Small businesses often struggle to increase online bookings. Most of the time, it happens because they don’t know how to use the tools that are available or they don’t have the time or mental bandwidth. Sometimes, it happens because they struggle to come up with creative ideas and don’t have the marketing knowledge to know what will work best for them.
We’ve created this list for small business owners who aren’t finding as much online success as they would like (yet). Hopefully, with these 28 ideas, you will be able to more effectively promote your business online and increase your bookings or sales. Let’s get started!
1. Create a marketing strategy
We know this is not a “creative way” to increase your sales and bookings, but it’s the most important way so that’s why we’ve kicked off our list this way. You need a marketing strategy. Period. If you want to grow your bookings online, the first step is to sit down and strategize the most important aspects of your business, identify your audience, their goals, and motivations, and then create a plan to speak to them and get them to take action.
First of all, think about your brand persona and how you’re going to communicate your message. Then, think about your audience, who they are, what they like, their problems, and how you can bond with them. Afterward, establish the goals for your business. So if you want to increase your bookings, write down how many you want to have. When you have a number in mind that you want to achieve, you can start thinking about what you can do to achieve those numbers.
The last step is to actually get people to take action. Map out a strategy that starts with brand awareness and ends with making a sale! Then just test, tweak, rinse, and repeat.
Read more: How to Create a Social Media Plan for Small Businesses
2. Create Helpful Content
Again, this seems like a no-brainer but you won’t believe how many small business owners create content that is just a glorified sales pitch for their products or services. Marketing is not just about promoting yourself. It’s actually much less about trying to sell all the time and more about relating to your target audience (and their pain points) and offering a solution… in a non-pushy way.
When you do this, people will trust you more. When people trust you, they’re more likely to pull the trigger the next time you give them an intentional call to action. Solving someone’s problem helps them to see you as an authority, which is super helpful if you want to increase your bookings and brand awareness. It also helps you increase your reach since your followers are much more likely to share a helpful post with their friends than a salesy post.
3. Reinforce the Urge to Book
Something that really helps increase bookings is a sense of urgency. When people understand that they have to book you at this moment because your schedule is filling up or they need to buy a product because it’s running low and you won’t be reordering, they’ll experience that “fear of missing out” feeling that makes them want to take immediate action. So, if you have only a few spots available, make sure your audience knows. Tell them there are only X products left in stock and watch what happens!
4. Limited Time Offer
Another strategy that works pretty well is to give your audience a limited time offer. This is a way of creating a sense of urgency even if you have plenty of spots available or items left in stock. Give them an irresistible deal and put an expiration date on it. Don’t extend it too far, or people will think they have plenty of time to come back and buy later, and they’ll most likely forget. Give them a few days to get the discount. Tell them that you don’t know when the offer is going to happen again. They will be much more likely to purchase what you’re offering, trust us.
5. Create a Form to Qualify Your Customers
This might sound counter-intuitive, but creating a form to filter people you’re going to work with might actually increase your bookings. First of all, it gives people a sense of exclusivity and they’ll feel like they need to be “special” to be selected. Everyone wants to feel important, and this just increases the perceived value of your services. Aside from that, it will help you to select only the type of customers you’d like to work with. You can choose people who are most aligned with your brand and your mission.
6. Create an Instagrammable Corner
This one is not necessarily an “online” action, but it’s certainly related to your online success. Creating a cool corner at your business may help you get more user-generated content. In other words, an “Instagrammable” corner might encourage people to post about your business, and this will definitely help to spread the word about your business online, which will increase your online bookings. If people can see how amazing your place is and see their friends posting about it, they will feel more inclined to pay your business a visit themselves.
7. Add Geotags and Hashtags to Your Posts
Geotags and hashtags are both very important tools to increase your reach online. When you go to post something on social media, you’re usually given the option to choose your location. This is a geotag. So if you’re creating a new post on Instagram – whether on Stories or on the regular feed – add your city or neighborhood. This will increase your chances of showing up on people’s Explore Feed, increasing your discoverability.
The same is true for hashtags. But of course, it’s important that you choose the right hashtags. If you use hashtags that are too broad or are not targeted for your real audience or the location you can geographically reach, they’ll fall flat. Do a little bit of research and come up with a good list of hashtags you can pull from when you post.
