9 Steps: How Do I Advertise My Small Business?

Brad Nakase, Attorney

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Can you relate to this story about advertising your small business?

Jenny has just opened her new bakery, where she sells cakes, muffins, and donuts to the local community. However, since opening her new shop, Jenny has had a hard time getting customers to buy her pastries. She notices that a bakery across town is doing very well, and she wonders if they get the word out better than she does. Jenny wonders how she can advertise her business better. She has a website and puts ads in the local newspaper. However, she realizes that a lot of the other bakery’s customers are young, hip people with mobile phones. She tries putting ads on Facebook and Instagram, and within a week, dozens more people are showing up at her bakery. Jenny also goes around town to give out samples of her cupcakes, and soon word spreads about her business. By learning how to advertise effectively, Jenny takes her business to the next level.

Sometimes, a business owner has come up with a great idea for a company and has been successful in getting it up and running. And yet, business is not booming, The problem? The owner has not thought about how to advertise his or her business. Some people are naturals at running companies but are confused when it comes to advertising their goods or services. Luckily, there are nine easy steps to follow that can help a business owner create an effective strategy for advertising his or her business.

However, what with all the options available for advertising, it can be a confusing subject for many entrepreneurs. Among these choices are pay-per-click ads on internet search engines and email lists. Perhaps more popular and on trend are paid advertisements on social media sites, as well as posts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to get likes and followers. There are also the more traditional methods of advertising such as newspapers, radio, magazines, TV, and coupons. With all these choices available, which should a business owner use?

The fact is that every small business owner is likely to give you a different answer to that question. What works for one business may not work for another. For example, the owner of a tech company may find that publishing in a trade magazine is the best option for them. A gardener may tell you that posting ads in a local newspaper gets him the most business. A bakery owner may say that word-of-mouth gets them the most customers. Perhaps an online jewelry store doesn’t pay for ads at all and simply posts on social media to gain followers. Again, it really depends on the type of business and how effectively these methods are employed.

As discussed above, there are nine steps that a business owner can follow to help determine what method of advertising best suits his or her business.

  1. How to Know Your Customer

    The first step in deciding how best to advertise one’s business is to figure out who one’s customers are. Not knowing what kind of customers are attracted to one’s business means that the consumer base is extremely limited. Therefore, profit is limited too.

    Example: Kerry runs a knitting and sewing shop. Most of her customers are curious tourists and a few local hobbyists. Unsure of how to attract more customers, Kerry asks her friend for advice. Her friend tells her that there is a senior living center just down the road, and many of the residents are avid knitters. It turns out that Kerry had never made any attempt to advertise locally, or she would have had plenty of customers from the senior living center. All she had done was try to advertise by word of mouth and via her website. It would have been better to publish an ad in a local newspaper and perhaps hold public knitting sessions at local community centers.

    To ensure that one is advertising to the right people, it is best to create a profile of the most likely candidates. A business owner should think about basic metrics including age, income, occupation, industry, education, location, and sex. Beyond these basics, an owner should consider their customers’ goals, challenges, and problems.

    It is not enough to simply guess at this information. One must conduct enough research that he or she is working with facts. Information can be found in trade magazines, as well as from friends, relatives, and business contacts.

  2. How to Know What Your Customer Expects

    While creating a customer profile is an important part in figuring out how best to advertise a business, so is learning about customer expectations. A business owner must determine how customers generally learn about the product or service, as well as what encourages them to purchase it. To collect this information, it is best to interview customers and ask where they shop for what one sells, as well as what motivates them to buy. There are some questions that a business owner should ask customers to determine these answers:

    • Does the customer impulse-buy this product or service?
    • Does the customer do research before buying the product/service?
    • Do paid ads influence the customer?
    • Where does the customer expect to find paid ads? On social media, in newspapers, etc.?
    • Does the customer ask friends for recommendations?
    • Does the customer ask business contacts or professionals for recommendations?
    • Do product reviews influence the customer?
    • Does the customer expect to find the product/service on Amazon or at Target?
    • Does the customer look for coupons?
    • Does the customer look for a brand name?
    • Does the customer look for a convenient place to buy the product/service?
    • Does the customer require a demonstration before purchasing?
    • Do telephone solicitations influence the customer?
    • Does the customer expect to see ads for the product/service on radio or TV?
    • Does the customer look for specific features in the product/service?

    The answers to these questions should help a business owner figure out how best to advertise to attract customers.

