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Small Business Advertising

After you have nurtured your small business idea and got the start-up details accomplished, it is now time to get down to the brass tacks of your small business: customers. Regardless of how super your business plan looks, in spite of the overwhelming success your business looks to be on paper, and irrespective of the value your product or service will bring to society, your small business will sink or swim on the backs of the customer base you are able to build. In this course, we will outline how to use advertising to bring in new customers to your business.

Small Business Statistics

Small businesses play a major role in the economy of the United States, and are a major player in the job market here in the United States. Here are some statistics* from the U.S. Small Business Administration to give you an idea of how important small business is to our economy:

  • 2008 – 27.3 million small businesses  in the US2009 – Approximately 552,600 new business startups

    • These 27.3 million small businesses accounted for approximately 49.6% of all US private sector jobs
  • 2009 – Approximately 552,600 new business startups

*Source sba.gov/sites/default/files/sbfaq.pdf

In addition to tracking the number of businesses that start-up each year, the U.S. Small Business Administration also tracks business closures. Here are some eye opening statistics*:

  • 2009 – Approximately 660, 900 business closures

  • Each year there is roughly a 10% turnover rate for all new businessesOver 50% of all small businesses fail within five years

    • The turnover rate for non-employer businesses (single member small businesses) is nearly three times higher
  • Over 50% of all small businesses fail within five years

*Source sba.gov/sites/default/files/sbfaq.pdf

Why Do Small Businesses Fail?

In order to avoid the pitfalls that befall many small business owners, it is important to understand why many small businesses fail. While this is not an exhaustive list, the following lists some of the most common reasons why small businesses fail:

  • Poor location, credit and inventory management

  • Lack of experience

  • Lack of internet presence

  • Insufficient capital

  • Mismanagement of business funds

  • Competition within the industry

  • Unexpected growth

  • Low sales and not enough demand for the product or service

  • Operational mediocrity

Let’s discuss these last two issues in greater detail.

Avoiding Small Business Pitfalls

While it is difficult to avoid every potential pitfall that could lead to the failure of your small business, there are some positive steps you can take to eliminate some of these treacherous pitfalls.

In order to combat low sales and operational mediocrity (lack of new business referrals and new business generation through advertising and marketing) you can use some simple and cost effective tools. One of those tools that we will discuss in this module is advertising.



We are not talking about using an 80’s make-up laden hair band or a set of pretty lips to sell your product or service. We are talking about utilizing an operational philosophy to move your advertising effort forward.

So what is KISS and how can it help you and your small business beat the odds?

Keep It Simple Stupid

The KISS acronym and its corresponding explanation have been bantered about in the business world for several generations. Where did this simple, but highly applicable business acronym come into being?

KISS is attributed to Kelly Johnson who was a lead engineer on both the Lockheed U-2 and the Lockheed SR-71 spy plane projects. The story goes that Mr. Johnson gave his crew of engineers a set of ordinary, everyday tools. Then, he gave them a charge to design a high-tech spy plane that could be repaired and maintained by an average field mechanic using average tools. The “stupid” is in reference to the correlation between a potential aircraft breakdown and the sophistication available to repair such a breakdown.

KISS Advertising

The KISS axiom can also apply to you as you advertise your small business. The correlation between trying to generate more customers, sales and exposure for your business and the resources (time and money) you have available must be “kept simple, stupid.” Otherwise, you will be in danger of trying to repair an intricate high-tech airplane with a hammer and a screwdriver.

Bigger Does Not Always Mean Better – KISS

Regardless of what you say or what you look like in an advertisement, ultimately your small business, like all businesses, will be judged by your customers. Are they happy?  Are they satisfied? Do they want more? If you can answer “yes” to these questions, you are well on your way to beating the odds and maintaining a successful small business!

Remember KISS … By keeping it simple, you will have more time and money, to focus on what really matters to a small business owner – making customers happy!

How to KISS

So what exactly do you need to do to keep it simple? How do you know when simple is not simple any longer? How does simple start? Well, it’s simple, really… Start at the start, by knowing who you are looking for, then finding who you are looking for. Simple, right?

Focus on Your Target

In order to be most efficient with your advertising, you want to try to focus  on potential customers who are most likely to use your product. This focus will not eliminate other potential customers, but rather allow you to hone your advertising effort (and budget) in on areas where it can have the most impact on your small business’ bottom line.