8. Run a Q&A
Q&A’s are a great way to not only increase engagement but also help people understand who you are and what you do. This might be exactly what they needed to finally book you. Use those handy question boxes on Instagram Stories to ask people if they have any questions about your business, your products, services, or history. Then, record some stories where you answer the questions people submitted.
If you don’t get many questions, that’s okay. Just go ahead and record anyway! Think of the reasons YOU think people aren’t booking or buying your product (e.g., they don’t know if you can get to the result they want; if your product is the right choice for them, etc.). Once you have this list, record some videos addressing these roadblocks. Give examples, show your portfolio, share your experiences, etc.
Doing a Q&A on your social media account gives people the space to ask questions. It gives you an amazing opportunity to connect with people and build trust and hopefully, increase your bookings.
9. Create Behind the Scenes Content
Behind the scenes content is a must for any business. People love to see how the sausage gets made. They love to see how you create a hairstyle, a photoshoot, or a project, for instance.
Sharing your business’ behind the scenes content also positions yourself or your business as an expert in the industry because people will get a chance to see you doing what you do best. You could even take it a step further and share some of your favorite tips and tricks with them!
People love to work with people who are booked a lot. It’s that “social proof” they need to feel like they’re making a smart decision with their money. Would you want to book with a hairstylist that seemingly has no customers or one that’s booked solid almost every single day? The more you show how much you’re working, the more people will want to work with you. This is a very important principle of marketing, so make sure to incorporate it into your strategy!
10. Host a Free Event
Hosting a free event is a great way to bring in some new customers and leads. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an online or offline event, it’s a great opportunity for people to get to know you and your business. You don’t even need to make it all about your brand – and you probably shouldn’t. You just need to deliver value and make sure people have fun, that’s all.
Here’s an example. I was once invited to a wine tasting event in a small restaurant in Ericeira, Portugal, where I lived. I went there, even though I didn’t know the place. It was a free wine tasting, so why not? The place was amazing, and while I was there, I had the opportunity to check out their menu and I absolutely loved it. Even though I didn’t buy any wine that day, I went back to the restaurant twice that same month.
This same thing can happen with online events. Create a Zoom event and invite your audience to participate. Get creative and hopefully, it will have the same effect that wine tasting had on me!
11. Donate Part of Your Profits
Choosing to support a cause or an institution is always a great incentive to call people in. Structure a campaign and share it on your social media. People love to align with brands that have similar values. As we mentioned in our post about Breast Cancer Awareness Marketing and Post Ideas, this is why campaigns like McHappy Day are so successful. You’re not simply asking customers to donate and taking all the credit; you’re encouraging them to book you or buy from you, then donating part of your profits with their help. This is a great way to increase your bookings on a special occasion or for a specific charitable event.
12. Share Your Customers’ Testimonials
In #9, we talked about social proof. Sharing your customer’s testimonials or any posts they make about your business—for example, when they post a photo on their feed or stories and tag you—is the best social proof you can generate. If they send you an e-mail or a private message, take a screenshot and share it on your stories (ask them first, of course). This is the perfect way to show your audience how much people love your business. This alone is super helpful in increasing your online appointment bookings.
13 Offer Only a Few Options
Giving people lots of choices might seem like a great thing to do, but it actually has the opposite effect than you might expect. Steve Jobs believed this, and he proved it was true. Apple used to have a lot of products, then he restructured their approach and offered just a few core products. Sales increased exponentially.
When there are too many options, people feel overwhelmed and confused.
They might not know which option is best for them and instead of researching further, they give up and move to a competitor that makes the process easier for them.
So, keep it short and simple, and always ask yourself if someone who knew nothing about you, your products, or your services would find it overwhelming. Make it simple and reduce friction.
14. Reduce Friction
Friction is never good for sales. Make the process smooth so people don’t feel like they have to do all the work. For example, if you offer a service that your client needs every month, make it easy to pre-schedule it so they don’t have to remember to do anything.
