Affordable advertising for small business

With average costs of advertising at 1-5% of gross sales, it’s easy to see how these costs can vary depending on locations, local rates, and type of industry. In order to achieve top results for your advertising dollar, you need to utilize some creative techniques. Many small businesses make the mistake of, “Whatever is left over, we’ll use for advertising.” Are you guilty of this line of thought? This article aims to shift your perspective from advertising as an expense to the reality of advertising as an investment by giving you several business advertising ideas and advertising techniques for getting your company known.

1. Co-op opportunities.
Are you a full-time retailer? Is your business service-oriented? Either way, you should consider co-op opportunities. Co-op advertising is an arrangement between a manufacturer and a vendor to share costs for advertising programs. As a group, manufacturers set aside an estimated $30 million each year to help businesses get more out of their advertising dollar. Co-op opportunities are available in a variety of advertising methods, e.g. Yellow Page listings, print ads, television commercials, radio spots. For more information about co-op opportunities, contact the Yellow Pages Publishers Association ( or at (800) 841-0639). You can also consult your local library’s copy of the Co-op Source Directory (National Register Publishing).

2. Cross-promotion.
Do you want to attract more customers with less effort? Join forces with other credible people who also reach your market by offering “bundled” savings and joint media appearances and events. Some cross-promotion ideas include collaboratively produced how-to’s or resource booklets/ videos, co-branding, coop advertising, and shared space. Easy steps to cross promotion can also include printing joint promotional messages on your receipts, and offering a reduced price, special service, or convenience if customers buy products from you and your partner. Try dropping one another’s flyers in shopping bags, and pooling mailing lists to send out a joint promotional postcard. Share inexpensive ads in local shopping papers or a nonprofit event program. Give your partner’s product to your customers when they buy a large quantity of your product, and ask your partner to do the same. Start with these ideas and you’ll see why joining forces with other businesses can greatly increase your advertising power and your marketing reach.

3. The Yellow Pages.
Many potential clients continue to use the phone book’s yellow pages to find local information. There are a variety of package options to consider, and many of them include online listings or inclusion in a yellow pages application. In this medium, you’ll want to purchase the largest ad you can afford; this way you’ll catch your customer’s eye before your competition does.

4. Newspaper advertising.
Did you know that local newspapers often showcase a particular business in a special advertising feature article? Yes, they also offer typical box ads and advertising inserts, but don’t limit yourself here. Consider writing a business press release with a human-interest story or try an editorial style ad. These are ads that look like actual stories in the newspaper, but have “advertisement” at the top of the article. Develop a good headline, and an estimated 50% more people will read the article than would read an ad of the same size. Don’t forget to advertise in special interest newspapers, if available in your area. These papers are targeted to a particular audience, and it might be exactly the audience you want to reach.

5. Direct mail.
Another idea for effective advertising is direct mail. An IBM study found that direct mail advertising reduced selling time from 9.3 to 1.3 total hours. A Sales and Marketing Executives International Study showed salespeople went from eight orders per 100 cold calls to 38 orders per 100 when direct mail was used. Unlike email or telemarketing, direct mail is more favorably received, especially if addressed by name rather than the generic “resident” or “mail recipient.” Even if you don’t have access to a mailing list, you can target a particular geographic area for recipients. This method is especially effective if used as a “follow up” to another advertising medium.

6. Magazine advertising.
Another way to reach a target market is by using magazines. Selection of the particular magazine or e-zine that best matches your desired audience is key here. Ask monthly magazines about end of the month discounts for utilizing their unsold ad space.

7. Business cards.
No, not the traditional card that is thrown away once pockets are emptied. This business card is something your customers and clients can actually use. These days, you can get information printed on just about anything. Consider using something like refrigerator magnets, message pads, coasters, mouse pads, or palm-sized magnetic calendars. Be creative!

8. Vehicle advertising.
Using your vehicle for business advertising not only works, it could also be a tax write-off and pay for itself (check with your local tax office for specifics here). If you’re not ready for custom graphics, consider a magnetic sign that you can remove when you like.

9. Sending promotional material in an invoice
If you’re already paying for postage, put a little something in the envelope that can advertise your business. To entice new customers, consider a “bring-a-friend” promotion. Is there someone in your town that sends out a lot of bills? Can you put a small flyer in with their bills and split the postage? Or pay a small fee?

10. Cable TV advertising.
Even if you can’t afford advertise during the World Series, you don’t want to dismiss TV advertising for your small business. Cable television companies will often have deals within the budget of a small business owner. The cost can be low and the ability to pinpoint neighborhoods and demographic groups is easily available. If you’re still unsure, try contacting some of the local businesses you see advertising on cable. Ask them their opinion and experience using this medium for advertising. Some spots to ask about include TV Guide Listings, Real Estate channels, and running infomercials. Place your ads in off hours for less.

11. Radio advertising.
Radio adverts are another effective and relatively inexpensive medium. Consider offering products/ services to local personalities for testimonials. Hearing about your business from someone who has had a positive experience takes “word of mouth” to the next level. Specialists in radio, newspapers and magazine will often give free assistance in developing an advertising strategy. Another strategy to make this medium more affordable is to reduce the length of your radio spots. A 60 second spot is not twice as much as a 30 second spot and you won’t get twice as many customers for a 60 over a 30. Going with shorter spots will allow you to do more ads, which normally pulls more customers.

12. Bench/bus stop advertising.
Local small business advertising can be as simple as being there while people are waiting. Transit advertising is a great way to reach a mass audience. For more information, contact your local transit company for possibilities on bench, bus and shelter advertising.

13. Local website advertising.
Does your town or city have a local area website? Having your business listed on this site will not only reach a growing local online audience, but it will also reach potential customers who are new to the area. Small business online advertising can be as simple as having your name in the list.

14. Trade show participation.
A trade show offers your small business the opportunity to be seen and be known. But, you don’t have to get in on the larger, more expensive variety. There are a number of smaller opportunities available. Ask you local business association about planning a show for small businesses in the area. Get the best return on investment from the trade shows you exhibit at by planning well, promoting your presence, and putting together the best trade show displays and exhibits. There are lots of tools on the Internet to help you with these aspects of trade shows.

15. Email advertising.
Rather than considering bulk email spam, which is a growing annoyance, think about using email advertising to communicate with current customers. Use an existing in-house mailing list or develop one by asking customers to register with you for future deals, coupons, or members-only sales.

16. Community involvement.
People like to do business with good people. Let your community know that you are a business that cares by getting involved. Choose a charitable event or community association with home you can get involved: buy shirts with your logo for the local little league sports team or sponsor academic competitions at your local public schools. A fun-run, golf tournament, or other event that will also be well publicized in the community. There are limitless possibilities. Find a need and meet it with your advertising dollar.

17. eBay listings.
Small business online advertising should not be limited to traditional markets. Each time you list an item for auction on eBay, you are advertising your business to viewers of the listing. For a small percentage fee (only when the item is sold) you can take advantage of either the auctions option or the Buy it Now method of eBay sales.

With any marketing strategy, you’ll need to analyze your advertising techniques. Track your results by keying your ads. This strategy will help you know which mediums are most effective. You can do this by putting something in the ad that will let you know which media it came from. On coupons, put a code that will record the paper and date of the ad. In radio or TV, have them mention the ad to get the discount. Ask customers how they found you.

Last, but probably most important is to always give your customer more than you promised and more than they expected. This will keep them coming back time and time again. By choosing and focusing on several of these advertising ideas, you’ll be able to grow your customer base quickly and effectively.