can track conversions.  Conversions can be any metric you want to track but typically you would want to track any sort of form/signup submissions, clicks to a call button for mobile views or online sales if you are an ecommerce store.  If you have Goal tracking setup then you can separate your traffic sources by conversions and will have a clearer picture of what traffic sources are the most valuable for your business and can adjust your marketing accordingly.

Google Analytics-Conversions Screenshot example

Focus On Current Customers

Getting you current and past customers to buy again should be your first priority as you are more likely to get them to buy again than getting someone new to buy for the first time.  Plus, you should already have a way to communicate with them since you hopefully got their email address at the very least when they made a previous purchase.

Email. Have an email strategy ready for the holiday season.  This should start at least a 2-3 weeks before the holidays start and should prepare them for your upcoming sales and also to get your business on their holiday radar.  If you email your customers infrequently, consider starting on a regular schedule now so they get used to receiving and opening your emails.

Phone calls. Businesses rarely call their customers but it works great if you have a strategy.  If you have a large customer list, consider making a list of your top 50-100 customers and call a few dozen a day leading up to the holiday season.  Let them know they are one of your top customers and you personally wanted to let them know about your upcoming sales and to answer any questions.  Consider hosting a “VIP Customer” night at your store to reward your best customers with early shopping and special deals just for them.

Direct Mail. Print mail isn't used very often by most businesses as it can get expensive and the effectiveness can be questionable given the cost.  But I am a big believer of multiple touch points when it comes to marketing so if you are already sending emails and making phones calls, consider sending some direct mail to your customer base to let them know about your upcoming holiday sales.  Same as with the phone calls, if you have a big customer list and cost is an issue, consider sending direct mail to your top 50-100 customers.  I've sent hand written postcards to customers in the past with great response, people are not used to receiving hand written notes anymore, especially form a business.  Be sure to include some sort of redeemable offer like a coupon or offer code on the direct mail piece to encourage people to take action on your mailer.

Facebook Custom Audience Advertising Campaign. While email is an effective and very low cost way to communicate with your customers, open rates will rarely top 50% so a large portion of your email list will never see your communications.  This is where Facebook Ads can fill that gap to get your critical communications in front of your customers.  With Facebook Custom Audiences you can upload your customer list and Facebook will match their contact information with their database and find your customers on Facebook.  Once they find them you can run Facebook Ads to them, which is usually very cost effective since you are only targeting the people on your customer list.


Free & Low Cost Marketing Ideas

Email Marketing

From an ROI standpoint, email marketing beats just about every other form of online marketing.  Yet most businesses undervalue it as a form of marketing, favoring social media instead.  If you focus on building your email list and sending engaging emails, email marketing can be a rock solid performer.  Software like Mailchimp makes it easy (and free for smaller email lists) to send out email communications to your customers list.

Consistency is important when it comes to email marketing so don't wait until the holidays start to send your first email, get your customer list used to opening/reading your emails now.  When creating your emails, focus on what the customers want from your business, which is usually notices on deals/sales, previews of new products/services as well as valuable tips related to your industry.  Make your emails are valuable and people will want to read them.

Google My Business

This is a great (and free) tool to get front of potential customers.  Google My Business has many tools similar to social media, like posting images/video as well as posting updates.  The great thing is that, unlike social media, Google does not restrict your reach in order to get you to pay for advertising.  So if 100 people visit your Google My Business listing then all of them will see any posts you made or pictures you posted.

In preparation for the holidays, create a plan to:

Publish updates, events and offers you have related to the holidays. Be sure to post at least once a week to ensure you always have a post live since posts typically only stay live for about 7 days.  Don't be afraid of reposting the same content either as most people visiting your listing will be first time visitors.

Add holiday related images and videos. Tools like Stencil, Offeo and Invideo make it easy to quickly create holiday themed images and videos and these can also be used on social media as well.  Also post images of any holiday menus, sales signs and other related holiday images you have created.

Update your hours.  If you have special holiday hours be sure to update them in your Google My Business listing.

Social Media

Social Media can be a huge time waster if you let it.  The holiday season is a great time to really focus on your main social media channels with targeted messaging aimed at the holidays.  Having a plan and being consistent is going to be critical if you want to drive sales via social media this holiday season.  Things you can do:

Create amazing visuals. Great visuals are going to catch people's attention in a crowded social stream.  Take time now to create thoughtful and engaging graphics and video.   You can use tools like Stencil, Offeo and Invideo to create amazing holiday media assets.

Focus on engagement. The more people engage with your posts the more they will see future posts.  In preparing for the holiday season, start creating posts where people will want to engage with you.  Things like quizzes, polls, and questions tend to solicit responses.  These can set the stage for better visibility with your holiday posts once you are ready to start posting them.

Be consistent.  Don't be afraid to post every day.  And don't be afraid to post several times a day as the holiday season is about to land.  Social posts are fleeting and only a small portion of people will see any given post.  Post consistently and during different times of the day to try and reach as much as your audience as possible.

