I have been in advertising, mostly outdoor advertising, for over 20 years and feel like it pretty much runs in my blood at this point. Over the course of my career I have been the President of the Las Vegas Clear Channel Outdoor division, ran the daily operations for Vector Media which was contracted to sell regional bus and Double Decker advertising in Las Vegas, owned my own advertising company, and for the past 5 years have been the Program Manager for the Patriot program (an advertising leg of our sister company U-Haul).
As a small business owner, advertising your company can be very confusing and expensive. Here are a few thoughts to consider when deciding how best to spread the word that you are open and ready to earn your potential customers’ business!
Have a Budget
To be successful in any business you need to have a business plan and in the case of advertising, a budget. There’s an old adage that says “you’ve got to spend money to make money” and I find this to be very true, you just need to make sure you spend it wisely. When sitting down to plan your annual budgets remember to plan for your advertising. The amount you budget will obviously vary depending on your financial situation but it’s an important line item to include.
If you are just starting your business, it’s probably best to start small and not lock into long term contracts – this way you can “test” each advertising medium and determine the return on your investment. By “testing” different advertising mediums and not being locked in the long-term you will be able to gauge how they are working for you and can adjust where you spend those budgeted dollars later if you feel one form isn’t working as you’d hoped.
Stick to your budget and don’t make impulsive purchases. Most types of advertising companies will contact you with rate/space available “specials” because they have unsold radio spots available or an open page in their magazine. These can be very affordable and allow you to stretch your ad dollars further but you need to have this in your initial budget. Don’t spend additional dollars just because you are getting a deal. Advertising companies are also in the business of making money so just make sure that all of your time and money is spent targeting your potential customer and not being wasted on someone who won’t ever have a need for your product or service. It’s your money! Do your research and negotiate to get the best deal placement including any bonus advertising that they may offer you; it’s ok to pass up a “deal” if it doesn’t make sense at the time.
Know Your Customer
When you are spending your hard earned dollars to advertise and brand your company you want to make sure that you are reaching your target audience/potential customer. This coincides with the budgeting concept in that you don’t want to waste your ad dollars on “specials” if they aren’t going to pay off in the end. Knowing who your customers are is extremely important. Where do they shop? What radio stations do they listen to? Where do they drive? Why do they need your product or service? Etc. Knowing these things about your potential customer will make it easier to decide where it makes the most sense to advertise. In getting to know your customer don’t be afraid to ask questions (this helps in building the relationship anyway) and keep a data base of who, what, where, when, why and how they found you and why they needed you. This will help you really determine WHO your potential customer is and will also help you in buying the most effective advertising for your business.
Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket
You may find that one form of advertising works better than another but in my experience I find its best to spread the wealth. When doing your budget you can place a significant portion of your ad dollars in one area but it’s always a good idea to have a nice media mix. Not only does it help you to reach as many potential customers as possible but in time it will also give you a bit more buying / negotiating power. Nowadays there are so many advertising mediums to chose from; Outdoor, Radio, Television, Internet, Mailers, Door Hangers etc. Try to budget for at least two mediums at a time and make sure the advertising message is consistent with both. If you find that one isn’t working then switch it up when you’ve fulfilled your commitment.
Social media is essentially FREE, minus your time of course, and is a really great way to add to your advertising plan without spending more money. Get creative with your social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linkedin and many more) and interact with your customers! Be consistent with it and update it frequently to keep people interested.
Promotional items such as tee-shirts, hats and pens are another great affordable way to let people know about you. You will have to pay for the items (start small and inexpensive to see how they are received) to hand out but you will then have existing customers wearing and using your products. This creates awareness and is essentially free advertising every time they wear or use your promotional items. Promotional materials also have a nice shelf life unlike say a onetime radio spot or a magazine advertisement that just gets tossed in the trash after its read.
Referrals are the best of the best! Referrals are not only a free advertising medium but they are essentially a pat on the back for you being the best. A customer will generally refer a business because they were treated well and/or the product/service was affordable or was a quality solution to the customer’s needs. Don’t be afraid to ask for referrals or testimonials, having someone else brag about your business is the greatest advertising medium out there (and its free)! At times it may even be worth it to offer an incentive for referrals…not because you are trying to bribe someone to refer your business but because you are recognizing that they don’t have to and a small incentive can be more of an appreciation or thank you for them taking the time.
For more advertising tips check back for part two of Tiffani’s post!
Tiffani Palacios has been working in the advertising industry for over 20 years. Over the course of her career she has been the President of the Las Vegas Clear Channel Outdoor division, ran the daily operations for Vector Media, owned her own advertising company, and for the past 5 years has been the Program Manager for the Patriot Truck Leasing program. As she puts it, “advertising runs through her blood” at this point.