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Grow Your Business Sales & Marketing

Holiday Marketing Ideas That Won't Break the Bank

Holiday Marketing Ideas That Won't Break the Bank
Credit: Aleksei Potov

For small businesses, finding new and thrifty ways to stand out during the holiday season can be a little daunting. Competing with the deep discounts and expensive ad campaigns of big-box retailers and large companies may make you feel like you've been left with coal in your stocking.

But for businesses willing to think outside the box and do a little legwork, there are tons of creative ways to increase sales, enhance your brand and improve your image in the community without breaking the bank. Here are 10 low-cost marketing tactics you can use to spread holiday cheer while ramping up your sales.

Deck the halls and invite customers, vendors or other business partners to a festive open house at your business. Use this gathering to showcase seasonal merchandise, promote your services, offer discounts or simply say thanks for another year of patronage. Even inexpensive touches, such as offering a mug of hot cocoa and cookies while playing holiday music in the background, can foster goodwill toward your business.

Your most faithful customers are also your best brand ambassadors. To show them your appreciation, you can provide special offers, free shipping, sneak previews of new or seasonal products, or secret sales. By offering certain deals exclusively to your VIP customers, you make them feel special and uniquely connected to your business. This, in turn, may lead to referrals and additional business.

Update your website, email and social media profiles with a festive holiday theme. Then, drive traffic to your site by offering deals and advertising events exclusively to your social media fans. You can also host holiday-themed contests on Twitter and Facebook, or come up with a unique hashtag to engage your customers. Holding themed events such as a "12 days of Christmas" sale allows you to feature a product or service for a limited time, and also creates buzz around your brand.

You can also build a rapport with customers by encouraging user-generated content in a variety of ways, such as requesting customers' favorite seasonal recipes, asking them to share tips for staying sane during the holidays, or inviting them to post photos of themselves using your product.

In the spirit of the season, consider joining forces with like-minded businesses in your area whose products and services complement your own. You can promote each other's establishments by offering bundled deals or cross-selling each other's products. Ideally, you should partner with businesses that attract a similar customer base but are not direct competitors. For example, an art gallery and framer may offer customers a special discount to each other's businesses, or a wine shop and BYOB restaurant can provide customers with discount cards to each other's establishments. These strategic partnerships, which can be adapted for online businesses as well, help you market your business with limited effort.

The holiday season is the perfect time to strengthen your community bonds by supporting a nonprofit whose mission and values align with your own – even on a limited budget. Contact a community organization you respect and find out what your business can do to help. You may decide to donate a percentage of your holiday sales to the charity, organize a drive, mobilize your employees to participate in a day of service at its facility, or provide it with equipment, space or pro bono services.

Publicizing that your business offers gift cards may not seem exhilarating, but don't overlook their value. Most businesses can cheaply and simply provide gift cards, gift certificates and e-certificates to the legions of shopping procrastinators looking for convenient gift options. If you are worried that gift certificates may not seem exciting enough to draw in customers, remember that they've remained the most popular items on wish lists for 11 years in a row, according to a recent survey

While gift card recipients don't always get around to redeeming their certificates, others end up spending more than the value of the card. Either way, your business ends up on top with very little initial overhead.

There seems to be a holiday gift guide for just about every category or potential occasion – everything from "best gifts for under $20" to "10 items that will simplify your life in the New Year." If you have products or services that make great gifts, get them in front of editors, bloggers or anyone else with the power to feature your items in one of the many holiday gift guides available to shoppers. If you lack industry contacts, you can always create your own gift lists and feature them on your website and social media outlets.

One simple way to stand out during the holidays is to make sure your brand is always front and center in any setting. For example, wear a tie, scarf or other apparel that has your business logo on it when you attend holiday parties. Similarly, you can add your logo to any holiday baskets or other goodies you may give away to customers or send to vendors.

If you send out holiday cards, make sure they highlight some aspect of your business or feature your staff.  You can even organize a card-writing party with your colleagues so you can include handwritten messages to each of the recipients.

Craft shows and product exhibitions abound this time of year. Rent a booth at one of these shows and get to work creating brand awareness. You can sell your goods or services, give away samples, play games, or offer workshops and demonstrations on topics related to your area of expertise.

Started in 2010 by American Express, Small Business Saturday, which is held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, aims to promote small businesses and encourage people to shop locally. In 2016, 112 million people shopped in their communities and generated an estimated $15.4 billion in business, according to a survey commissioned by American Express. Proactive small businesses can tap into the outreach potential of this movement.

You can reach out to event organizers to solicit advice on how best to recruit customers and make sure your business is included in any promotional materials for the day. Additionally, you can take a leading role in their effort by joining forces with other businesses, trade groups, business associations and your municipality to help plan and promote this event in the broader community.

Check out this Business News Daily article for more Small Business Saturday survival tips.

Paula Fernandes

Paula is a New Jersey-based writer with a Bachelor's degree in English and a Master's degree in Education. She spent nearly a decade working in education, primarily as the director of a college's service-learning and community outreach center. Her prior experience includes stints in corporate communications, publishing, and public relations for non-profits. Reach her by email.