Ah, the good ole days of advertising, Mad Men-style. Ad agencies wooing business prospects over martini lunches. Pitching storyboards from post-modern conference rooms overlooking Central Park, with carb-heavy snacks dutifully served by a curvaceous receptionist…
Wait, maybe it wasn’t so great.
Besides the blurry ethics and sexist workplace, advertising-opportunities-of-old were pretty limited. Print. TV. Billboards. Radio. Businesses with limited budgets were relegated to the B list — a place where advertising time and dollars were best spent handing out fliers and business cards, shelling out for a 10-second radio spot, and once in a while, placing a quarter-page ad in the Saturday edition of the local paper.
That was before the Internet.
Now, even startups can get the word out about their products and services without having to schlep home laser-printed pamphlets from parking lot to parking lot. For much less than the cost of a local TV spot, you can market your business with online ads and social media, blogging and e-mail marketing campaigns. And you don’t have to be a big business to get noticed.
You just need an advertising plan and a dash of Zen.
The best-laid (advertising) plans
If you haven’t kept a formal list of your advertising efforts, now’s the time to start. Knowing what works, what doesn’t, and when you last tried it, will help you create an effective advertising plan for your small business. No matter where you are in your business journey, a strong plan will do more than get your message to your target audience; it will convey your business’s unique style, suit your budget, and promise a strong return on investment. In the words of the wise Thich Nhat Hanh:
“Every thought you produce, anything you say, any action you do, it bears your signature.”
That includes your advertising plan. Here’s how to get started:
Review your history
Take a deep breath. Open up a spreadsheet to start recording an inventory of everything you’ve tried so far to market your business. Note any action you’ve taken (cost, time investment, dates, duration). Categorize everything:
- Online advertising. Pay-per-click advertising, banner ads, text ads on partner sites.
- Email marketing. Sending electronic newsletters, adding subscription tools to your site to grow your email list.
- Print advertising. Newspaper or magazine ads, business cards, direct mail postcards, brochures or fliers.
- Social networking. Maintaining your business profile and engaging with customers and prospects on platforms like Facebook®, Twitter® and Pinterest®.
- Blogging. Writing your own blog, responding to or submitting articles or features to other people’s blogs, RSS feeds, etc.
- Online directories. Your business listing on both global (i.e. Google®, Yelp® and YP.com®) and local (i.e. Chamber of Commerce) listings sites.
- Live networking. Handing out business cards, professional memberships, public speaking.
- Search engine optimization (SEO). Tweaking website content to attract traffic “organically,” an ever-changing art.
Now, go deep. Think about each of these efforts. Be honest about what is and isn’t working. Let go of anything that’s not yielding a return — especially if it’s costing you money. You can always try it again later.
Decide on a strategy
Now it’s time to project. From your shortened list, pick one or two items to focus on improving over the next six months. Decide how much time you’re willing to dedicate each week (without having to skip your yoga class or feed your children canned ravioli). If there’s a cost associated with the advertising item, budget what that will be.
Here are a few examples:
Increase awareness with business cards
- Cost: Less than $20 to print custom business cards with a service like Vistaprint
- Time: 10 minutes to two hours per week
- Strategy: Carry business cards with you at all times. Share them with anyone you meet who shows an interest in your business, whether you’re at a client meeting, your Rotary Club, or a party where the topic of what you do for a living comes up in conversation. Give each person multiple cards, one for them and another one or two to share with someone they know who might also be interested in your services.
Drive traffic to your website with a banner ad
- Cost: About $200/month (costs will vary from $0 to thousands, depending on where you choose to place your ad)
- Time: 3 hours
- Strategy: Banner ads are those rectangular ads you see in the margins of just about every website. When someone clicks on a banner ad, they’re typically taken to the advertiser’s website, where they can redeem the offer or shop for whatever is advertised in the banner.
Promote your business with email
- Cost: Starting at about $10/month for an online email marketing tool
- Time: One to five hours per month
- Strategy: This assumes you have a list of email addresses to start with. If so, subscribe to an email builder and customize one of the email templates. Start by sending one information-filled email every 10 days to two weeks (“Check out our latest offerings.” “SAVE 10% now through Thursday!”, etc.). Track customer responses, resending emails that work and stop sending those that don’t.
Need mobile-friendly email designs that look great on any device? Use GoDaddy Email Marketing.
Once you’ve got your strategy, mark to-do dates on your calendar and celebrate! Light some incense, express your gratitude, and relax. You’ve completed a task that all successful business owners do routinely to keep their businesses growing … your way.