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Share the promotional costs and double your reach

Running a small or growing business can be a constant battle- there's often so little time for planning ahead. Yet, as well as devoting some time to your business plan and strategy, putting some planning into sales can also yield plenty of benefit in the long run. Here are just a couple of ideas which will generate sales for many types of business- but which require some upfront effort first.

Partner with other firms or nonprofits

By forging an alliance with another firm, you can double the reach of your existing customer base without spending extra money.

A cross-promotion arrangement can result in greater sales and allow you to offer larger discounts for customers, and can create a raised awareness of your brand within your existing target audience.

For example, independent online music magazine, ilikemusic.com teamed up with Digital TV channel, Channel U to cross-promote their brands. Channel U gave ilikemusic.com free advertising on their channel, and ilikemusic.com provided competition prizes for Channel U's shows. Channel U benefited from the revenue generated via premium rate phone competition entries, while ilikemusic.com received visitors from the music channel, raising their profile among their target audience. A win-win situation.

Effective alliances combine services and products that work together. For example, a catering service might partner with a china or giftware shop. Customers could then receive a terrific price on china when they order a catered dinner, or vice versa. These partnerships take time to negotiate, launch and market, so it's best to begin early.

Consider which partner best fits with what you sell. List these, contact potential partners and pitch your ideas to them.

Design flyers to promote this new relationship that offers combined services or special discounts for the holiday.

Distribute flyers to your own customer base and have your partner distribute them to their customer database too.

Charitable alliances can give you a new route to market, a good press story, and if you make a donation can also present an efficient tax break. Show your customers you are willing to give by teaming up with non-profits and charitable organizations.

For example, the Feel Good Drinks Company teamed up with Breast Cancer Care and launched a "Naturally Fundraising Pink Grapefruit Juice Drink". They did this in September, just ahead of the Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October and donated 10p per bottle to the charity.

"That got a lot of publicity for us and the charity, and made our customers feel good," says co-founder Dave Wallwork.

Make it easy for customers to help others and feel good when they buy your products or services. You could offer a percentage of your sales or fees to a worthy cause if clients come in before a specified date.

Power sales with gift certificates

Create your own branded gift certificates using Publisher. If you save your design as a template, it is easy to use all year round with small changes. With a set of templates - for flyers, postcards, coupons or certificates - you can market flexibly and effectively within hours. You will also be constantly promoting your brand image; which reinforces your customers' opinion for the future, even if they don't buy anything this time round.

Offer a bonus certificate for every item a customer buys. That way, you're creating a reason for the customer to return and buy more. Customers may also pass on the certificate as a gift, which is a great way to acquire new clientele. Or create special gift cards that offer a certain amount toward purchases during a specific period. In the past couple of years, several high street names have used this technique over the Christmas and New Year holiday. By giving time-limited bonus cards out with pre-christmas purchases, they have encouraged a repeat visit for the post-Christmas sales (and all that passing trade with people returning unwanted gifts for exchange!). This isn't just restricted to shops- services like health clubs, spas, or hair salons can do very well out of promotional certificates.

These ideas are only a start- of course you will have others which are perhaps more applicable to your business. The secret, of course, is to plan ahead. Almost every business has some form of seasonality, a time of year that represents their biggest push. Like a good wedding speech, your promotional ideas need to be thoughtfully put together, inspired and original, and massaged into shape before unveiling to your public.

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