Define Your Target Market

A target-based advertising method is a two-fold concept. The first portion is to define what your target market is. Imagine for a moment you are an archer competing in an archery competition. Points in your competition are rewarded for hitting targets in the correct order. You will want to be sure you are focused on the correct target before you fire your arrows so you can maximize your points, and hopefully, win the competition.

Likewise, in advertising your small business, you are engaged in a competition. The competition gives “points” for landing your “arrows” in the right spot at the right time. In this competition, though, the points you are seeking are customers and the arrows you use are your advertising mediums.

In order to identify your target market using one or a combination of the following methods will typically give you a well-defined target to aim for:

  • Current Customers

  • Competitors

  • Your Product or Service

  • Demographics

  • Personal Characteristics

We will now cover each of these methods in more detail to help you decide which one(s) will be most beneficial for you to use.

Current Customers

In order to most effectively utilize this method to define your target market, your small business must already be in operation. If that is the case, you can review the customers you already have and look for commonalities you can build upon.

It is also important when using this method to define your target market to ensure you are using not just any customer, but the type of customers that you want to generate more of in the future. For example, if you are operating a small business that sells ice cream and confections via mobile units (ice cream trucks), your target may be play group moms rather than just children.

When using the current customer method to define your target market ask yourself, “Which customers are the most desirable?” Probably those who:

  • Purchase your products most frequently;

  • Spend the most money per visit;

  • Have the potential to create more business for you;

  • Refer other people to you 

As you review these desirable customers, and work on ways to generate more customers like them, you will want to focus on a few specific areas. These areas include:

  • Characteristics that are common to customers in this group;

  • Common interests between customers in this group;

  • Other factors common to customers in this group

While each characteristic may not be shared by all, you will likely see patterns within your customer base.

Let’s go back to the ice cream example. As you review your sales information, you may notice that particular neighborhoods generate more revenue on certain days of the week, or at certain times of day. Work to determine what characteristic or common interest leads to that spike and you have identified a target market. Maybe your research reveals that one or two neighborhoods host various moms groups through the summer. Again, you have found a target. Now you can take that information and search out other targets that are similarly situated.

As you identify the commonalities between your most valuable customers and customer groups, you will have insight into what target you want to aim your advertising toward.



Another good method to help you define your target market is to look at what your competitors are doing. Typically, you and your competitors are targeting the same customers. If you choose to use this method to define your target market, you will have to consider the following question:

Do I want to compete head-to-head with my competitors, or do I want to serve a niche my competitors do not serve?

The answer to this question will guide how you use this method to define your target market. 

If you intend to compete head-to-head with your competition, you will be vying for the attention, and loyalty, of the same customers your competitors are seeking to serve. In this case, you will need to identify ways to make your product or service more attractive and desirable.

A good example of this scenario can be seen in the big-box home improvement market. Home Depot, Lowes and Ace Hardware are three large retailers who often compete for the same business. Ace has marketed itself as the “place with the helpful hardware man,” the “helpful hardware place,” and the “helpful place” in an effort to highlight its focus on customer service, an area it has tried to focus on as in competing head-to-head with its competitors. In this example, Ace focuses on potential customers who highly value customer service as their target market.

If you intend to find an underserved niche within your industry, you will want to look for ways to subdivide the market your competitors already serve. Once you identify this niche within a particular market, your advertising efforts can be tailored directly to this group.

While in the hardware store example, Ace competes head-to-head with its competitors, Ace has created a niche within an established market. While Ace competes directly with the likes of Lowes and Home Depot, it does so in a bit of a different fashion. While the typical big-box hardware store is roughly 100,000 square feet in size, the average Ace is just 15,000 square feet, and typically located within a neighborhood, rather than as an anchor of a large retail development. Ace uses a small town, down home feel to attempt to win over those customers who want a smaller, more “touchy feely” hardware store experience.

As you can see from these examples, you can choose either method, or a combination of the two, in order to use your competitors to help you identify your target market. Now let’s move on to another method. 

Review Your Product/Service

The products and services your small business sells can be used to help identify your target market. In order to use your products or services to help you define your target market, you will first have to subdivide each product/service into its individual features or services. Once you have broken down a product or service into its individual features, it is time to identify potential benefits for each feature.

After you have outlined all of the potential benefits for each feature, you can then search for people, or groups of people, who have a need for the benefits your products and services provide.



When you are seeking to isolate a target market, oftentimes demographic information can be used to outline your target. If you have developed a new learning toy, you may want to focus your advertising efforts toward parents of young children. If the toy you have developed is more costly than a typical children’s toy, you may want to also focus on parents of young children within a specific household income band, or possibly the grandparents of young children.