  3. How to Set Goals for Ad Performance When Advertising?

    For advertising to be successful in attracting customers, it has to be planned out. In order to plan advertising for a product or service, a business owner should establish certain marketing goals. He or she should also write down ways of reaching those targets. Goals should not be vague such as “sell more.” Make the goals specific by writing “get 25 more orders per month.” It is also important to set realistic goals based on the response rate for the method by which one is advertising. Also, one has to be realistic when it comes to producing the work. For instance, one should not expect the same amount of interest from a local newspaper ad as a post on Facebook. Also, if a businessperson is averaging fifty units a month and sets a goal to hit three hundred units the next month, this is not a realistic goal to achieve.

    If a business owner has never advertised before, then it would be advisable to get in touch with some non-competing businesses and ask for their advice regarding advertising. If they have similar customers, what strategies have they found successful in appealing to them? A business owner should also browse the internet to see if there are forums, such as those on Reddit, for people in the same industry. It may be possible to find discussions of advertising methods.

  4. How to Choose the Best Advertising Media to Reach Customers?

    When it comes to advertising, what works for one business may not work for another. For example, a landscaping business may have success putting advertisements in local newspapers and organizing a direct mail campaign with local building managers. However, a bakery may find more visual media like Instagram to be most effective in attracting customers.

    It is also useful to keep in mind that advertising costs are related to audience size. This means that the larger the audience, the more a business pays for advertisement. One should remember that only a small percentage of those who see an ad are likely to respond to it, while the others who ignore it mean wasted money. It is better to save money and focus on media that serves the type of people who match one’s customer profile.

    If a business owner decides to buy ads on search engines or social media, it is useful for them to review instructions about audience targeting. There should be a place to select age, sex, location, and other characteristics that buyers would have in common. It may also be wise to select certain times of the day or week when the ad would appear.

    If a business owner is buying banner advertisements or sponsored content on websites, he or she should ask the website about its audience demographics. It is good to know how much of the audience would be a good match for one’s product or service.

    If a business owner wants to buy ads in print or radio media, then he or she should ask for a media kit and ask if they have options for local targeting. If a business is only serving customers in Los Angeles, then it won’t make sense to have ads run in San Francisco. If a business owner chooses to advertise his or her business on the radio, then he or she should determine what show it will play during and what the target demographics of the particular show are.

    It is good practice to calculate the percentage of an audience that matches one’s customer profile. Advertising money should be spent wisely, meaning it should not be spent on media that caters mostly to customers outside one’s target profile.

    It is also important to note that advertising is usually sold on a cost per thousand (CPM) basis. One should be realistic when it comes to assessing the results of an ad. Banner ads, for example, are only clicked .33% of the time. This means that if one’s banner ad is shown to 300,000 people on the internet, then only 99 people will select it. Even fewer people will actually proceed to buy the product or service advertised. Similarly, in print media, only a small percentage of viewers will proceed to buy the product or service.

  5. Should a Business Advertise Where Competitors Advertise?

    A business owner should pay attention to how and where competitors have been advertising their businesses. For example, if a similar business has been putting ads on Facebook for months, then they are probably working. It is therefore wise to do as they do and put ads in the same places. Not only will this save money by reducing the trial-and-error process, it will also allow one’s product or service to directly compete with the other business’ on the same platform.

  6. How to Decide on the Purpose of an Advertisement?

    While every ad is meant to sell something, the specific purpose of an ad can vary. Some ads may be used to provide information, others may be to get orders, and still others may be used to increase brand recognition. A business owner should decide what the goal of the ad is before placing it.

  7. How to Write with the Customer in Mind?

    An ad should tell customers what the business can do for them, or how it can solve their specific problem. Therefore, an ad should not say something along the lines of “we are proud to present our new line of shoes.” How does the new line of shoes help the customer? It is better to say, “our new line of shoes has the most padding ever.” Customers looking for comfortable shoes will take note.

  8. Is It Better to Start Small or Big When It Comes to Advertising?

    When first starting out, it is not wise to waste an entire advertising budget on one campaign. A business is better advised to begin with small, focused campaigns to test different types of ads and see what works best. For instance, a business might find that while radio doesn’t play well to customers, social media works very well. In addition, a change in keywords or headlines can make a big difference. Sometimes changing a single word in an ad can turn it from a dud into a winner.

  9. How to Test and Measure an Advertisement?

Advertising is a never-ending process. Companies like McDonalds and Geico never run the same commercial. They are constantly thinking of new, creative ideas to attract new customers. It is necessary for a business to test ads and see how they perform with an audience. Sometimes, a clever headline does not read well with customers. Perhaps a buy-one-get-one-free coupon is not as appealing as a 25%-off coupon. Testing these different types of ads will allow a business to see what works best.

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