You can also reduce friction on the booking or ordering process. Don’t make it complicated for people to order your services or products. I remember one time, I really wanted sushi while I was visiting Mexico. I didn’t have a Mexican phone number, so I contacted them via Facebook Messenger and tried to order some sushi to deliver. They said they couldn’t take the order on Messenger, I would need to call them. This is friction. I probably don’t need to tell you that I ended up ordering food from somewhere else, do I?
15. Master After-Sales Support
You might think I’m nuts for talking about after-sales support if we are talking about increasing your online bookings. But, what most businesses don’t realize is the better their after-sales support, the more likely they are to be recommended and rebooked.
Despite what most marketers seem to think, the sales process and marketing itself is not a funnel; it’s more like a flywheel.
In a funnel, the water goes through and doesn’t come back. It’s a one and done process. However, in a flywheel, it just keeps spinning. This is what you want your clients to do, right?
So, don’t think you’re done after the sale. Surprise them; make them feel like they made a good decision by giving them a little more after the sale. Don’t think that your work is complete because the transaction is done. They’re your clients, so be there for them and let the amazing power of word of mouth referrals help increase your bookings online.
16. Create Polls
Creating polls is a good way to understand your audience and clients better and uncover exactly what they need. Based on their answers, you can offer even more targeted products and services. You can also tap into their pain points and needs whenever you communicate something about your business, products, or services. This will help you to persuade them to say “yes” the next time you create an offer or call to action!
17. Make Use of the Latest Trends
I wasn’t sure if I should write this one, but here it goes. You might want to take this one with a grain of salt, but I believe it can really work for most small businesses.
Let’s say you’re a young and fun hair salon, and you see that there’s a new trendy hairstyle or hair color. Try it out and share it on social media! Why? Because you want to show your clients and potential future clients that you’re up on the trends and you have the skills, knowledge, and expertise to execute on it.
The same is true for social media trends like TikTok challenges or trending topics. If you feel like there’s something relevant going on that fits your business, jump on it. Use it to bump up your engagement and promote your business and ultimately, increase your appointment bookings online.
An important caveat: you shouldn’t just be trying out all the latest trends to “stay relevant.” Just pick and choose the ones that fit your business and your brand.
18. Ask Clients to Tag You and Reward Them
I’ve already talked about user-generated content and how important it is to create social proof. This is also how word of mouth works in the online world. If your customers are sharing the results of your work – and they are happy about it – or your products, this is a great way to help reach new people.
The thing is, people sometimes need a little incentive to remember to tag you. Create some kind of promotion to entice them to do it. Give them something for free or give them a 10% discount on their next appointment if they share a photo of the product or service on their Instagram Stories and tag you.
19. Share Your Clients’ Posts
Just like sharing testimonials, sharing your customers’ user-generated content is an awesome way to get that coveted social proof. Plus, customers love when you re-share their posts!
Don’t just re-share the content, though. Add a little note that thanks your customer or talks a little more about the product or service they mention in their original post. Also, don’t fill your feed up entirely with other people’s content. People still want to see your original content, too! This way, people can see what you’re up to through your own eyes – which is what they are really interested in, after all.
20. Give People Something Valuable for Free
You can offer your customers a free strategy call, a dessert at your restaurant, a coffee on the house, a free blowdry, or whatever else you feel like will give them a good taste of what it’s like to be a loyal customer. This is why wine tastings work so well. It allows people to try something they haven’t thought about trying before in the hopes that they’ll enjoy the product (and the experience) and make a purchase. I can tell you that I never thought about buying wireless earphones until I tried a demo at a store and now, that’s all I can think about.
From my own personal experience, I’ve gained a lot of paying clients by offering free strategy calls. People don’t want to make an investment unless they know it’s a smart move, and when you give people the opportunity to see how much you know, it’s likely they will want to work with you. So, remember: free samples work, even if it’s for a service. The only rule here is that it has to be something that really makes a difference for your audience.
21. Create an Entry Product
Sometimes, the product or service you’re trying to sell to your audience is too much of an investment for them. Even though they trust you and want to move forward, there’s a barrier. They might have seen all your free content on social media or your blog, but making that next leap is too much for them right now. This is where an entry product comes in handy.
Create a smaller, but still amazing, product or service so they can get to know you and the quality of your work.