Some examples of the demographic information you may want to isolate are:

  • Age

  • Gender

  • Occupation

  • Income Level

  • Education Level

  • Location

  • Marital or Family Status

  • Ethnic Background

As you work to determine whether using demographic information to define your target market is a good option, you will need to decide if there are people, or groups of people, who can be isolated by demographic information that would be most likely to have interest in your product or service.

Personal Characteristics

In some instances, you may be able to identify certain personal characteristics which could make a person more likely to be interested in your product or service. Some potential areas of focus could be:

  • Values

  • Lifestyle

  • Personality

  • Attitudes

  • Behavior

  • Interests

  • Hobbies

  • Activities

If Small Business Guy A is opening a Christian book store, he may focus on a different set of personal characteristics than Small Business Guy B, who is opening a comic book store. It is not to say that a patron of a Christian book store would not be interested in comic books, or visa versa; the concept is not to exclude one characteristic, rather it is to focus on the one or two characteristics where you will likely find the most interested customers.



Let’s take another quick look at the different methods you can use to help identify your target market:

  • Current Customers – Can they lead you to more customers?

  • Competitors – Are you going head-to-head, finding a niche or both?

  • Your Product/Service – What can what you sell tell you about who wants it?

  • Demographics – Is there a certain group that is more likely to want what you’re selling?

  • Personal Characteristics – Can how folks live be a key to what they want? 

Once you have defined your target market, and before you move on to delivering your message to that target market, you want to be sure to do a final review before committing to an advertising campaign. You want to analyze your target to be sure it will work for you. Consider asking critical questions about your target market. Here are a few examples:

  • Does the target I have defined contain enough people?

  • Can the target I have defined afford my product/service?

  • Can I reach the target; will it be cost-effective to reach the target?

If you determine the target market is viable, it is time to move on to the next phase. Otherwise, work to either broaden or reduce your target size before moving forward. Proper identification of your target market will go a long way in determining how successful your future advertising campaigns can be.

Now it is time to move forward and look at the second aspect of the target-based advertising method.


Get Your Message to the Target

Once you have identified who you want to target with your advertising message, then it is time to come up with the best way to deliver that message.

In archery, there are many different types of arrow configurations, each with a specific purpose. Likewise, in advertising there are many different mediums you can use, and each can be effective if used in the right situation. You want to be sure you “hit” the target with your advertising arrows. 


Let’s take a quick look at an example of the different advertising “arrows” you can use to hit your target market.

Entrepreneur A opens a dry cleaning business in a suburban neighborhood.  Her target market is likely going to be professional career types who live in the suburban neighborhood where her dry cleaning business is located.  If she wants to get her advertising “arrows” to hit the target, she may choose to use an advertising campaign centered on a concept of geographic convenience – “you live here, so it is easy for you to drop off and pick up your dry cleaning here.”

Some mediums she may use to send her geographic convenience message may include:

  • Local newspaper or circular advertisements

  • Coupons or advertisements available at other local businesses

  • Zip code mailing or door-to-door flyer advertisements

  • Flyers on cars in local parking lots

Each of these methods would provide Entrepreneur A with solid exposure for her message of geographic convenience within her target market. 

Now let’s take a look at a variation of the same scenario outlined previously.

Entrepreneur A is still operating a dry cleaning business, but in this example her business is located in the downtown area of a large metropolitan city.  Her target market will still be professional career types; however, she will be targeting those individuals who work in the downtown area. She will not exclude those who live in the downtown area, but they are not part of her target market. Her advertising campaign could still be centered on a geographic convenience concept – “kill two birds with one stone, one trip for work & dry cleaning.”

Some mediums she may use to send this geographic convenience message may include: 

  • Parking lot flyers near her business location

  • Office building circular advertisements

  • Company newsletter advertisements

  • Sandwich board or sidewalk advertisements

Each of these methods would again provide Entrepreneur A with solid exposure for her message of geographic convenience within her target market.

Use the Most Appropriate Media

Regardless of the type of small business you are operating, there is some type of advertising medium that will work for you. In fact, there may even be multiple types of advertising mediums that would help your small business generate new customers. The trick is to find the one, or ones, that will work best for you, and avoid the ones that will not work.

In this portion of the module, we will review different advertising mediums or methods, and how to determine which is best for your small business.

Your goal as you search for the best way to advertise your small business should be to find the best “bang for your buck.” This simple cliché outlines what all small business owners should be striving for when looking at how to advertise, or in other words, what will give the best return (or most exposure) for the smallest amount of money (or resources) expended.

