Advertising on a Small Business Budget

When most people think of marketing, they think of advertising. As my recent article Marketing: A Misunderstood Word shows, there is a whole lot more to marketing. However, advertising is still a major and important component of your overall small business marketing strategy.  

Here’s the thing: advertising on a small business budget can almost seem like an oxymoron. If you’re like me, you find yourself often sweeping this important aspect of business under the rug. Or perhaps you throw a few dollars at it here or there only to find, not surprisingly, that it does not work. 

So how do you advertise effectively on a small business budget? First, let’s make some clarifications. There are two different purposes for advertising, both equally important. The first and most common form is to use media to try and drive new sales. I call this “call to action advertising.” Generally, it revolves around some sort of promotion or limited time offer to drive immediate sales. 

The other purpose of advertising is what I call “top of mind awareness advertising.” This is all about trying to get the public to realize and remember that you exist. That way, when they need what you offer, they will immediately think of you. These advertisements generally focus more on the product or service themselves, or perhaps the value and vision of the company. They are not meant to drive direct sales, but instead, help to create loyal customers and future sales. 

OK, now for the big question: how do you apply this to a small business advertising budget? I am so glad you asked! The big mistake that most small businesses make (I have made it too) is that we try to follow the same tactics that big businesses use. We see them advertising everywhere, so we do the same. The problem is that when we do this, all we can afford is one or two radio ads a day (or even a week) on one station, a sporadic Facebook post boost, a day-long Google ad campaign that runs out of money after 12 clicks, and, if we splurge, a ⅛ page black and white ad in our favorite local magazine, who puts us right next to the full page, full color ad of our competitor.  Basically, all we did was pay for a few advertising sales reps to have an extra beer tonight with their buds. What we did not do was create a noticeable impact that got our potential customers attention.  

Here is a better idea: figure out where your customers are (we will talk about consumer research in our next article) and focus all your energy and budget in those one or two areas. For example, own the radio, or Facebook, or the magazine, or whatever. The bottom line, instead of looking like the little dog running all over the place, be the big dog in one place. More importantly, spend the money on advertising resources that help customers find you, such as Google and Facebook, or on a great website that is mobile friendly and search engine optimized. In a nutshell, show up big where your customers are looking.