According to a recent survey of small businesses, business owners view attracting customers as the most significant challenge facing their businesses.

Attracting more customers may be the most important part of a business owner’s job. It’s how you grow your business.

Technological changes over the past two decades have made attracting more customers easier and more difficult at the same time. Businesses can reach customers via social media, content marketing, email marketing and so on. All of the above can be done for little to no cost. Unfortunately, they can also be confusing to business owners in terms of what to do when and how does it all work?

Here’s one way to attract customers whether you’re handing out flyers or using social media or whatever: Give something of value away. When you give away something meaningless or super cheap, the effort can fail. You should give away something that your customers might otherwise buy from you.

Store give away

What? Why would I give away something I can sell? Chris, are you nuts?

Nope I’m not. Let me give you an example. The halftime entertainer for the 2014 Super Bowl was Bruno Mars. That day there were a few articles posted calling attention to the fact that Mr. Mars was not going to be paid for his appearance and performance. The next day I saw a post from one of my Facebook friends who is a musician and was clearly upset that the NFL doesn’t pay performers. His point was that musicians should be paid for their work. Okay fair point.

Yet Bruno Mars agreed to perform at halftime of the Super Bowl for free. He definitely did not “phone in” his performance. He delivered big time. It was terrific work. All for free. Why would he do that? He’s a world famous entertainer who has sold millions of records. Some of the seats for his Hollywood Bowl performance are going for over $700 each. He definitely could have made good money if he’d done a regular concert that evening somewhere else. So why did he do it?

Here’s why: according to Billboard, Bruno Mars’ record sales went up 82% after the Super Bowl. What if this was your dry cleaning business? Would you give away free dry cleaning to 100 customers if it got you an 82% increase in sales in the following weeks? Would you give away the 50 free dinners from your restaurant if it could get you 82% increased business? That’s essentially what Bruno Mars did. A regular concert would not have exposed him to a new audience and would not have increased his album sales by 82%.  He gave away something he could have otherwise charged for and was rewarded with much more income.

A more practical example in business: Whenever I go into a Costco on the weekends they have a couple of places where they’re giving away free food samples. Considering the huge numbers of people who go through their stores on the weekends that’s a lot of product for them to just give away. It also increases sales of that product. I have many times seen people try the sample and then walk over to the shelf and pick up the product.

It works to give away samples of your product or service to get new customers. What can you give away to attract new customers?