Tell Us Your Most Outrageously Creative Money-Saving or Business Growth Tip

creative new ideaTimes like these call for creativity in your business. We asked a panel of prominent business people, authors and business bloggers a simple question to gather ideas for how to be creative in your business.

The question we asked? This:

“What is the most outrageously creative thing you’ve done to save money or take your business to the next level?”

We’d like you to weigh in and share your ideas — but first, read what our panel had to say:

John Jantsch, Duct Tape Marketing “I had a client that we convinced to run a lumpy mail campaign – direct mail with some dimension to it. We created a series of messages with stuff in the boxes to match the message. Two cost savings measures – 1) one mailing had a keys to success theme – we went to a hardware store and got boxes of old miscut keys – they were thrilled to get rid of them. 2) to invite people to a seminar we served great BBQ and used the rib boxes from the well known BBQ place as carriers for the invitations. No cost for the creative boxes and the rib joint was thrilled.”

Jonathan Fields, Career Renegade“A year into owning a yoga studio in 2002, I wanted to create national buzz, so I approached the head of a university athletic department and convinced them to run a study that measured how many calories yoga burned. I then offered an exclusive on the study to a top womens’ fitness magazine editor, who not only wanted to write about it, but be in it. The results were great and when she asked if I had a video she could write about in the mag, I said yes…then went out and made one before the issue hit the street.”

Mike Michalowicz, “To save money on legal and accounting work one creative thing I did was visit local colleges to speak with the professors who taught the appropriate subjects. In return for their legal and accounting help I agreed to be an entire case study for their class, so the students could learn from my experience building my company. When it comes to office furniture I was able to get every piece I have for my current business for FREE! One e-mail to other businesses asking if they were moving and wanted to get rid of their furniture was all it took! I was able to get high quality office furniture in amazing condition for a 10 person office, with some high class office chairs which normally cost over $500/each!”

Jim Kukral, — “One of the smartest things I’ve done in the past is to waive my consulting fee and tell the customer to ‘pay me what you think it was worth, or nothing at all.’ 99% of time they pay me as much or more than I would have charged. The key is delivering your best work so they are blown away. If you can’t do that it’s probably not a good idea.”

John Mariotti, The Enterprise “When negotiating deals with customers to be their supplier, I often ask ‘What will you do if you drive us out of business?’ Sure, there is excess capacity somewhere for almost everything, but it is not all created equal. At the least, a customer who pressures a supplier so hard that it ruins the supplier, is also ruining its own business’ potential. Remind them of that fact when the negotiations get tough.”

Scott Allen, Entrepreneurs Guide– “For the past few years, I’ve committed at least 4-5 hours a week to building passive income streams outside my core business such as: royalties on books and other info-products, affiliate sales, and so on. So many entrepreneurs have to shut down their business and go back to a j-o-b because of cash flow issues, and very often they’re temporary – just a month or two. With a baseline of passive income, I’m much more confident about the survival of my business, regardless of circumstances, and am able to make better financial and strategic decisions because I’m not constantly in a cash flow bind.

Katja Presnal, Skimbaco Lifestyle — “It was all viral, organic & social media marketing. I put together a gift basket for Tom Cruise – he endorsed a product from it on the Oprah show. I used less than $100 & close to 100 blogs wrote about it the first time. It’s airing again today and we’ve got 30 more blogs who have written about it!”

Dan Schawbel, Publisher, Personal Branding Magazine – “After a few months writing for magazines, trying to build a profile and get my brand name out there, I decided to break free and start my own magazine. I really had no idea what I was doing, so I emailed Guy Kawasaki and he sent me his interview with Donald Trump, which, not surprisingly, became a big hit and launch platform for my first issue. The day the issue came out, Fast Company covered it, and it took my business to the next level.”

Denise O’Berry, Just for Small Business — “I created a skit that was presented at a local business association meeting which demonstrated the power of strategic alliances in servicing customers. I partnered with a computer / technolgy consulting firm and a customer retention firm and we told a story of a client who had a need for business improvement, but didn’t know where to turn. We showed how one connection could benefit both the client and our businesses. All three of our businesses realized a 50% plus increase in sales as a result.”

Paul Singh, “Here’s how I got more referrals than I could handle. I made a list of the top 10 companies that I really wanted to work with. Then, I documented a few high-level strategic ways I’d grow their business, and some tactical tips they could improve immediately. When I sent the document (which was usually anywhere from 5-7 pages long) via email and snail mail to the founder, I always made sure that they understood that I was giving them this advice free. More importantly, I made it really clear that I’d be happy to give them as much advice as they’d like for free. The only catch is that I’d want to send them a proposal if they wanted me to actually do the work myself.”

Ivana Taylor, — “At a dreadfully boring rubber industry trade show, I started asking passers-by if we could run their “Gummi Bears” through our automated rubber testing equipment. It was a great way to show how the robotics worked, and it created a huge buzz throughout the show. Soon customers were stopping by and handing us all kinds of food to test. While we were watching several of us came up with a line dance that mimicked the instrument – for the first time customers became physically engaged with the equipment and still talked about it months later.”

Anita Campbell, Small Business Trends “I quit caring about doing a “perfect” job for a particular report. I got incredibly busy and knew the only way I could finish this particular project was by writing quickly and not editing it 16 times like I normally do. The downside of being a perfectionist is the missed opportunity cost (the business opportunities you miss out on while you’re re-working something to death). In this case, I sat down and just starting dictating. The report was vibrant and let my personality and humor show through. The client loved it and wanted more more more — just like that!”

Now it’s your turn! We want to hear from you. What is the single most outrageously creative thing you’ve done to save money or take your business to the next level? Leave a comment below with your tip, in 75 words or less.

We’ll take the best tips and include them in a our downloadable “Get Outrageously Creative” document, giving you credit for your contribution. And – we will hold a random drawing to give away a wireless HP Officejet J4680 Color All-in-One printer, free to one lucky commenter.  Deadline to enter is January 18, 2009 at 11:59 PM California time. Deadline to enter is now closed — thank you all for participating!

Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.