Advertising Your Small Business – What Works and What Doesn’t

There are a lot of challenges to running a successful small business. But there is really no more important challenge than generating sales. No matter how water tight your proverbial ship is, if there’s no one in line to board it, it’s going to sink. But, the truth is the vast majority of advertising dollars are wasted money. How do you know what works and what doesn’t?

There’s a lot more to the story than I can possibly tell you here, but here are a few important things to consider:

Repetition is King

Biggest mistake in advertising, bar none, is running an ad campaign once or twice and thinking it’s not working and giving up on it. Growing a business is like growing lumber. You can’t expect to plant a seed today and have it turn into lumber tomorrow. Over time, the impressions accumulate, your message get honed, you gain more credibility, your sale closing ratio increases, and it pays off more and more. Always plan advertising campaigns as part of a long-term strategy.

  • Long-term strategies eventually work.
  • One-off campaigns rarely work.

Location, Location, Location

As with real estate the three most important aspects of successful advertising are location, location, and location. Become a landmark! Choose a place and time to run your ads and be consistent. Sponsor a particular column or show, or sponsor the weather report, or the sports page. Then when someone needs your services, they’ll know where to find you. “Where’s that coupon for a free birthday sundae that I keep seeing. Oh, yeah, it’s in the local sports section!”

  • Consistent, targeted advertising location usually works.
  • Inconsistent ad location rarely works.

As Seen On TV

Radio and TV advertising are tricky but the same principals apply. Think long-term. Choose your place and time and stick with it. Be consistent with how you deliver your message but alter the message over time. For example many furniture store owners or car dealers will be their own spokes person but change the offering every week. Keep adjusting your message until it hits a home run.

  • One messenger, many offers, works.
  • Inconsistent delivery doesn’t work.

Track It Or Lose It

If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. If you don’t measure the effectiveness of each individual ad campaign you can’t learn which portions of your budget are draining cash and which are creating cash. If nothing else keep a clipboard list of the ads you are running and add a check mark every time you get a lead. At least you’ll get a visual of what’s working and what’s not.

  • Lead tracking works.
  • Blind advertising  – who knows?

A few more pieces of advice:

  • Advertising money isn’t fun money. Don’t gamble with it. Never run ads just to see if they will work.
  • Determine what percentage of your sales you can reinvest in advertising and create a budget and a long-term plan.
  • Don’t just say “we deserve your business,” always include a tempting offer in your ads.
  • Ask the publisher what works for long-term advertisers. See who’s been around for a long time and emulate them.
  • Finally, find a consultant who knows advertising and run your ideas by them once a week or once a month. A little professional advice goes a long way towards putting your money in the right place.

Good luck and may all your self-employment dreams come true!

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