We Know: All About Promoting Your Small Business

How Do I Get Started?

There are few things as exciting, or terrifying, as starting a small business. You'll do just fine, though, if you have customers; and you get customers by advertising. As a tiny business, the last thing you can do is waste the few dollars you have for advertising on mail drops and expensive newspaper advertising. How do you get a good promotion going?

What Kind of Local Advertising Can I do?

If you're running a small business that depends on local customers, you need to get the word out locally. This is actually more expensive and work-intensive than an online campaign. Your local advertising plan should consist of print and radio spots. If your business is retail or involves anything visual, you should try to squeeze in television spots; many local cable outlets have very reasonable rates for this. In addition, you should have fliers up with coupons in places you expect your customers to be. You can also try direct sales postcards with a coupon and your website on them; more expensive direct sales campaigns are likely to be less effective.

Track everything. You need to know which advertising is reaching your customers, so try to insert a coupon or special offer in everything. For radio and television spots, you can insert a line, "Mention this ad and get" a special offer. If you aren't seeing results from a campaign, get rid of it.

Tell Me About Online Advertising

Online advertising is critical for any company. With a website, you can direct interested consumers to your sales brochure, catalog, or other advertising material online, so you don't incur printing costs. And with online advertising, you can build a national or international customer base. Hire a professional to do your website if you're not skilled yourself, and listen to everything he or she tells you. In addition, you should:

  • Keep it simple -- the Internet is all about information.
  • Put together an opt-in mailing list, at least to send notifications of specials. Better is developing a full-fledged newsletter.
  • Learn everything you can about search engine optimization (see our article on Search Engine Optimization), or SEO. Google placement can be your best, and cheapest, marketing tool.

How Will I Know How I'm Doing?

Track everything you're using for promotion. Anything that doesn't bring profit equal to the promotion by the end of two or three months should be eliminated. You should also look for sales spikes between 1-4 days after each promotion airs or otherwise reaches the consumer; for this reason, you should stagger your advertising so you can tell which promotion the spike is associated with.

By the end of your first quarter, you should be able to tell easily which promotion works best. If you're not terribly low on cash, you should continue with other promotions too; but focus on the one that's proving successful.

The exception is your website. It may take a year or more for your website campaign to show real results, but by continually tweaking the site to improve its search engine placement, you'll improve the chances of its success. It's also your cheapest advertising tool, if you learn how to maintain it yourself. Never abandon your website (though you can stop putting money into it after a while); customers are beginning to expect them, and even though you may not see sales spikes from it, not having a website can cost you business.

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