Early in 2016, a Super Bowl ad about a group of determined Vikings rowing in the high seas grabbed the attention of many small businesses across the country. Death Wish Coffee Company—which has 11 employees listed on their website, including the owner and founder, Mike Brown—was the only small business to air a commercial nationally in Super Bowl 50. This multi-million dollar commercial was funded by Quickbooks through a campaign called “Small Business, Big Game.” And after it had aired, Death Wish Coffee was inundated with calls and online orders.
While Super Bowl commercials are exciting, we need to be honest. Death Wish Coffee hit the jackpot. That kind of air time is not cheap, or easy to come by. If it weren’t for that ad, who knows how long it would have taken the coffee company to become an internet sensation. And this has caused many small business owners to say “well that’s all well and good, but what about my business? I can’t afford a Super Bowl ad, and I have no chance of winning one.”
The good news is, you don’t need a Super Bowl ad to become a success. Some small businesses will hire ad agencies to get them started. Others will go the PR route, or employ a local production team to make a video; one they hope will go viral.
But all you really need are some very creative, inventive, and bold ideas to breakthrough. And whether you’re running a florist, a garage, or an accountancy, the fundamentals are always the same. Be original. Be different. Be a Purple Cow (read Seth Godin’s great book of the same name for more insight into that).
So, with that in mind, here are 7 quick and easy ways that you can get your small business noticed. Feel free to take them and run with them. Tweak them to fit your business model. Or, write in and ask for help on turning one of these ideas into something your business can really use.
Zig When Others Zag
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when promoting your small business is to copy the competition. You see what they’re doing, and they’re successful, so you do the same. The consumer is not going to run to you because you’re imitating a successful business…they’ll just go to the successful business.
You need to zig when they zag. So, how do you do that? Well, it all depends on what type of business you run. For example, let’s say you’re a florist. Every florist raises their prices on Valentine’s Day. You could drop yours. Not only will it get you noticed and create a flood of new custom, but it will also paint you as the only florist who actually cares about the tradition. From that, you could easily become the florist of choice for hundreds of new customers during the rest of the year.
Create a Challenge
If you’ve ever seen shows like Man Vs. Food, or Bizarre Foods, you’ll know about eating challenges. They can be a fantastic way to bring in business to an eatery, and depending on the rules you create, they can make you a lot of extra cash.
For instance, you could offer the meal for free if someone cleans their plate. However, the meal is so big, only 1 in 100 people will do it. The others, they all pay, and they pay for a massive amount of food. They know this upfront, but want to take the risk because they have something to prove. If they win, they get their picture on the wall of fame and a t-shirt. Plus, 25% off everything for life. Remember, very few people will succeed. The ones that do will spread the word, and do your advertising for you. College students, in particular, will jump at the chance to try it.
But what if you don’t own a restaurant or bar? No problem. Just create a challenge based on your business. If it’s a sporting goods store, can they hit a golf ball 500 yards in the simulator? If it’s a bookstore, challenge someone to a quiz based on a best seller. You choose, and you will get the customers flooding in.
Do the Unthinkable
You may have seen a show called Nathan For You on Comedy Central. It’s a parody show, based on those shows that help failing businesses (think Kitchen Nightmares or The Profit). Usually, Nathan’s advice is extreme, which is where the comedy comes from. But occasionally, he actually comes up with a winner. Dumb Starbucks was incredible. The poo flavored ice cream, not so much.
However, what extreme ideas could you implement to create a stir? A restaurant called The Heart Attack Grill really pushes the limits, offering massive quadruple-bypass burgers, spanking customers who don’t eat everything, and people over 350 pounds eat for free! You even have to sign a waiver. A brand of cigarettes called themselves Death and they sold out. It may seem odd, but think of something typical, and turn it on its head. You may just become an overnight sensation.