Run a Contest

This is one of my favorite tactics when it comes to building an email list and getting a lot of visibility on social media fast.  The cost to run a contest is modest and it's really easy to set one up.  People love contests and if you structure the contest the right way you can get a lot of exposure on social media as people will share the contest with their friends and followers.  Tools to run contests range from free with King Sumo to a modest monthly cost with a tool like Upviral, which provides much better analytics.

From my experience the prize doesn't have to be a big one but should be relevant to your business so you attract the right people.  Most contest software will let you offer additional entries when people take specific actions such as following or liking your account or sharing a post.  Be sure to add incentives to share the contest post as well as commenting, tagging friends and liking it, this will help spread your contest far and wide on social media for free.

In-store promotions/sales

If you have a retail store be sure to make any upcoming sales events obvious  for your customers.  Train your team to let people know about your upcoming holiday sales and use your point of sale as a way to gather emails and other customer info so you can communicate with them after they leave your store.

The key is that you want to let your customers coming into your store know about your holiday sales as well as incentivize them to come back.  This can be in the form of a coupon for their next visit or just making them aware of the great deals you will have over the holidays.


If you can find the right businesses, partnerships can be a great way to expand your customer base and get in front of your ideal audience.  Find businesses in your area that have the customer base that you would love to get in front of. You can work with these businesses to figure out a beneficial way for both of you to benefit from each other's customer bases.

Some things you can do:

  • Each of you run a contest and supply a prize for the other business to give away to their customer base.  Each of you will promote the contest and business to your own customers.
  • Run a special promotion/sale just for that business or have a standing discount for them.
  • Agree to promote each other's business on social media as well as your email newsletter.

From my experience this is a great, quick and easy way to get in front of a new customer base.  The key is finding the right business as not all of them are willing to do joint ventures like this.


Online Advertising

If you are ready to spend some money for your marketing plan then online advertising is a great opportunity.  The great thing with online advertising as there are no minimum budgets, you can spend $50 or $5000 on your advertising campaign.  While there are many options when it comes to online advertising, the ones below I have found are easy and cost efficient ways to get the most out of your advertising dollars.

Facebook Remarketing

Remarketing is when you place a tracking cookie on the device of people who visit your website.  This tracking cookie allows you to run a targeted ad to them after they leave your website.  In the case of Facebook, you can run an ad targeting them when they log into Facebook after visiting your website.  Remarketing is effective as you are targeting a warm audience (they have been to your website before) and you have a better chance of converting that visitor into a customer.  Remarketing works great when people are doing comparison shopping or what you are selling has a longer sales cycle and people need more time to decide.  It also works great when people are on your site (at work or at the gym) but don't have the time to fill out a form or dig deeper into your content, remarketing can bring them back to finish what they started.

Facebook Lookalike Audiences

I spoke earlier in this article about creating a Facebook Custom Audience ad campaign to target your existing customer base.  A Lookalike audience takes it a step further and creates a “cloned” list using your customer list.  So Facebook basically looks at all of the attributes of your current customer list and creates an almost identical list of new people that you can run your ads to.  It is a fantastic way to find new customers who are very much like your current customers and is a great value for your advertising dollars.

Google Adwords Remarketing

Google remarketing (sometimes called retargeting) works very similar to Facebook as you add a tracking cookie to the device of someone who visits your website.  But Google has a much wider reach than Facebook as they partner with hundreds of thousands of website across the internet to show your remarketing ads.  Remarketing ads with Google can be in the form of text, graphic banners or video and you have the ability to choose how, when and where you want to show your ads.

Video Ads

Video ads offer a great format for conveying your message and brand in a very visual way.  A 20 second video ad can replace a 1,000 words of text so you can get more information out in a short video than you can get out of any other ad format.  I have also found that the cost to run video ads tend to be a bit lower than other types of ads, but that is just my experience.

Video ads can be used with Facebook as well as Google Adwords, which includes showing your video ads on Youtube.  You can also use video for your remarketing campaigns as well as traditional ads reaching a new audience.  There are also many different types of video ads you can run:

  • Talking head ads where you stand in front of a camera and just say your message into the camera.
  • Social type ads where you may use graphics and animates slides to create a branded ad for your business.
  • Traditional video ads where there is montage of someone speaking, video footage of your business (also known as B-Roll footage) as well as text displaying on the screen.

All are good options and some are easier than others to create. You can learn more about video marketing here.

Get Started Now

It's never too early to start preparing for the holiday season.  Every hour you spend planning will save you several hours of mistakes and wasted time later on.  Review all of your opportunities and come up with a marketing plan for this holiday season.  If you have questions about how to make the most out of your holiday sales season, you can contact me here.

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CEO at 3Bug Media
Gary Shouldis is the founder of 3Bug Media, a web marketing company that helps businesses create 360 Marketing Strategies to dominate their market. His blog is read by over 20 thousand small business owners a month and has been featured in the N.Y. Times Small Business, Business Insider and Yahoo Small Business.