Small Business Advertising 101

By Matt Smolsky , last updated November 17, 2011

Small business advertising has changed dramatically over the past several years. While traditional, offline advertising is still important, online advertising is becoming a powerful force. Here are small business advertising 101 tips you can use to help your business get business.

Identify Your Goals

Before you spend any time or money on advertising, identify your goals, consider your strategy and clarify your message. Do you want to generate leads or sales? What role will advertising play in achieving your goals? How much are you willing to spend? How are your competitors advertising, and should you be running against them or should you be advertising in a different media? What will you do if you're wildly successful? And what is Plan B if Plan A doesn't work as expected?

Then, craft a clear and concise message. Summarize your key benefits in just a couple of sentences. This is sometimes called an "elevator speech." You should be able to summarize your business in the time it takes an elevator to move from one floor to another, the idea being you never know how long a customer will have to listen to you, so keep it short. Some are saying that with the advent of Twitter an elevator speech should be no more than 140 characters (including spaces).

Free Advertising

Now, you're ready to think about advertising. Before you spend a lot of money on mailings, newspaper ads or paid online search, look for free ways to advertise. Set up a Facebook page for your small business and find friends. Start a Twitter account. Create an active presence for yourself on LinkedIn, making sure to associate yourself with your company. There are online tools to help you build a website for free. Create a free blog from Wordpress or Blogspot. But be sure you populate it with credible content. Get listed in all the important online search directories (Google, for example). Additionally, find out what industry-specific online directories are right for you.

Once you've taken these steps, you're ready to jump into paid advertising. Try advertising on Google and perhaps Yahoo/Bing. If you use traditional media, newspapers, TV and radio stations, and mailing houses can usually help you craft your ad, if it's simple. If not, you may need to enlist an ad agency. Think about creative options, such as car signs.

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