the blog The Art of EntrePreneurship

4 Ways to Host a Sale Or Promotion (Without Damaging Your Brand)

Today I’m going to talk about a four-letter word that many business owners hate.


Business owners dread when marketers and coaches say to do it, and they hate it when customers ask when the next one is going to be. Sales mean tighter margins, less revenues, fewer profits. They worry that maybe it even devalues their brand.

And NO business owner wants that.

But not all sales are created equal.


I avoided offering sales and promotions in my business for a long time — and it was a huge mistake! After years of urging from a fellow eCommerce owner, I finally took the leap and hosted my first sale, and guess what – it was a HUGE success.

I made more money (profit) in that one month than in the previous six, our social media follows shot up, we added hundreds of people to our email list and we created a bigger customer base than we’d ever had before.

Sales take prospects and give them that little push that they need to turn them into BUYERS.

Getting people to buy from you the first time is the hardest, sales encourage people to take action NOW and can create incredibly valuable lifetime customers for your brand.

In the end, what I learned is that there is a right and a wrong way to offer sales:

And while we’re talking about this, I need to define the difference between a sale and a promotion.

Definition: Sale

  • Offering a limited time discount on one or all of your products

Benefits –

  • Gets rid of inventory

Definition: Promotion

  • A way to attract buzz with your products – more value adding
  • Included, but not limited to: cause marketing, gift with purchase, extended warranty or guarantee, special trial offer, free shipping, free gift wrapping, buy more save more (bundling), flat discount (first 100 customers, only 24 hours), product specific savings, decrease savings, special deals, early access

Benefits –

  • Urgency/Scarcity – get it for less just this one time

All that said, there are lots of good reasons to run a sale:

  • Get people excited and encourage first time buyers.
  • Take advantage of current events and times of year for fun promotions.
  • A well executed sale gets people’s attention and speaks volumes about your brand.
  • To encourage people to act NOW with real deadlines.
  • Pushes you creatively and gets you to hone your craft.
  • A reason to reach out to your audience and keep them engaged.
  • Increase conversions from traffic.
  • When done correctly, a sale can generate tons of viral exposure that grows your audience and your list.
  • A great sale can give you an edge over your competition and help you gain market share.
  • Fantastic opportunity to see where improvements need to be made within your business and get clear on your costs.
  • Offer sales as a perk to select members of your audience.
  • Early access or special VIP deals for your list.
  • Loyalty programs for returning customers.

But in order to take advantage of all the good reasons to have a sale, you must do them correctly.

I’ve laid out my exact, step-by-step checklist for hosting a successful sale in my Successful Sale Checklist, which you can download here for free, but here is the basic outline:




Everyone’s heard of Victoria’s Secret Semi-Annual Sale. Twice a year, they do a sale for around three weeks (or however long it takes to completely get rid of their inventory). Their customers know when it is coming, and know when to expect it: January and June. Every year. The same could be said if you always offer a Black Friday or Cyber Monday sale, if you offer a sale before or after certain holidays and so on. The key, however, is consistency to build up your audience’s expectations.


When you have a consistent schedule for running promotions, you can easily alert past customers and email subscribers for early access. Nordstrom does this with their semi-annual Clear the Rack sales, offering Nordstrom card holders early access to the sales — a definite perk, because they can snap up the best deals first. Another way to look at this is to offer certain promotions to VIP customers and subscribers only. The Gap family of companies (Banana Republic, Old Navy, Athleta, etc.) offers a “friends and family” discount only to subscribers once or twice a year.  



Scarcity is important for an effective promotion, and this is where many sales and promotions fail.

If you constantly offer discounts, you will train your customers to wait until the next sale to purchase. I think of this as the coupon clipper mentality. For most businesses, this isn’t the audience they’d most like to attract. Imposing limits on the promotion is a good way to reduce this kind of mentality. You can limit a promotion by time frame or by number of items or discounts available. Hosting a promotion that only lasts 48 hours (or any specified length of time) is a natural limiter. You could also say that a discount is only available to the first 100 customers, or that you only have a limited quantity of an item in stock. You can also emphasize the scarcity by sending out a “warning” email on the last day of the sale, reminding readers that they don’t want to miss out. These kinds of limits actually push people to make a decision and a purchase.


This Coach promotion makes use of a very short time window — 48 hours — and some very deep discounts to entice shoppers to click. Notice also the language they use in the ad: They have a place to add a reminder to your calendar, as well as the phrase “the countdown is on,” to make people think of the urgency of a ticking clock.


Offering a last-minute, surprise extension on a sale can increase conversions — but not every time. The same way customers get used to sales if you offer them all the time, if you an offer an extension with every promotion, customers will come to expect it and it will lose its effectiveness. However, when used sparingly, a surprise extension on a sale can catch those people who were on the fence or experiencing FOMO (fear of missing out) and convert those last few lurkers to buyers.


Southwest recently employed this tactic because so many people had tried to access the fares, that their site experienced slowdowns. So they announced an extension to make up for the inconvenience some people may have experienced. (These are the kinds of problems we all wish we had!) I recommend only announcing the extended sale to people on your list who haven’t already purchased, especially if you used a short time period as a strong limiter for your promotion. Otherwise, people who took you at your word and took advantage of the promotion right away might feel a little disgruntled.

Feeling a little less hostile to the idea of a “sale” now?   Click here to download my How to Successfully Host a Sale checklist, and make sure that your next sale or promotion is designed to help your business and boost your bottom line.


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