Get Your New Business “Out There” and Known at Minimal Advertising Cost
By Christopher J. Bachler
You can’t expect business to come to you. You must go after it. And the most effective way is through advertising. Of course that costs money. But that shouldn’t be a deterrent, because there are lots of simple strategies for getting your message out without breaking your bank.
Display ads are the traditional backbone of small business advertising. Typically posted in newspapers and magazines, these noticeable ads rely on large print, photos, and illustrations to grab readers’ attention. How large they should be and how often they are run are decisions you must make, depending on your budget. Just remember that if they’re not seen because they are too small or run too infrequently, all that money spent is wasted!
If you do run display ads, therefore, follow these suggestions:
• Research the circulation and demographical reach of the publications you select. All publications provide these lists, and many post them online.
• Don’t be timid. Run the largest ads you can afford for as long as you can.
• Consider seasonality. If you sell summer apparel, you obviously want to run your ads at the right time.
• Prepare ads that stand out. Ask the publisher for ideas on how to do this. If your ad appears on a page with many other display ads, you won’t want it to blend with theirs. Bold colors can make an ad more visible. If the ads are black and white, provide ample white space around the periphery of your ad.
• Persist. Just because an ad didn’t pull once doesn’t mean it won’t the next time. So give it another try. It takes time and persistence to get your ad formula down to a science.
Direct Mail Budget
Despite rising postal costs, direct mail remains the most cost-effective means of advertising for most small businesses—assuming that it’s used effectively.
Your direct mail strategy should be based on the kind of business you’re in, your competition, and your target market. For instance, businesses that must sell low markup items in large quantities will not be likely to benefit from direct mail—though cooperative coupon packets might work.
Of course, you must closely consider your target audience. If you’re targeting average households, an extensive post card mailing might work, simply based on the law of high numbers. This approach might work well for house painters, landscapers, and other home services.
If you’re targeting large business organizations, you’ll need to upscale your approach dramatically. In other words, post cards are out, and a more professional look is required. You don’t want to look cheap or unsophisticated. You also want a mailer that will go to the boss, and not be tossed by a screener. Therefore, choose mailers ranging from personal letters to large packets containing useful information. So it won’t look like junk mail, try plain large envelopes with handwritten addresses. Write something attention-getting on the outside in red ink, such as “Enclosures.”
More important than mailer design is targeting strategy. That’s why you must identify company decision-makers before you send your mailer. Who’s in the position to hire you? It’s not necessarily the president. Send it to her, therefore, and she may or may not route it to the right person. If you can’t identify the best person to target, try sending separate mailers to three key decision makers, such as the president, Manager of Human Resources, and Purchasing Director.
As with simple post card mailings, business mailings should be done in sufficiently high numbers. No matter what your product, market, or approach, the more people you reach, the more likely you’ll be to get results.
Introduce Yourself through Low-cost Post Cards
One inexpensive way to get attention is by sending post cards. Less expensive than packaged or slick mailers, post cards can be produced inexpensively and mailed at a cheaper rate than standard first class mailers. Post card messages are also hard to miss because the message jumps to the reader’s attention. Focus on getting your target’s attention and response. You might make special offers to those that reply.
Post cards are generally best used as a way to introduce your business. Once people know you, they’ll be more likely to notice your subsequent ads. But don’t use them too often—you don’t want to look like a two-bit operation.
Your Web Site
If you haven’t set up a web site, consider doing so. It won’t guarantee more sales. But it can help; and it can provide you and prospective customers with enormous convenience. People can explore your site any time of the day or night without taking your time. Inquiries and orders will also be easy to make.
E-mailed newsletters are a relatively easy and inexpensive way to grab people’s attention while generating interest in your products or services. It’s easy because you get to write about things you know best. It’s inexpensive because printing and mailing costs can be bypassed.
Since your newsletters are free, moreover, you may provide them any time or on any terms you wish. But if time is short, or if you have trouble writing them, you might enlist the help of business partners, or even someone in a related line of business. For instance, a marketing consultant might ask printing contractors, specialty advertising services, or others that want to reach the same audience to write columns for your newsletter.
There’s a universe of online advertising opportunities through such popular search engines as Google, Yahoo, Bing, Ask.com, and others. Simply go to their sites and review the easy-to-read information about advertising for small businesses. How much you spend on these ads will be up to you.
Before you place your online ad, carefully choose your keywords—those magic words you use in your ad or web site that will draw browsers to your site. For instance, someone who paints personal portraits might use such keywords as “Personal portraits,” in their ad, knowing that online shoppers interested in such services would be likely to search the Internet under those words. The more frequently you use certain logical keywords, the more highly-placed your site will be on the Web. To get specific information on how to do this, check the sites where you advertise, Internet information sites on the Web, and related articles published in this magazine.
Posting Links on Related Sites
Your web site will be of little value unless people can find it. But to get them there you’ve got to find ways to reach them. You can do that by posting links at sites where your likely customers are likely to go. For instance, an entrepreneur who sells healthcare-related books and CDs might establish links on sites that provide health-related information or products. You might also be able to trade links with other sites that wish to advertise on your site. But you’ll need to invest time researching all the Net’s possibilities.
Gathering E-mail Addresses
You can’t e-mail newsletters or anything else without getting your target’s permission. Here are some ways to do that:
1. Solicit from your own web site. Make your readers an offer such as your free online newsletter, information bulletins, or anything else they might want.
2. Ask current and past customers for their e-mail addresses and permission to send them occasional e-mails. Just don’t abuse the privilege.
3. Ask all key contacts for their e-mail addresses. Offer yours, too. First, it shows a spirit of reciprocity and consideration. Second, they might want to follow up with you. HBM
Christopher J. Bachler is a 20+-year veteran business writer and editor, based in Drexel Hill, PA.
Previously published in the October 2009 issue of HOME BUSINESS® Magazine, an international publication for the growing and dynamic home-based market. Available on newsstands, in bookstores and chain stores, and via subscriptions ($19.00 for 1 year, six issues). Visit www.homebusinessmag.com