In most cases, small business advertisers have two advertising parameters:

  • Small budget

  • Little room for error

With a limited budget, you want to ensure, as much as possible, that any resource committed to advertising returns at least the same amount of resource back into the business. In some circumstances, a business may be willing to use advertisements for other purposes than simply to generate new customers; however, small businesses are typically in a bottom line position. Therefore, when the bottom line is the most important factor, resources committed must result in resources gained.

Now let’s review some of the factors to consider when determining what advertising method is best for your small business.


When it comes to advertising your small business, there are countless options and combinations of options you can use to advertise your small business. In order to determine what is best for you, there are a few factors which should be considered before making an advertising commitment, such as:

  • Connection with your target

  • Cost

  • Strategy


Connection with Your Target

While it may seem obvious and intuitive, this is such an important factor to consider when making an advertising decision. When you are reaching out to specific people, or specific groups of people, the most efficient way to make that connection is by going where they are, doing what they do or being what they are.

If you are trying to reach basketball fans, you should be advertising at basketball games. If you are trying to reach outdoor types, you should be advertising at outdoor stores, on outdoor TV or radio programs, or at events catering to outdoor types or at outdoor type destinations (eg. campgrounds). If you are trying to reach avid readers, try advertising at local libraries. It sounds simple, but remember, KISS! 


For most small business owners, cost will be a major factor when it comes to advertising. For many small business operators, the lion’s share of revenue will go to offset operating costs and be used as income for the small business owner. It is vitally important, though, to ensure some budget is carved out for advertising.

As you work on developing your advertising budget it is important to consider all costs before you dive into an advertising campaign. Let’s go over some potential cost issues.

Typically, the cost of an advertisement is simple. You agree to pay a certain amount in order to advertise through a particular advertising medium. For example, you if purchase a 15 second spot on a radio show, you may expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $350, depending on the size of the market and the caliber of the radio station.

However, this may not be the entire story. There may be other ancillary costs associated with the advertisement. Do you have to pay for someone to write your ad copy? Do you have to pay someone for their voice? Do you want to pay someone for their voice? Are there additional fees attached to your agreement?

Another cost factor you must consider as a small business advertiser is related to the Internet. In today’s market, it is nearly essential to have an Internet presence for your business. In fact, very few small businesses can succeed without an Internet presence.

Let’s assume you intend to advertise your small business using the Internet. You may decide to contract with Google, Bing, Yahoo or some other Internet search engine. While this may again seem patently obvious, in order to use the Internet to advertise, you will typically want to have a website on the Internet. This allows anyone who sees your online advertisement to connect directly with your business.

But this does increase the overall cost of online advertising. You must factor in domain name registration, website design and maintenance, website content, along with the cost of your online advertisement.

Be sure to leave no stone unturned as you consider the cost of your advertising campaign, and remember to factor in all ancillary costs into your advertising budget. 


In a different module, we covered the business plan; specifically, how to create it and why it is important. One aspect of the business plan we discussed was how it is a living document and can change as the circumstances of your small business change. Your advertising strategy should be part of your small business plan.

However, when you initially create your business plan, you may not be in a position to effectively outline an advertising plan. This part of your business plan should be constantly changing as your business and the economy around your business change. In this portion of the module, we will discuss using an advertising strategy as a factor in determining what the most appropriate advertising medium is for your small business. 

When developing a strategy for your advertising effort, it can be something that is eminently simple or something that is exceedingly complex. The complexity of your strategy will depend not only on what you want to do with your advertising, but also the type of business you are operating. For example, a lemonade stand on the side of the road will have a much simpler advertising strategy than a company that manufactures engine parts.

Now let’s take a look at several variables that will affect the complexity of your advertising strategy.

Strategy Variables

Here are some variables which may come into play for you as you develop your advertising strategy:

  • Message

  • Message frequency

  • Message creativity

Now let’s take a few minutes to review each of these variables and how they can affect the complexity of your advertising strategy.



The message you want to send can have a big impact on the level of complexity of your overall advertising campaign. Additionally, the message you want to convey to customers, and potential customers, may change from time to time. 

As a new small business, you may begin your advertising campaign with a new business/new product message. Over time, however, you may need to adjust your message depending on company circumstances, economic circumstances or marketplace changes. Some examples of messages you may want to deliver are:

  • New company

  • New product

  • New company direction

  • Competition with other companies

  • Maintaining your company position (advertising to maintain ground you have gained on competitors)

  • Special offer or sale

  • General information (advertising to inform customers or potential customers about your industry, product, marketplace, etc.)

