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25 Low Cost Small Business Advertising Tips

Updated: Mar 17, 2021

If there’s one mistake small town businesses make more often than any other it's, "Whatever’s left over, we'll use for advertising."

Marketing and advertising are an investment, not an expense. I know it sure seems like an expense to me when I'm writing the check ‑ but trust me it's not.

Without enough money put aside for advertising your sales can go down and you suddenly have less and less for promotion.

When do you advertise the most? For most businesses it's the first day of business. Don't you have a Grand Opening, balloons, flyers, ads, on-site radio stations, contests, and prizes?

Did the income from sales pay for that? No, it didn't. You advertise most when you need business. You advertise more when you don't.

An average cost of advertising is usually 1 to 5% of gross sales, which can vary according to location, local advertising rates, and industry. Car dealers need more advertising than funeral homes.

Before we get to the 25 tips let's look at the basic strategies of successful advertising.

* In order to be successful, your advertising must provide a consumer benefit or solve a problem. * That benefit, or solution must be wanted by the consumer. * The product or service you’re offering must be tied directly to that benefit or solution. * The benefit or solution must be distinctly communicated through medial advertising.

In other words, be clear, forget the advertising glitz and make sure the message isn't lost in the ad.

A small-budget advertiser doesn't have the ''deep pockets" to develop big advertising campaigns. Some time you need to break the rules to be noticed. Avis did it by admitting they were "Number 2" in the car rental business and that campaign took them from 6th place to second place. When they stopped that campaign, they dropped back to 6th again.

Budget conscious advertisers must achieve top results for their advertising dollar. Expand your dollars by adopting some creative techniques.

Two very important final thoughts before we get to the 25 Tips.

One, never, ever advertise anywhere unless you are confident the ad will produce more in sales than it costs.

Two, when logic and emotion come into conflict emotion always wins.

Here's 25 tips I hope will help you.

1. Radio, newspapers and magazine specialists will frequently give free help in developing an advertising strategy. Things like demographic information, money-saving ways to produce your ads etc.

2. Place your ads in off hours or in unusual locations for less. Many times, you can still reach your target market with these spots.

3. Instead of a one-time big splash ad, be consistent with frequent small ads that work.

4. Monthly magazines sometimes have unsold ad space at the end of the month they will sell at a discount.

5. If you have a website, put it in every ad for immediate response and feedback.

6. Try advertising consistently in the classifieds. These ads may draw more customers than more expensive display ads.

7. Can you barter for the cost of ad production? Maybe the newspaper needs painting in exchange for an ad about your paint store.

8. Piggyback advertising are the ads you receive with your Mastercard bill. 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?

9. Split advertising costs with the people who sell to you. Vendors and manufacturers are always looking for exposure. Let people know you carry their products and have the vendor pick up part of the ad cost.

10. Are there up-front advertising discounts for cash?

11. Consider advertising in regional issues of national magazines. The costs are lower, and you can still reach your target market.

12. Share ad costs with neighbor business. Have coupons to each other’s stores or share the cost of flyers.

13. Try reducing the size of your ad or length of your radio spots. A 60 second spot is not twice as much as a 30 second spot but you won't get twice as many customers for a 60 over a 30. Going with small ads or shorter spots will allow you to do more ads which normally pulls more customers. It's better to be there every day with small ads than once a month with one big one.

14. Develop tight production controls to minimize the need to reject finished ads. The message is more important than the messenger. Don't try to produce ads that win awards, — produce ads that sell.

15. Who are your very best customers? Aim your ads to talk directly to people like them.

16. What will suppliers give you in the way of point-of-purchase materials. Posters, stand ups, handouts, etc. Some have excellent display racks you can use.

17. Some national chains like Coke and Pepsi provide outdoor signs for businesses. There are also indoor lighted signs you write on with special markers to advertise your special offers.

18. Can you sponsor a community event? A fun-run, golf tournament, or other event that will be well publicized in the community. Your name may not be prominently displayed but sometimes the positive exposure in the community will bring in new customers.

19. Small businesses can seldom afford saturation advertising. You must be selective in the media that reaches your customers. Pin your ad reps down and make them show you exactly how their media reaches your target audience.

20. Exploit the media you choose to the fullest. If your message is verbal, you don't need TV. Use radio, billboards and newspapers to the fullest.

21. Consider direct mail. A letter and brochure before customer contact can increase business. An IBM study concluded that selling time can be reduced from 9.3 to 1.3 total hours with direct mail advertising. 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.

22. Try an editorial style ad. These are ads that look like actual stories in the newspaper. They will have "advertisement" at the top of the article. Develop a good headline, and 50% more people will read the article than would read an ad of the same size.

23. You can't match larger competitors’ dollar-for-dollar but, you can use unusual approaches (like the Avis idea above), color, music, slogans, humor (be careful here), or media selection to win your market away from the big guys.

24. Explore lower cost venues. Due to the high costs of conventional advertising on, radio, TV, newspapers, many cost-conscious businesses have been forced to look for lower cost methods. Can you advertise on parking meters, taxi boards, balloons, blimps, and grocery shopping carts? Community bulletin boards, movie ads, and weekly newspaper shoppers.

25. Key your ads. Put 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 every customer how they found you.

26. Plan for a rainy day. During the year put a small amount aside each month for emergencies. You never know when you'll need to react quickly to whatever the competition is doing. You must be able to capitalize on breaking national events or news regarding your industry. If negative things happen in your industry you may need to respond quickly to make sure the right message is presented.

27. Always give the customer more than you promised and more than they expected. This is tip number 27 of the 25 we advertised. Maybe this last one is the one you needed.

I hope these tips will help your business grow. Not all may be relevant to your particular situation. Hopefully, they will illustrate the importance to plan and control your advertising budget.

Based in Bozeman, MT, Tom Egelhoff is the author of, “The Small-Town Advertising Handbook: How To Say More And Spend Less,” and "How to Market, Advertise and Promote Your Business or Service in Your Own Backyard."

He is also a seminar and workshop presenter and trainer. He may be reached at 406-580-1104

Listen in on Tom's Saturday weekly radio show "Open For Business" on AM 1450 KMMS Radio, Bozeman.

Have a business question for Tom? Click HERE to get Tom's advice for free.

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