Running sales in your small business

Seven types of sales you can run successfully in your small business

Alex Johnson
Owner, Designer & Strategist

Everyone loves a good sale. Just look at Black Friday or Prime Day. And a good sale can bring you lots of new business that could easily spin into repeat customers.

People in today’s economy are on the lookout for sales. They know what they need, and are shopping to save pennies more than ever. The good news is that with the right sale, you can attract those savvy shoppers and get them to shop with you instead.

But there is a right and wrong way to run a sale. And some of those factors are timing and value. A good sale at the right time can spur new sales. A bad sale or wrong timing will drive people off quickly.

For example, in my town, there is a little local grocery store. This last week, they ran an ad for a free pound of ground beef. This seemed like a great deal, so we decided to check it out. However, once we arrived, we learned the free pound was not really that free. You had to purchase the largest package to get the pound knocked off. And the price per pound after taking off the one pound was still higher than every other store in town. The deal no longer lived up to the hype and we walked out without purchasing any meat.

Then there are the stores that are always having a sale. The “sale” no longer creates a rush because the item is always on sale. When the uncommon becomes common, its value diminishes. People no longer believe the hype. There is no incentive to buy now.

So, because there is such an art to sales, let’s look at seven different sales you could run in your business to generate sales.

Time of the year offers

Everyone knows about this type of offer. This is where your Black Friday and Christmas in July sales come from. The sale happens once a year and always at the same time. It runs for a limited time as well.

Black Friday sales
Running a Black Friday sale can help you grow

In the case of Black Friday sales, many of them run Black Friday through Cyber Monday or some variation of that.

There is a distinct benefit to running sales around the same time as other businesses. When many businesses run a sale at the same time, people decide to shop around, and it loosens the wallet so to speak. By running a sale in your business at the same time you can take advantage of that and encourage more sales.

Limited time offers

A sale without an ending is no longer a sale. This kind of sale is most effective as a flash sale. Common to launch offers or deals that are only available to certain people during a certain time. You also see this in limited-time offers online with a ticking clock.

The idea is to create scarcity in the mind of the buyer and get them to purchase before time runs out. However, there is a catch with this kind of sale. You cannot run this kind of sale too often on the same products or people will no longer believe your scarcity.


When a customer has already purchased from your business or is in the checkout process, it’s easy to suggest other products that would complement the purchase they are making. For example, you see this with extended warranties or the “customers like you also purchased…” screens during checkout.

You have already built that trust. The customer is more willing to come back and purchase a little more. Or if offered during check out they can rationalize the extra purchase, thinking hmm that would be good too, or I want to protect this investment.

This kind of sale takes some effort to figure out what works best for your business. Sometimes the smaller items are easy for people to add, other times you can upsell a larger item. Test what works best for you to make this most effective for your offerings and customers.


All kinds of products can be pre-sold. You see pre-launch offers on things like new product versions, new books, and just about everything in between. And there is a definite strength to these sales.

If you want to offer a new product or service, a pre-sale can help you test the waters to see if it will be financially viable. It can also help you generate income upfront to avoid having to source funding.

Additionally, when offered at the right time people will jump on the offer because they are already interested and invested. For example, if you are an author, a great place to offer a pre-sale is at the end of your latest book. If the reader is interested in your series or style, they will be inclined to want to read more from you. This can make for an easy sale of your next offering.

The key to pre-sales is to honor your offer. If you run a presale and then fail to meet your deadlines, you may not only lose those sales in refunds but the customer as well who no longer has any faith in you.

Stock Clearance

Over time, most businesses will end up with products that just don’t sell well or are getting close to expiring. In these cases, a stock clearance sale is a great way to clear this inventory off, saving you from discarding it and taking a loss.

Don't run a sale constantly
Don’t run a sale constantly

When you run this type of sale, you need to plan. Know that if a product is already not working, just dropping the price might not encourage the sales you are looking for. And if it’s a product that expires, you might be hard-pressed to clear it off the shelf if you don’t start early enough.

We have used this kind of sale from time to time in our candle business to help us clear off when we do inventory changes. However, as we learned quickly, if you always have products changing, it starts to become a perpetual sale, and the benefits diminish quickly. The sale has become commonplace.

Loyalty programs

Offering a loyalty program is a way for your customers to purchase from you in exchange for a reward. Many grocery stores offer this in a rewards cashback program or a discount on gas for every $100 you spend with them.

Pastry in bakery
A local bakery gives free pastries after so many purchases.

Setting up an effective loyalty program can encourage people to purchase from you to continue to accumulate points, or make a single stop, even when your pricing on some things is higher than the local competition.

A local bakery offers a punch card, and after so many punches, you get a free pastry. This encourages their customers to come back time and time again so that they get that fresh donut. The cost to the business is low, but it sure does get people coming back.

VIP Discounts

Making people feel special in your business is a great tool to keep them returning. And if you offer a VIP program giving them extra rewards, you can encourage those top spenders to help spread the word for you.

Tied hand in hand with a loyalty program, you can offer special discounts to those VIP members who spend over a certain amount.

You can also use a special discount available only to certain members to encourage outsiders to sign up. For example, we give special discounts to our newsletter subscribers in our candle business. These customers have shown us their loyalty in receiving our newsletter, so we show them our thanks by offering a larger discount than anyone else gets.

We let them know they can share the offer with friends, but if their friends want the discount, the friends have to sign up for our newsletter too.

Wrap up

Sales are a part of running a successful business. If you have priced your products or services correctly, you can strategically offer sales to encourage business growth. And done at just the right time, they work amazingly well.

These seven ideas are by no means an exhaustive list. And the ideas can be combined to make up new sales that fit your brand and style. As always, you should plan sales far in advance, not just on a whim. Planning helps you look more professional and keeps your business in order.

And remember to make your sales honest, not manipulative or confusing to swing a new purchase or two.

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