Message Frequency

Once you have decided what your message will be, then it is time to decide how often you want to deliver that message to your target market. It is important for you to consider not only how often you are willing (or able) to deliver your message, but also how often your target market may need or want to hear your message?

Let’s go over a few frequency based issues to help guide your decision on how frequently you should deliver your message to your target market.

Here are some thoughts to consider regarding advertising message frequency:

  • Is your product or service well established in the target market?

    • More established in the market correlates to less frequency needed
    • Newer product or service typically requires more frequency needed
  • Are target customers loyal to your product or service?

    • High Loyalty = Less Frequency
    • Lower Loyalty = More Frequency
  • Is your product or service dominant within the target market?

    • If yes, little frequency is needed
    • If no, increase frequency in order to attempt to gain market share
  • Is there a purchasing cycle for your product or service?

    • Long cycle requires more frequency
    • Short cycle requires less frequency
  • What is the level of competition within your target market?

    • If there is a lot of strong competition, more frequency will typically increase your odds against your competition

  • Who is your target?

    • Younger target will generally require less frequency

    • Older target will generally require more frequency

As you plan your advertising strategy, it is important to keep in mind how to use the frequency of your message to gain advantage within your target market. While you want your small business and your product or service to be on the minds of your target market, you also want to avoid alienating those in your target market with too much frequency. 

Message Creativity

After you have planned the message and the frequency with which you intend to deliver that message, it is now time to consider how creative you need to be in presenting your message. The creativity of your message can have a significant effect on not only the complexity of your advertising strategy, but also the cost of your advertising campaign.

Let’s take a look at some considerations small business owners should review when determining how creative to get with an advertising message. 

Thomas Jefferson, in the Declaration of Independence, wrote that “all men are created equal” but he was not probably thinking about advertising creativity when he penned those famous words. While all may be equal in the eyes of the nation, we are certainly not equals when it comes to the ability to be creative.

Developing a creative way to present your message to your target market can have a great impact on the effectiveness of your message. However, it is important to keep in mind you may have to commit more resources to your advertising budget in order to obtain that creativity. What message you are sending to your target and who your target is will affect how creative your message should be. Bear in mind, though, a more creative message may come with a higher price tag. But, if the message hits the intended target, and has the intended result, your advertising dollar will be well spent.

Once you have determined the strategy you want to employ by determining your message, the frequency with which you deliver that message to your target market, and how creative you intend to be with your message, it is time to find the advertising medium that will work best.


Regardless of the industry your small business operates within, a presence on the Internet is nearly a must. While there may be isolated circumstances which would allow your small business to thrive without an Internet presence, the overwhelming force the Internet has become in our society makes it one of the most valuable advertising mediums you can use.

In order to make the most of any Internet advertising campaign you will want to have a website.  A website gives potential customers a place to find your small business and gives you a direction to guide those who respond to your Internet advertisements.

Let’s go over some of the different ways to use the Internet as an advertising medium.


Online Directory

One of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to generate Internet traffic to your small business website is to use online directories. You can typically advertise within an online directory for little or no upfront cost. Some of the more common online business directories are:

  • Google.com/local

  • Bing.com/local

  • Listings.local.yahoo.com

In addition to ordinary listings on these sites, you can often pay an increased fee to have an enhanced business profile, which will typically add additional features to your listing, making it more attractive and user-friendly.  Additionally, the enhancements you purchase can ensure a higher placement of your small business listing under specific search conditions, which may drive in more business.

Social Media

Social media is a phenomenon that began in the early 2000’s and has exploded into a worldwide enterprise that is deeply engrained into many different cultures internationally. This international reach makes social media a powerful tool to use to reach potential customers all over the world. Here are a few of the most common social networking sites:

  • Facebook

  • Twitter

  • Linkedin

Many businesses use social media sites to announce new or enhanced products and services or to offer sales and special offers. Through these social networking sites, you can advertise your small business a variety of different ways, bound only by your own creativity and ingenuity. 



Another online option that can be used to effectively and efficiently advertise your business is YouTube. Another Internet-based phenomenon that began in the mid 2000’s, YouTube is widely viewed around the world with up to 65, 000 videos uploaded to it each day, with millions of people visiting the website each month.

A technology savvy small business owner can use YouTube to do anything from demonstrate a product to run advertisements on the site. All with the flexibility for you to put as little or as much as you prefer into the production of your uploaded videos. This is an especially effective advertising medium if you are trying to reach a younger target market.


