One of the biggest pitfalls for any business owner is advertising.
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Unless your business has a built-in clientele that keeps you working to full capacity at all times, you're going to have to advertise. If you want your business to thrive and grow, there's simply no avoiding it. But with the spiraling costs of advertising rates, whether online, broadcast, or in-print, finding effective yet affordable advertising venues is more challenging than ever.
For a struggling business with insufficient clientele or cash-flow problems, the first impulse may be a penny-wise and pound-foolish approach. This may mean buying the least expensive form of advertising regardless of its efficacy, or not advertising at all. And even for a thriving, financially solvent and relatively profitable business, advertising dollars are often misspent on costly but ineffective venues. Before investing your precious advertising budget on any of the dozens of advertising media and venues, ask these questions: What is the distribution? How many people will it reach, and how many of those people are actually potential buyers for what you have to offer?
The most obvious choices are phone books, newspapers, television, and radio. While these advertising venues are impressive, and offer widespread distribution, they are also costly, and may not fit the limited advertising budget for a small business. Flyers, promotional merchandise, direct mail and coupon packs are other common but costly choices. And with the strong trend toward green business, these forms of advertising may be frowned upon by potential customers. Internet advertising is a thriving venue, but for some business owners, the bewildering number of choices may be confusing and difficult to track. So before you bet the farm on a blue-chip advertising campaign, consider these seven advertising alternatives:
Community Newsletters: Many residential communities, including retirement communities, gated residential communities associated with country clubs, yacht clubs, and golf courses, and even many mobile home parks publish small monthly or quarterly newsletters. Printing costs for these publications are often paid for by the sale of advertising space at remarkably low rates. Some require membership or affiliation with the residential community, so it may be necessary to align yourself with a member. However, some are open to any local business. The advantage of these publications is the highly-defined demographics of the community, the probability that the newsletter will be read from cover to cover by all residents, and the fact that the newsletter will feature only a few ads, so yours will stand out.
School and Church Bulletins: Many churches and private schools publish small newsletters that are funded by advertising sales. Much like community newsletters, the demographics are highly defined, they're usually read from cover to cover, and only feature a few ads. In this same category, school yearbooks, and performing arts program leaflets also rely on advertising subsidies to pay for publishing costs. Advertising in these kinds of venues greatly enhances your image as a local patron.
Event Sponsorship: Non-profit fundraising events are an excellent way to enhance awareness of your presence in the community. These events usually offer appreciative and highly-visible acknowledgement of donors, often in the form of advertising in the event program, and/or signs, banners and booths at the event.
County Fairs: Every summer, your community probably hosts a county fair with a pavilion set aside for the promotion of local businesses. For a modest fee, you will be allowed to set up a booth or kiosk, where you will meet and greet thousands of potential customers.
Trade Shows: In many communities, events such as bridal fairs, home and garden shows, and boat and automotive shows are annual events. Much like county fairs, you can set up a booth or kiosk for a modest fee and make yourself visible to a large group of potential customers who have come to the event to buy the kinds of goods and services you have to offer.
Co-Op Advertising: If you are a retailer that carries a selection of name-brand products, or a service provider for name brand products, you may be able to participate in co-op advertising. A significant portion of this type of advertising is paid for by the product manufacturer, and lists your business as a local retailer for a nominal fee. Information on co-op advertising is available in the Co-op Source Directory, which is available at public libraries.
Bartering: Although the idea may seem quaint, many of the smaller, local advertising venues are willing to barter for goods and services in exchange for advertising space. Just be sure to declare any bartering deals you make on your income tax returns.