If you’re a photographer, for instance, you can give them two or three options instead of offering only the most complete and expansive photoshoot package. The same goes for makeup artists and other people who offer one-on-one services. But, small businesses that sell physical products can also use this tip. Just think about a smaller offering that will win people over and have them coming back to you time and time again.
22. Offer a Yelp Deal
If you’re a small business and you’re not on Yelp, I hate to tell you but you’re doing something wrong. We’ve talked about Yelp and how important it is for business here. In any case, Yelp is a great way for people to find new businesses, and offering Yelp Deals is an amazing opportunity to “invite” them to give you a try. Yelp Deals are also a great opportunity to get more Yelp Reviews and improve your rating and visibility on Yelp.
Read more: How to Get Yelp Reviews for Your Business
23. Create a Gift Certificate
What if your clients could give your services as a gift to someone near and dear to them? Make it easy for them to do this by creating gift certificates. You can look for inspiration on Google or create one using the templates available on Canva. This way, people who already like your services can help you increase your bookings by giving your services to someone else!
24. Create a Google My Business Listing
People turn to Google for everything. If they need a product, service, or to find out more about a business, they plug it into the search bar on Google. If your business is not on Google, it might as well not exist. Sounds drastic, but it’s true. If you want to increase your online bookings and in-store visits, create a Google My Business listing. This way, people can find you on Google and on Google Maps, see your business photos and videos, find out your hours, contact you, and book appointments all in one place.
25. Enable Bookings on Social Media
Remember when I talked about reducing friction? Adding a “Book Now” button on social media is a great way to reduce friction and allow people to take action much more easily. These days, no one likes to get on the phone and make a call. If you can give people the option to book with you online without having to speak to anyone, you should definitely do it.
If you’re going to do this, though, you have to make sure your pricing is very transparent. There’s no point in making it easy for them to book an appointment if they have to ask you about your pricing anyway.
I make my process of prospecting new clients very easy. On my website, I have all my services listed and how much I charge for each service. There are a few of them that I need to talk to people before I can give them a price quote, so in that case, I send a proposal. But other than those few special cases, I make it very easy for people. Think about how you can do the same for your customers!
26. Partner with Other Businesses
Partner with another small business owner who is in the same niche (or a very similar niche) as yours and who has the same audience or established client base. You don’t need to partner with a direct competitor – but you can. Most likely, though, you will partner with someone who offers a complimentary service or product to yours. This is a great way to increase sales and bookings since you’re being exposed to a different audience that will be interested in your services or products, and who could hopefully become regular clients!
27. Leverage Seasonal Events
As a small business, you should definitely keep an eye on the most relevant holidays and days of observance. These can make for some very interesting opportunities to create a special deal for your clients, which will encourage them to shop with you more or book an appointment with you. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are definitely the ones that come to mind first, but you don’t need to wait for fall to participate in seasonal events. Check out our calendar and get creative! Make a list of some of the best days or months to celebrate with your audience and work on creating a campaign around them.
28. Create a Giveaway
Giveaways are a great way to increase your reach and brand awareness, and ultimately, increase your bookings. You can run a giveaway for 2 or 3 days and then announce the winner(s) all on social media. Hopefully, the winner(s) are not already customers so you can gain their continued business and word-of-mouth referrals.
After your giveaway ends, you can offer a special discount or offer for those who participated but didn’t win. After all, you already know that they are at least somewhat interested in the service or product. Maybe by giving them a little push in the form of a discount or special offer, they’ll go ahead and book you. You can send them a private message or make an announcement on your page.
Read more: 11 Instagram Giveaway Ideas for Businesses (and How to Run One)
Bonus Tip: Don’t Try to Sell
This last tip is a little counter-intuitive, but it might just be the best one on this list. Don’t try to overtly sell whatever you’re selling. Doing this can make you seem desperate or pushy. No one, and I mean NO ONE, likes that.
Instead, focus on delivering valuable content, engaging with your existing customers and audience, and use some of the tips I shared in this article. I know that some of them might not seem like the most direct or fastest way to get new appointment bookings online. But trust me, they are going to be much MUCH more effective than a blatant sales pitch.
We can’t wait to see what you do. Please tag us using the hashtag #GrowingMyBiz so we can see and share your work!