Another form of Internet media that is incredibly popular and can be useful as a low cost, far reaching advertising medium is blogging. A blog (coined from the terms “web log”) is a website that posts discussion or informational messages. You can use a blog to provide information about your small business, the products and services your small business provides, or information about your industry, or anything under the sun you think may be attractive to your target market. Additionally, you can use a blog to generate discussion about your small business or your industry in an attempt to create notoriety for your small business and increase traffic for your website.

Regardless of what advertising strategy you intend to implement, one thing is certain: you must have an Internet presence as part of that plan in order to maximize your advertising effectiveness. Using some, or all, of these Internet options as part of your advertising strategy can be an effective, low-cost way to get your message out to your target market. 

Television and Radio

Television and radio was once the only medium you could use (prior to the Internet) to quickly get an advertising message in front of a large audience. While these mediums are no longer the only game in town, if used correctly, they can be effective tools in your advertising arsenal. The downside to these media methods is increased frequency is often necessary in order to get your message out to your target, and that increase in frequency will increase your advertising cost.

However, there are often methods you can use to get your small business exposure on television or on the radio without purchasing advertisements. Participating in charity events or other community events that are covered by local television and radio stations can give you some exposure. Participating in contests, holding your own contest, or sponsoring your own event is another way you may be able to generate television and/or radio exposure without purchasing an advertisement.

Newspaper and Magazine

As the old guard in the advertising world, print advertisements give a different type of reach than many other advertising mediums. Typically, newspaper and magazine advertisements can be lower cost than television or radio advertisements, with the additional benefit of being around longer for potential target market exposure. In a television advertisement, those target market members who are not watching the television on the channel at the time of your spot will not see your advertisement. However, when you run an advertisement in a print medium there are days, weeks, months, and sometimes even years that the advertisement will survive for potential target market members to see.

Another consideration regarding this type of advertising medium is what demographic you are targeting. In some demographics, print media is still a significant source for news and entertainment; therefore, if you are targeting such a demographic, a print advertisement medium may be right for you.

A final consideration here is a bundling concept. Most, if not all, newspapers and magazines operate an Internet version of their media. Generally, purchasing a print advertisement will also buy you a spot on the print media’s website, giving this advertising method a bit more bang for your buck. 

Print Directories

Print directories, like the Yellow Pages, have been in existence for quite some time, and continue to do so. Whether you advertise in the print directory, or the online version of a print directory, you can be sure if a customer is looking for a specific product or service, this is one place anything can be found.

Print directory advertisements generally are not expense and may include both a print listing and an Internet listing in the print directory’s online version. For an additional cost, you can typically upgrade a general listing to add color, bolding, size or other features to make your advertisement stand out.

Before you sign up for a print directory advertisement, be sure to check the distribution locations and total distribution numbers to be sure the directory services your target market effectively.


Direct Mail

Direct mail advertising can be extremely effective if done correctly. One thing you can be sure of when advertising through a direct mail campaign:  at some point, someone will look at your advertisement.

Direct mail advertising targets a specific mailing list, and is sent using a bulk mail rate, which reduces the postage rate for each piece of mail sent. The downside to direct mail marketing is the cost involved to obtain a mailing list. These lists can be compiled by zip code, or by other marketing criteria. Advertisers will charge your small business a fee to mail your message to the mailing list they have created. Such lists can be extremely valuable to you if they coincide with your target market. You can also create your own direct mailing list, but it is a time-consuming process, and you may find it difficult to obtain the information needed to compile a meaningful list.

If you do choose the direct mail route, you can send a letter, postcard, product sample, coupon, special offer, or any other idea you can conjure up. While the cost is higher than some other advertising methods, the options you can utilize to hit your target market are almost limitless.

Business Cards

The business card is one of the simplest, most cost-efficient, and common advertising medium used for small businesses. The cost for 500 - 1,000 cards can range anywhere from $50 to $500, depending on the style and features you choose. In fact, you can even print your own business cards; however, the quality of self-print cards is generally not as high as those ordered through a professional and there is not much of a cost savings to go that route.

Regardless of what other advertising options you choose to use, business cards are an absolute must. The day you start operating your business you should have some business cards in hand. They are simple to order, simple to design, simple to pay for and simple to deliver. This is a staple for anyone who follows the “KISS” mantra. 


