The Independent Music Store Owners (iMSO) forum, located at musicstoreowners.com/forum and available to all iMSO members (joining is free), recently featured a store owner discussing a favorite promotion that seems to have run its course. He was asking for suggestions as to which promotions our group found successful. And, in general, he just needed some encouragement.

My contribution to the discussion (a discussion that is now somewhat lengthy) started with a list of some of the promotions our store does as a matter of course.

An Evening With…
We do this three or four times a year. We invite a local player to come into the store one evening and play for an hour or two, and we invite all the influential players in town to come in and listen. The artist can play whatever he or she wishes…no constraints. The cost for us is a $100 honorarium for the artist; $75 for wine, coffee and snacks; and $50 for printed invitations and postage. The payoff is tons of goodwill. Record a video of the performance and put it on YouTube. Invite every newspaper and TV news team to come to the gig. Make it feel like the invitees are a select group.

Facebook Photo Contest
Have each of your Facebook followers post one music-related photo to your page. Do it for a month. The person whose photo gets the most “likes” in a month wins a $75 gift certificate. Why bother with this? Because, to like a photo on your page, the user first has to “like” your page. That increases your fan base. Every person who posts a photo will text all his or her friends to go to your page and “like” the photo. Whatever is bought with the $75 certificate, it only costs you your net…probably $40 or thereabouts. For $40, you’ll gain a few hundred new Facebook “likes.” Cheap!

Spring Cleaning Day
Just before school is out in the spring, open up your parking lot to everyone in the community to come in and sell their music-related items. It’s like a yard sale in your parking lot. Sell your stuff, and buy some of their stuff. Be sure to play it up big on Facebook. Use your e-mail list to promote it, put up some posters in the store, etc. Your cost is posters and coffee/doughnuts on a Saturday. Your payoff is a lot of new people standing at your store, seeing your stuff, sitting around and grooving because you’re such a cool guy, and your store absolutely rocks.

Strings For Food
This is one to do just before Thanksgiving. It reminds the whole community (just before Black Friday and Christmas) that you are there, and that you’re part of the community. It costs pretty close to nothing to do this, you get great PR for it and it serves a good cause. It’s win/win/win, all the way around.

Give Away Something Big
Whichever vendor you spent the most with last year, tell them you want to give away one of their products. Ask what they can contribute as a bonus for you working so hard to promote their name. Don’t accept an entry-level item; get something at least mid-level. Promote the snot out of this. Facebook is your friend; e-mail is your friend. Make sure the entries can be done only by coming to the store and physically entering—no e-mail entries. You want them in the store. We gave away a guitar this year, and a customer could enter once each day. To enter, a person had to play the guitar. (You play it; we hand you the entry slip.)

Encourage multiple entries! (Each entry is another trip to your store, right?) Shoot a video of the drawing, and post the video of the winning slip (cover up the contact info) on YouTube. E-mail the link to everyone on your list. The winning-entry video should have a tag front and back with your store name, hours of operation and phone number. When customers watch the video to see who won, they’ll see your store info again.

That’s just one group of ideas; there are plenty of others. You probably already have experience with similar promotions and just could use a “memory jog” to get the juices flowing. Some others, though, might be finding all sorts of objections to the ideas laid out so far.

Let’s address some hypothetical objections to the game plan. (You might have other objections and, if so, you’ll have to dream up rebuttals to those on your own! Do dream them up, though. The only real obstacle to any problem is ourselves. Dreaming and then acting helps us overcome the obstacles we create.)

I don’t have a Facebook account.

Why not? It’s free, and it’s extremely effective. It’s today’s version of the phone call, postcards in the mail and (for some) e-mail.

I don’t know how to do YouTube videos.

Log onto YouTube and spend a few minutes looking around. The site has free lessons on how to use it. The video uploads, and everything else, are free. There are plenty of online tutorials that transform the un-savvy into the competent.

I don’t have/can’t afford a video camera and/or it’s too hard to do a good video.

Technology changes rapidly. When new models come out, the old models are cheap and passé. If you buy last year’s video camera, you’ll be in business for not much.

I can’t afford “not much.”

Yes, you can. Right now, on eBay, you can buy a suitable camera for less than $25. Not long ago, these were high-dollar items; now, they are passé and cheap…but they still make good videos. Want an example? Click to msr.io/1w6qLPw.

I don’t know how to do all this computer stuff, and I’m too old to learn. I don’t have the time.

Hire a high-school junior to do this stuff. Hand this article to him or her. Explain to him or her what you want done, and watch it happen. Call the local high school and talk to the art teacher and the Web design teacher. They know plenty of sharp, smart kids who would give anything to have a genuine design/Web job at age 16. Talk about résumé building!

I don’t have a computer or Internet access.

I’m tempted to say, “Close your doors and retire,” but that’s the wrong answer. A relatively fast computer can be purchased for $300 or $400 these days. High-speed Internet is cheap and available almost everywhere.

So far, the only thing that really costs any money in these promotional ideas is buying a computer. You probably already have one…so get busy! Call the teachers I mentioned and hire that smart kid. Believe me…there will be more than one who would love to be the “Web guy” at the local music store.

Allen McBroom is a Partner of Backstage Music in Starkville MS.

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