From August to October, back-to-school shoppers are expected to spend $31.2 billion dollars on their K-12 kids, or about $597 per student, according to a recent Deloitte survey.[Deloitte, 2023] And, while they’re likely to prioritize retailers and businesses that offer competitive prices for their products and services, 60% of survey respondents said they still plan to spend more for quality.
That puts small business owners like you at a unique advantage: You can use strategic marketing campaigns to offer top-notch products and services at reduced prices.
And the good news is that you don’t need a big marketing budget to run successful promotions. You only need a few free marketing tools and a handful of tried-and-tested ideas to engage back-to-school buyers and get them excited about your brand.
In this post, we’ll share six of our favorite ideas for small business back-to-school promotions. Plus, we’ll explain how Homebase can help you get your team ready for the early autumn shopping surge.
1. Create back-to-school bundles or packages
A solid asset in your marketing plan, pre-bundled packages help parents reduce their end-of-summer shopping overwhelm. To start, contact local teachers and ask them what they commonly include in their first-day-of-school supply list. You can also talk to parents you know to find out what kinds of packages they would find most practical.
The great thing about this idea is that it can work for virtually any kind of small business. Here are a few ideas for:
- Small retailers
- A school supplies starter kit including essentials like a backpack with notebooks, pencils, erasers, and rulers
- A reading bundle that includes books commonly found in school curricula, bookmarks, and a reading light
- Arts and crafts bundles including sketchbooks, watercolors, paintbrushes, crayons, and colored pencils
- Family-friendly salons and barber shops
- Back-to-school haircut, style, and nails package
- Picture-day shave or haircut that includes a comb and hair gel
- Kid-friendly cafes and restaurants
- Breakfast combo with your choice of smoothie, parfait, breakfast sandwich, and juice
- After school snack pack with fruit cups, trail mix, juice box, coloring book, and crayons
2. Host an event (either online or in-store)
An event can help you build a better relationship with your clientele and gives local parents the chance to connect and network with other parents.
A personal, immersive experience also allows you to set your business apart and encourages more on-the-spot bookings or purchases. And if you take pictures and videos of your event, you’ll have content to share on Instagram and Facebook.
Here are some interactive events you can host in-store or online:
- Study skills webinar featuring a local teacher or expert to share their knowledge
- Online trivia night where prizes can include back-to-school bundles and discounts
- Mindfulness and stress relief workshop for both parents and students
- Cooking and meal prep classes where you talk about nutrition and creating a food budget
- Virtual book clubs, which you can host monthly for all ages
3. Run a back-to-school contest
A contest is a great way to reach the back-to-school crowd for a few reasons. First, it helps you create a sense of urgency and build brand awareness. But it also allows you to capture more demographic information about your audience and even gather emails and phone numbers for future marketing campaigns.
A contest can be as simple as you want. You can host an online raffle or giveaway encouraging people to share your social media posts. But if you want to be more creative, here are a few business-specific ideas:
- Ask followers to submit their most embarrassing school pictures, and the winner gets a free haircut or hairstyle.
- Ask kids to share their most creative lunchbox recipes to win a $50 gift card to your cafe. Then share the recipes in a downloadable e-book.
- Host a teacher appreciation contest and offer the winner a $200 shopping spree at your store.
4. Partner with local schools or community centers
By collaborating with local agencies like schools and community centers, you show potential customers you’re invested in bettering your community, helping you build trust and credibility. Doing so also allows you to network with parents and educators, who often volunteer with their community organizations and organize outreach on their behalf.
You can suggest the following ideas for community support initiatives to lead in partnership with your local agencies:
- Back-to-school supply drives for students in need
- Free tutoring and mentoring programs
- Monthly career fairs and job events
- Book donation programs
- Free art workshops
- Scholarships, grants, and awards for college-bound students
5. Start a referral program
Referral programs rely on word-of-mouth advertising, incentivizing existing customers to refer their friends, family, and acquaintances to your business in exchange for discounts and rewards. They’re easy to set up and require minimal effort to promote.
However, you can use back-to-school buyer excitement to make your referral program even more effective. For instance, you can let your customers and followers know that if people mention their names at the point-of-sale throughout August and September, both the previous and new customers can get an extra 10% discount on back-to-school products and services.
6. Team up with local lifestyle influencers and bloggers
According to 2022 data from Sprout Social, 98% of consumers planned to make at least one purchase through social shopping or influencer marketing within that year. It’s hard to understate the power of social media influencers and bloggers, which is why you should reach out to them to help you spread the word about your upcoming back-to-school deals and events.