Have you ever been annoyed by a scrap of paper stuck under your windshield wiper after attending a sporting event or going to the grocery store? However irritating it may be at first to see on your wiper, the fact of the matter is that when you take it off your windshield, you read it. You may throw it away after you read it, but you do read it. HIT.  That is a direct hit on the bulls-eye of some small business owner’s target market. They wanted you to look, and you did.

This simple and cost-effective advertising medium may be annoying to many recipients, but it is a great way to deliver your message. Flyers can be delivered door-to-door, on cars in parking lots, to individuals by hand, posted on walls, poles and bulletin boards, or left in strategic places for anyone to pick up. Flyers are truly a KISS advertising staple.

Press Release

A press release is a short statement delivered to a media outlet for delivery to the public at its discretion. When Mircosoft issues a press release, it is run by just about every media outlet in the world. When Tom’s Tire Barn issues a press release, it may only be picked up by one local newspaper with 1,000 subscribers. Either way, your message has been delivered at little or no cost to you.

The press release can be an effective way to deliver messages to your target markets. As a small business owner, you want to be an important part of your community and you want everyone in your city or town to know who you are and what you do. So what do you need to do to get your press releases picked up by newspapers and other media outlets?

While not always the case, most times a press release is directed toward a newspaper or other print media outlet. You can also submit press releases to “online only” publications, as well as television and radio stations. So what is the key to getting your press release picked up by any (or all) media outlets in your area?

  • Relevance – The bigger and more important your small business is to the community, the more media outlets will say about you

  • Importance – The more important your message is, the more likely it is to be delivered.

  • Connections – It is still oftentimes about who you know rather than what you know. As you develop business relationships with various media outlets, you can use those connections to help convince media outlets to run your press releases

  • Timing – Press releases that are timed to coincide with newsworthy moments will be more likely to be picked up by media outlets

While it may take a bit of glad handing and politicking, a solid base of media outlets running your press releases is a great, low-cost method of delivering your message to your target market.

Community Events

Depending on the type of small business you are operating, and depending on your target market, participating in community-related events may be a good option for low-cost, high exposure advertising. Many communities have annual fairs or other regularly scheduled events attended primarily by those who live within the community. Helping to sponsor such an event, or having a presence at the event through a booth or other service, will give you an opportunity to meet face-to-face with potential target market members. In addition, such participation in community events can help you and your small business generate goodwill with community leaders.

Community events are a great way to provide samples, hand out information regarding your product or service, give out coupons or special offers and offer prizes. A great way to generate a contact list is to have individuals fill out an entry form for a giveaway, providing you with a name, address and phone number for future advertising campaigns.


Professional Groups

Regardless of where your small business is located, chances are there is at least one professional group or association for you to join. Professional groups and associations can provide a resource of networking contacts, as well as support as you build your small business. Here are a few examples of professional groups or associations you may be interested in:

  • Chamber of Commerce

  • Rotary Club

  • VFW

  • American Business Women’s Association

  • Youth Business America


While some professional groups and associations may require a membership fee, those fees can pay for themselves if you are able to gain access to your target market through the group or association.


There are many different ways you can advertise your small business. But, like all aspects of your business, a planned approach with adjustments and enhancements made as you proceed will ultimately lead to a successful small business.

Now that you have an idea of what you want to advertise, to whom you want to advertise to and how you want to deliver that advertising message, it is time to review how to determine how well your message is being received.


Track Results

As you undertake your advertising campaign, you are essentially working with three variables:

  • What is the message?

  • Who is the message being sent to?

  • How is the message being sent?

If you are not seeing the results you expect to see from your advertising campaign, the three questions above will need to be reviewed to be sure your advertising campaign is addressing the what, who and how in the best method possible.

How to determine what is and is not working with your advertising methods can be a difficult proposition. Nevertheless, it will be important for you to implement a tracking program in order ensure advertising success. Tracking the results of your advertising should focus on these three areas:

  • Tracking Method – What system or basis will you use to decide what is good and what is not working?

  • Tracking Purpose – What will the tracking data tell you about your advertising campaign?

  • Tracking Reaction – When you get results from tracking what should you do next?

Tracking Method

In many cases, the method you use to advertise your business will help you track the level of return on that advertising campaign. Some advertising methods will provide you with a built-in tracking method.

For example, if you are advertising your business through Google, Bing, Yahoo, or some other online search engine, you can typically expect a monthly report on the phone or Internet traffic routed to your business through the search engine. Several other advertising methods will provide you with built-in feedback as well. Any sale, coupon or other offer, which requires direct customer response to your advertisement, will allow you to record customer response.

