I’m sitting in a Panera’s Bakery and Coffee Shop enjoying a hot cup of decaf and a toasted French roll and butter, and I’m thinking how I would promote a coffee shop.I’d have to assume the obvious pitfalls have been overcome – my parking lot is big enough, my coffee has a decent aroma, and my food is at least somewhat digestible. Also, I have some tables and comfortable chairs so I’m not just a take-away place.I’m a direct mail specialist, and I’ll cover direct marketing shortly, but there’s a couple of ways to promote the shop without a mailing program. I will cover these ideas first.There are dozens of businesses within walking distance of every coffee shop, and most businesses have about 5-10 employees. Create a special discount card and hand this to every employee in every nearby business. Offer 10% or 20% or whatever you can to bring these people in. While not a 100% captive audience (they have other choices nearby), they will all now belong to a special “club,” and they all need to drink or eat sometime during their workshift. If you can, offer delivery service to these faithful ones so they won’t miss time from work. The business owners will appreciate this cost-saving service and will readily promote your coffee shop to their customers as well.If billboard advertising is available near your shop and it’s affordable (billboard ads are among the lowest cost of advertising around), grab the spot. Anyone driving by will see your ad and (hopefully) start salivating for a cup of joe and a sandwich.If billboard ads are not nearby, consider back of bench advertising, parking meter top ads, cross street hanging banners (a banner stretches overhead from one sidewalk to the other, usually attached to existing poles), or even a rented sandwich sign (sometimes called an A-frame stand) to place on the sidewalk of a major street. Drivers will see this sign and respond positively.Direct mail works with all businesses, and a coffee shop is no exception. You need to target your market to nearby prospects. Otherwise you’re hitting people who will not travel to your place. Let’s face it – a coffee house is a convenience stop, but usually not a destination spot to travel a long distance for. That’s why there’s a Starbucks every two to three blocks in some major cities.Using your shop as a center point, select a consumer list of all residences within a six-block or half-mile radius (these lists are readily available from any list broker). Send a flyer promoting your shop for early morning coffee, after work early dinners, and late night comfort food (if you’re open late). Offer a discount coupon if you’d like, but this is generally not necessary. You’re close enough and so convenient that customers will stop in. If you have a lot of competition nearby, the discount may be necessary to compete, but that’s a store by store decision. Do not promote delivery unless you can justify the cost. You want people to stop in and get comfortable with your shop so they’ll make you a regular stop on their daily or weekly routine.Cost to mail 500 cards or flyers, including printing, mailing list, postage, and mail shop costs should be about $200 or less. This is much less than the cost of most newspaper ads. The advantage here (besides cost) is that 100% of your target customers will at least see your name on the flyer. A newspaper ad may, if you’re lucky, hit 10% of your target audience.The second part of your direct marketing approach is to reach nearby businesses. Send a copy of your menu (condensed down to one sheet, if possible) to all businesses within one mile of your place. Include other restaurants as well – many restaurant employees are tired of their own food and eat out regularly. These businesses all have employees who travel to work, eat lunch, take coffee breaks, and leave at the end of their shifts. Salesmen meet with clients and need a comfortable and convenient location to greet customers and get away from the office. Be that place. Again, offer a discount if you want, but that’s usually not necessary. Just getting your menu out to these businesses will bring the employees in.Cost to mail to 500 businesses will cost between $200 and $300 per mailing.If your budget is minimal, rent or compile a nearby business list and mail out 20-30 flyers or menus a day. You’ll be able to control your costs to an amount you can afford without a major investment. And hopefully sending out 20-30 mailers at a time will generate more foot traffic to increase your overall business.Mailing out 30 flyers per day will cost you only $15 per day in postage and printing costs. Generate only one new repeat customer who buys a $2 cup of coffee once a week and you’ve generated $100 a year from your investment. Well worth it!