Create Advice Videos
Whatever your business is, you are an expert in it. You really are. So why not share your expertise for free using channels like YouTube and Vimeo. You don’t have to give away every successful secret you’ve learned, that would be foolhardy. But, you can create themed content that dovetails perfectly with your business, and also reinforces your role as an expert. Plumbers and electricians, you can create how-to videos that show people how to do some of the smaller, easier tasks around the home. If you own a restaurant, give out weekly cooking tips and recipes. If you’re an accountant, talk about simple life hacks for tax preparation and budgeting. Build genuine content, and seed it in social. Create a following. When it’s time to call a specialist, you’ll be top of mind. And remember, videos can be geotargeted at specific locations.
Let People Pay What They Want
OK, so this idea often has many small business owners running for the hills, but it can work well. It all depends on the kind of business you run, and it works particularly well for restaurants, hair salons, massage therapists, and other similar service industries. The basic premise is…pay what you want, or, what you can afford.
Take a look at SAME Café. It’s a thriving business and it has no set prices on the menu. You pay what you believe the meal was worth. You would think a lot of people would be very cheap, but it’s actually the opposite. Customers don’t want to appear greedy or thrifty, and often pay more than the café was actually going to charge. Some people definitely underpay, but those are usually people down on their luck, and their meal cost is balanced out by the overpayers. Could you do the same with your business? If you want to create a “suggested prices” list, you could do that in the beginning, but stick to the principle. Pay what you want, or what you can afford.
Break a Record (Or Simply Attempt To)
People love seeing people break records. They love it even more when they’re involved. You can kill two birds with one stone by creating a World record attempt involving your business, and potential (and/or current) customers. If you promote it on the usual so social channels and reach out to local news stations, you will get a big audience.
So, what kind of records will you break? Remember to keep it relevant and fun. If you own a food or beverage related business, there are hundreds of records listed in the Guinness Book. In fact, almost every category of record you can think of is in there, and some will definitely apply to your business.
Do Something for Charity
This is a win-win situation. The charity of your choice gets much-needed funding and publicity, and you build goodwill with customers. Plus, you can also get some publicity out of it, too.
The charity event or donation does not have to be tied directly to your business, either. St. Baldrick’s asks people to shave their heads for cancer relief. Imagine if the hair salon’s employees all did that to raise extra money, too. It could be a sponsored walk or a donation of goods and services. Maybe you even help build homes for low-income families.
It could be a vehicle (your own if you want to save money), a building, a landmark, or anything else that will get the attention of the public. The easiest and safest place to start is wrapping a car or truck, as that is a tried and tested way of getting attention. There are several options open to you, and the cost is minimal (as low as $2,000) to wrap an entire car in something that advertises your business. You can play it straight and simply put your logo and phone number everywhere, OR you could do something that will actually make people want to take a photo and share it. Maybe you make the car look like it's been torn open by a giant claw, or it's covered in splatters of paint. The idea is to attract attention to it, and get people to write down the number and web address.
From vehicles, you can move to bigger subjects. Can you partner with a local business to wrap a store front with joint messaging? If you're looking to wrap a local landmark, however, you should know that you almost certainly won't get permission and will have to take it down. This is a case of "ask for forgiveness, not permission," and it is a strategy often used by driven small businesses.
Jump on a Bandwagon
What are people talking about right now? What are they sharing on social media? What's in the news? What's going to be in the news very soon (you may have some local intel on this)? By attaching your business to something topical and trending, you have an "easy in" with a huge audience. Of course, the trend or topic should relate in some way to what you do (Oreo's "You can always dunk in the dark" tweet during the Super Bowl blackout was a massive success), or if it doesn't...make it relate if you can.
In Colorado, a local dentist was handing out fidget spinners in 2017 at a school fair. They really have nothing to do with dentistry, but the idea they went with was "keep the kids entertained while you're in the chair." Needles to say, with the fidget spinner craze at its height, the line for the dentist's exhibit was enormous. Dozens of people at one time, waiting up to 20 minutes to get a free spinner for the kids. The spinner, of course, was branded with the dentist's contact info. A cheap, effective way to capitalize on a short-lived pop culture boom.