Ultimately though, tracking advertising results comes down to an increase of not only customer traffic (to a website or brick and mortar location) but also, and mainly, an increase in sales of your product or service. So how can you isolate the effect your advertising dollars are having on your small business bottom line?

Tracking Method (Internet)

If working on tracking how advertising is affecting traffic to, or purchases through, your small business website you can use any of the following methods:         

  • Create a separate URL.  Using a specific URL through an advertising piece, regardless of what advertising method you use, will allow you to track the number of customers accessing your site through the designated URL. The URL will still lead to your small business website, yet the specific route taken will allow you to track where the customer came from.

  • Have a code or log-in number.  Giving customers a code or log-in number to access a particular page on your small business website will give you a good look at the number of customers responding to a particular advertising piece.

  • Make use of an online customer survey.  After a purchase or Internet inquiry, you can send your small business website traffic to a survey. Include all of your current advertising options within the survey and be specific; a specific and detailed survey will lead to more accurate feedback about your advertising results.

  • Use tracking software.  For an additional fee, you can install software, or hire a consultant, to track details of your small business website traffic. Although this may be the costliest method of tracking your advertising, it will be the most accurate.

Tracking Method (Telephone)

When working with advertising methods that solicit phone calls or phone orders, you will have other options to use as advertising tracking methods. Here are a couple of ideas you can use:

  • Use a special phone number. Similar to using a unique URL, you can use a specific phone number to track particular advertisements. Tracking the callers to this specific phone number will give you an accurate count of the number of customers responding to the advertisement including that phone number. 

  • Use a phone survey. Train employees to give telephone customers a quick survey over the phone after each sales call. The accuracy of this tracking method depends on the training and quality of your employees.

Tracking Method (In Person)

If your small business has a brick and mortar location, you can obtain tracking data directly from your customers when they visit you; this face-to-face method of obtaining tracking data may be the most effective. While a customer can decline to complete your survey, or answer your questions, it is more likely you will get a response when face-to-face with a customer than you will over the phone or on a website.

Create an accurate and detailed tracking survey for your employees to use, and you will get detailed and accurate data regarding how your customers are learning about your small business; this method will likely provide you with the most significant and accurate advertising tracking data.

Tracking Method (Sales Numbers)

The final advertising tracking method you can use to track the effectiveness of your advertising methods is to follow your sales numbers, which can be as detailed or basic as you want. The more detail you include in your analysis, the more accuracy you can expect in the results you obtain.

There are a number of factors to take into consideration when looking at sales data to determine the effectiveness of your advertising methods. Here are some items to consider:

  • Number and type of ongoing advertising campaigns

  • Pre-advertising sales data

  • Sales data time period(s) you will use for analysis

  • Economic factors

  • Externalities (other factors which could impact sales data)

Regardless of the system you use to track the effectiveness of your small business advertising methods, it is important to work on tracking how well your advertising dollars are working to help your bottom line.

Tracking Purpose

Most small businesses do not have large advertising budgets; therefore, it is important to efficiently use the advertising budget that is available. If something is working, you want to keep using it. If something is not working, you will likely stop using it and reallocate that money to a different advertising method.

In addition to tracking the relationship between advertising and sales, you may also want to track other types of advertising-related data. Maybe your advertising campaign was designed to generate more website or brick and mortar store traffic? Maybe you and a business associate engaged in a joint advertising campaign? Regardless of the advertising campaign or method used, it is important that you always keep in mind why you are tracking advertising-related data so you know what to do next.

Tracking Reaction

After you have determined how and why to track your advertising results, it is now time to determine your next steps. Your reaction to how advertising is working, or not working, will ultimately decide the success of your overall advertising program (and your business).

If you get feedback from an advertising campaign that many new and highly profitable customers have followed a particular advertising method, it stands to reason that you will want to continue with that type of advertising. However, if you see inconsistent returns, or less than expected return from an advertising campaign, it would be wise to adjust your advertising strategy.

Here are some questions each small business owner should ask when evaluating results from advertisement tracking:

  • Does the evaluation effectively isolate an advertising medium?
  • Are the evaluation results accurate?
  • Is the advertising campaign reaching my target?
  • Is there a way to make a successful advertising campaign more successful?
  • Can I adjust an underperforming advertising campaign to make it work?
  • Is my advertising earning more than I am spending?


Undertaking a new small business venture is a difficult task for certain, and the path to success is filled with challenges and pitfalls. Using advertising can help your small business beat the odds and become a great success.


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