Getting in touch with influencers in your area doesn’t need to be intimidating if you follow these best practices:
- Search for people that write and create content about topics surrounding education and parenting. Don’t forget to include your geographical area in search terms. For example, you can search “Parenting bloggers in X County.”
- Engage with their content first. Like, comment, and share their posts to establish a connection before reaching out about partnering with them.
- Personalize your outreach message. Describe what you like about their content, emphasize your local connection, and explain why they would be a perfect fit to partner with you during the back-to-school season.
- Make sure they know what’s in it for them. Highlight the benefits of collaborating with you, like free products and services or exclusive discounts.
- Offer suggestions for content that align with their brand and messaging. For instance, if they typically only use Instagram and TikTok to promote other businesses, you should respect their unique approach to marketing.
How Homebase can help you thrive during back-to-school season
Before customers flock to your storefront to take advantage of your back-to-school sales, you need to make sure you’ve not only hired and scheduled enough staff to handle the extra traffic, but that you’ve educated them about all your upcoming promotions, discounts, and events.
You as a business owner and store manager will be busier, too, which is why you need an app like Homebase to simplify your team operations.
With Homebase you can:
- Import sales and labor data from past back-to-school shopping seasons to plan staffing. Homebase’s team scheduling tool integrates with our labor costing feature to build more cost-effective staff timetables.
- Stay in touch with your team throughout the day. Our team messaging app lets you send team announcements and updates, share files and documents, publish team schedules, and start group or individual chats.
- Attach shift notes and events to schedules. That way, you can share your upcoming promotions with team members and include any relevant information they should share with customers.
- Cut down on unintentional overtime costs. Our free time clock sends you automatic reminders when team members forget to take breaks or clock out. It also alerts employees when they have an upcoming shift.
- Hire seasonal employees if you need them. With our hiring and onboarding tool, you can access our library of ready-made job descriptions for roles like cashier, barista, and manager and post them on top job boards. Then you can screen, interview, hire, and onboard them through the Homebase app.
- Pay your team. Homebase offers full-service payroll, so you don’t need third-party accounting software to pay your employees via check or direct deposit.
Take advantage of the back-to-school season
With so many back-to-school shoppers looking for convenience, quality, and competitive pricing, there’s ample opportunity for small business owners to make a significant profit during the late summer and early fall — as long as they’re willing to market their products and services well. Thankfully, you don’t need a dedicated advertising budget or marketing team. You just need a little bit of strategy and time.
Still, extra hours in a day are hard to find when you’re running a business on your own.
Fortunately, an app like Homebase can help you free up the time you usually spend managing your team. What’s more, it’s cost-effective: Our free plan provides basic scheduling and time tracking for up to 20 employees. And if you upgrade your plan to get access to our team communication, hiring and onboarding, and payroll tools, our per-location pricing means your subscription won’t go up as you hire more team members.
With Homebase by your side, you can streamline your team management and focus on what truly matters — making the back-to-school season a triumph for your small business.
FAQs about back-to-school marketing
When do back-to-school promotions start?
Back-to-school promotions may start as early as the beginning of July, particularly in states where the school year starts in August. With that in mind, it’s best to start planning your promotions at the beginning of summer so you can launch them at the start of July.
We also suggest using Homebase’s scheduling tool to plan your team timetables ahead of time so you can be ready for the back-to-school rush. Then use our team communication app to inform your team about upcoming promotions. That way, they can educate your customers about future sales or store events.
How do you market back-to-school products?
Marketing back-to-school products involves knowing your target customers well and crafting your messaging and promotions based on their needs, wants, and pain points. That takes time to plan, so you should start strategizing as early as possible, no later than the beginning of summer.
Once you have a solid grasp on who your ideal customers are, you should:
- Decide which back-to-school promotions you want to offer, based on your products, services, and available resources
- Create engaging content to share on social media. Be sure to use infographics, videos, and images to showcase the features and benefits of your products and services
- Ask local businesses, schools, and influencers to share your upcoming promotions and market your products and services
What are the current back-to-school marketing trends?
Today’s back-to-school shoppers spend a lot of time online, which means you need to know what interests them and which sites and social media platforms they visit the most. Based on recent trends, it’s best to start planning your marketing campaigns early and ensure you’re using social media to promote them well.
To that end, here are a few specific marketing back-to-school trends to try:
- Back-to-school bundles or packages
- In-store or online back-to-school events
- A back-to-school contest
- Teaming up with local schools, community centers, bloggers, or influencers