Coupons are a great way to promote your bricks-and-mortar business. With the right coupon you can shape customer purchasing patterns so that you make the most money. You can reward frequent customers, bring in new customers, boost business during slow times (such as early in the week for a restaurant), promote new items or slow-moving merchandise, or offer seasonal discounts.

What should be on a coupon? “Must-haves” include:

Your business information

Details of the offer

Expiration date

Valid days and times

Terms and conditions

Other options include: a bar code, serial number, or other way of tracking redemption rate or gathering information; and graphics - your logo, a background or picture, etc.

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A well-designed coupon is like a mini-advertisement for you and your business. It should be attractive, informative, easy to understand, and show both the offer and your business in the best light possible.

Throw in the Internet and email, and you have an online coupon. And online coupons are a very low-cost way to boost your offline business. You can add a coupon page to your web site, email coupons to your customers, or even send an offer directly to their PDA or cellphone. Reaching hundreds - or even thousands - of customers and prospects costs you almost nothing compared to traditional methods like newspaper ads, coupon books or door hangers.

With a sign-up form on your coupon page, you can gather names and email addresses of prospects who you can add to your database for future marketing purposes. Just remember to verify their submission using a “double opt-in” system.

With a traditional paper coupon, it’s time-consuming and expensive to make changes and get the coupon into the hands of your prospects. But with the Internet, you can make changes in minutes and get it out to your market almost immediately. And for far less than the cost of a graphic designer, print shop, or newspaper advertisement.

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A number of companies offer online coupon generation systems to make your job as quick and easy as possible. Typically, after you sign up, you get access to your own private member’s area where you store your finished coupons. You can also upload your logo, and other graphics. Some companies have their own collections of popular graphics for you to use.

A simple web wizard will lead you step-by-step through the coupon creation process, so you don’t have to know anything about HTML or other geek stuff.

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With an online coupon generation system, you can have total flexibility in designing your coupon. You can make your template completely from scratch and decide exactly where to put all of the information. Then add your logo, background,or a bar code. Alternatively, save time by using one of the standard templates provided. Once you’ve finished a coupon, just save it away. Later you can call it up, make a few changes, save it under another name, and you have another coupon.

Of course, you can also print out your online coupon for offline use.

Once you’ve made a few coupons online coupons you simply combine them together to make a coupon page for your web site.

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Even better, information such as the expiration date can be dynamically changed. For example, let’s say you make a coupon with a “7-day” expiration date. When that coupon is posted on your coupon page, its expiration date is automatically set to seven days from the post date.

Now you can set up a series of 7-day coupons. A new coupon will automatically appear each week with the correct expiration date and the series will repeat until you decide to change it. Your web site visitors will see a stream of ever-changing special offers, but all of the work is done by the software. You don’t have to lift a finger.

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Try that with a paper coupon!

The Internet is quickly becoming an essential part of the marketing mix for offline businesses. And online coupons offer you a quick and easy way to reach large numbers of prospects at minimum cost.

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