Cost Effective Promotional Ideas for Your Business

The key to any promotion or marketing strategy is to get customers in your business. However, the more important part is that once you get that customer in your store, they need to have an incredible experience and a great first impression.  Everything within your four walls can be controlled and should be flawless when every customer walks in the door.  The store needs to be clean and inviting, the customer needs to be greeted by a friendly employee who should explain the concept of the restaurant, they should be given incredible customer service and be served a top notch product.  If all of these things are executed properly all new customers should have a great experience and become repeat customers.  I cannot stress how important this is because an extremely vital piece of marketing is your customer acquisition cost.  If you can take a first time customers and turn them into regulars in your store, you will get the most bang for your marketing dollars.  In my experience I have built numerous regulars who come anywhere from twice a week to literally every day.  The revenue generated from these loyal customers is a big key to success.

It is extremely important to know your opportunities and cater your marketing strategy appropriately.  The largest opportunities for my business are a result of its location, which places the business both near a college and a frequently used exit to a major interstate.

Branded Giveaways Designed for Your Customers

The benefit of having a college near by is the demand for late night food options when the bars close. One of the most successful promotions that I have run at my franchise was working with a local shop to have 1000 ping pong balls with my logo and phone number printed on them. The ping pong balls were made available for any customer that purchased a full priced combo deal. In addition to being a draw that encouraged many of my patrons to upgrade their order to a full combo, these ping pong balls also doubled as a great marketing tool.

As mentioned in my earlier post, “How I Started my First Franchise“, one of the things I was focused on as an opportunity for my business was being a late night food option for the college crowd that was prevalent in the area. With these ping pong balls now in the hands of many of my customers, my business would routinely field calls from individuals that found our number on a ping pong ball. Having these ping pong balls not only served to drive increased sales while individuals came into my business, but served as a great reminder of both our business’ phone number, our hours of operation, and that we delivered.

While your customers may not be as excited about free ping pong balls, the key here is branding items that they will use in their every day life. Refrigerator magnets or pens are both items that individuals are constantly adding to their collection, that are fairly inexpensive to develop. Take some time and think about what your customers might be interested in (often the best way to think of an item is to notice what you use or wish you had in your own everyday life), with some thought you may be able to come up with the perfect inexpensive item that you can promote with.

Vendor Sponsored Advertising

The second big opportunity I mentioned for my business is the Interstate.  My store front is downtown which is about 2 miles from the exit.  Right off the exit there are about 10 fast food restaurants and many gas stations for people to grab some food and fill their tanks to get across the state.  Although downtown is only 2 miles away people don’t realize downtown or the food options there even exists.  I saw this opportunity, knowing that almost everybody getting off the exit is looking for food I needed to make them aware my store was downtown.

The first thing I did was ask my vendors if they could make me a sign.  Always ask your vendors if there is anything they can do for you – in many cases they have budgets available for these types of items, which means you get free promotional materials!  My Coca Cola rep said it would not be a problem and made me a 2 by 3 ft sign for free. The sign had my business name and location, and could be held at/near the highway off ramp. On the weekends and Friday nights I found it to be an extremely cost effective measure to hire someone to hold this sign by the highway, taking advantage of the increased traffic and individuals looking for food options.

Develop Relationships with Local Businesses

Another opportunity by the highway are all the hotels for people who want to get some rest from their travels.  Hotels are great because they create an influx of people who are not always familiar with the area.  These people all need to eat.  Personally I always ask the desk attendant where their favorite places to eat are in the town, so I assume other people do the same.  Whether they drive two miles to my store front or want a delivery, that is a customer I would like to serve.  This opportunity had a simple solution.  Once my business was up an running, I made a concerted effort to build relationships with the desk attendants at the local hotels and track the customers who order or come in based on their attendant’s recommendation.  Once they refer 10 customers to my store I will buy them a meal of their choosing in my store!  This is a very successful marketing strategy at a very little cost.

Combo Deals and Promotional Pricing  

When running a promotion you want there to be a great perceived value in the offer.  There is a high perceived value In a free combo or free double meat.  Looking at the numbers a combo costs 2.50 to purchase while the cost of product is 60 cents.  A portion of meat costs 2.00 while the cost of product is about 65 cents.  I only offer free double meat if combo is purchased and this is why.  For this promotion a customer will spend 2.50 on a combo where the cost of goods will equal 1.25 (60 cents for chips and drink/ 65 cents meat)  which still leaves 50% profit on the combo/double meat. this is a great promotion for current customers who already love the concept but want more bang for their buck. When trying to reach new customers I feel the free combo is a better perceived value to bring first time customers in the store.

Business Cards vs Billboards

The best marketing idea I have ever used has been to give customers who have never tried my food a business card good for one free meal.  I have not met one person I gave one of these cards to that did not come into my store and redeem this offer.  Why this is such a valuable way to acquire new customers is because their first impression of my restaurant is starting far before they step foot in it.  The whole process of meeting me, having a friendly chat, building a brief relationship with them, explaining my business to them, and then giving them a card as a friendly gesture to come in and try it at their convenience builds a loyalty as a customer and a fellow community member long before walking in my doors.  The cost to value of this strategy has never been topped in anything else I have ever done.  To put it in numbers we will say a meal is $3 at cost.  A billboard I had for a year cost $300 dollars per month.  The billboard is extremely difficult to know how many people saw the billboard, let alone came in after seeing the billboard.  However, with the free meal I could give away 100 cards a month (at the same cost as the billboard) to people I have built a relationship with, and are coming in with a preconceived positive outlook of my business, and track the cards that were redeemed. Then I can see their faces again when they come in as regular patrons.


The most important point I would like to make is marketing doesn’t need to be expensive to be successful.  In my experience the cheaper more creative promotions worked much better.  And the key to implementing a successful promotion is to always be thinking in the mind of a consumer.  If this strategy would be successful to get you to go to another business, it most certainly will work to bring others into yours.

About author

Josh Friedman
Josh Friedman 2 posts

Josh Friedman has been a successful franchise owner since 2007 and has a firm belief that the key to business is seizing the right opportunities when they present themselves. Josh focuses on providing readers with many of the life lessons he has acquired while running his franchise, as well as those he is actively learning while expanding and growing his business.

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