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Small Business Advertising Ideas

Updated on September 13, 2012
Advertising is one of the most important, and sometimes most intimidating, aspects of starting a business.
Advertising is one of the most important, and sometimes most intimidating, aspects of starting a business. | Source

As the owner of a small business, long hours and tedious tasks can take up much of your time. When it comes to marketing, with little time to do research, an entrepreneur may end up shooting blindly in all directions, hoping to catch a customer somewhere.

If you haven't already realized, this is by no means the best way to effectively promote a new business venture. It is a waste of time and money - two things that start-ups have very little of.

In order to make good use of your time it will be necessary to sit down and spend some time developing a solid marketing plan. Although this may seem annoying, it is necessary. The sooner you do it, the better.

Once you have an understanding of who you are trying to marketing to, the amount of money that you have available for marketing, and the type of business you are operating, it will be much easier to select effect strategies that will benefit you in promoting your business.

I have decided to compile some advertising ideas here to help you get started with your brainstorming. Remember that this is not an end-all list. While you may end up loving and using some of these ideas, hopefully they can help inspire other ideas.

The ideas are listed in three categories:

  1. Traditional Methods of Advertising
  2. Modern Methods of Advertising
  3. Risky Methods of Advertising

The first category is the tried and true techniques (although some of these methods are not as effective as they used to be, they can still be useful). The second category is all about Business 2.0 - the modern world of social interaction, the internet, etc, as it pertains to advertising. The final category shares some extreme methods of promotion that will draw attention to any new business - maybe more than you want. Remember, not all marketing techniques work for every business, use the ones that will fit your brand and industry the best.

The topics I will be suggesting here are primarily focused for brick and mortar businesses. Many of theme will be valuable for internet startups as well, but you can find other marketing tips for an internet business here.

What advertisements do you enjoy the most?

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Traditional Advertising Methods

Although the world of advertising has changed drastically over the last couple of decades, there is still something to be said about embracing a few of the old concepts of advertising. Especially considering that a large segment of consumers still do not use technology frequently (although this will continue to decrease in years to come), it is a good idea to use some more typical methods of advertising. Additionally, if you are a local company, being visible by your community is very helpful in increasing your reputation.

Traditional advertising generally does not have the ability to spread as rapidly as some of the modern techniques, but it can provide repetitive and reputation-building visibility to a target market.

Local Newspaper & Magazine Ads: Although these ads tend to not get a huge amount of publicity, people still enjoy reading a good magazine or looking through the newspaper. Additionally, papers have a level of nostalgia and many people are sad to see them disappear. This means that avid readers may support you simply because you are supporting their favorite paper! NOTE: Although you can pay for this, if you can get free publicity in a newspaper, it's even better.

Flyers: Many of us have walked out of the grocery store to see flyers under our windshields. Although we throw most of them away, if there is something that truly interests us, we will hang on to it and potentially contact that individual. Distributing handouts to people or posting them on bulletin boards can help improve your visibility inexpensively.

Television: I would recommend staying away from this one as a small company. The costs associated with creating and airing a television commercial is incredibly high. However, if video is something you are really interested in, consider filming a video and posting it on YouTube (see the Modern Advertising section).

Radio: Radio still has a decent outlet for local businesses. Promote your new restaurant or auto shop on the radio and you may reach a decent sized audience. While the radio station will likely give you many tips, consider offering a special deal for those who mention that they heard the advertisement on the radio. This creates an incentive to get people to act, and allows you to discover the effect of the radio advertisements.

Billboards: Billboards will hit the same people every single day while they drive to and from work. Place an appealing advertisement on the billboard and you will have people drooling. However, you want to focus on people's senses. If you show me a 10 foot tall picture of your restaurant's lasagna, and I'm driving home from a long day of work, I may just have to stop in because I am tired and famished!

Sweepstakes: This is another traditional advertising method that you can add a new twist to with modern technology. allows anyone to launch an online raffle. People simply have to get onto your site and "like" or comment on something. Give away a gift card or free meal and you will have people entering like crazy. Often times, people enjoy winning more than what they actually won. Just make sure that you check out your local laws first - sweepstakes have to be open to everyone in a very broad category.

Sponsor a charity or sports team: Little league teams are always looking for sponsors. As are many small charities. Support an event, program, or group and you will gain their support, and receive publicity for every positive thing they do in the community. Why not gain some advertising by helping a cause that is close to your heart?

REFERRALS!!: The word of a friend is more valuable than any number of flyers or commercials. Create a positive experience for your customers (really go out of your way at the beginning) and encourage them to refer others. This will create loyal and consistent business for a good company.

Modern Advertising Methods (Advertising 2.0)

The world is changing, and marketing is at the forefront. People are tired of the countless advertisements that they see every day. In fact, many of us tune most of them out. Therefore, the key to effect advertising in today's world is creating a fun, interactive experience. The positive side of this is that it is often cheaper (though more time consuming and creativity-driven) than traditional advertising techniques.

Develop an online presence: Being online is essential. Most people Google search for something before they go out and make their purchase. Therefore, having a website, Facebook, and twitter can help you out tremendously. Launching a social media campaign can take some time, but it will certainly be beneficial.

Create YouTube videos: Traditional TV advertising is expensive. Creating a home video on YouTube is not. Spend some time reading and researching how to create an effective YouTube video and spend a couple of days recording. This could help you get your name out their nicely!

Advertise on Craigslist: The free online classifieds is the place that many people go when in search of a product or service. If there is a way that you can promote yourself on this vast network, be all means, it could help you bring in significant business!

Use Groupon or other deal websites: Anything you sell on Groupon will result in you only making 25% of your sale price. This is not ideal. However, the publicity can be helpful. If you are confident that you can get return customers - consider launching a deal on a deal website. However first see if there is a local deal website - this will likely cost less than the mammoth Groupon.

Affiliate programs: What the referral was to yesterday, the affiliate program is for today. An affiliate program is where you will pay someone (or give them a great deal) in exchange for referring someone else. If I can get $2 for every person that I get to buy a meal from you, then I am going to be promoting your business for you. This is a great way to get people to be involved.

Risky Advertising Methods

For extreme methods of getting your name out there, consider looking at publicity stunts that people and companies have pulled in the past. This list, while not completely ridiculous, will require a slightly higher level of risk. If you don't mind putting yourself out there to get attention, these methods can help. Some are more intense than others, but all of them can help draw attention to your business.

Become a professional in your field: While this is not the risky technique, it can be a bit intimidating. When people see you as a professional in your field, they will be willing to go to you for business and advice. Write articles, maybe a book, and start speaking about your field. If you are a speaker or consultant, people will immediately see you as legitimate. With the creation of LinkedIn and other online venues, it is not as difficult to portray oneself as a professional as it used to be.

Put on workshops: Did you launch a Mexican restaurant? Teach cooking classes! Have one evening a week where people can come in an you will teach them how to make their own chips and salsa, fold their own burrito, etc. People love learning new things (and they love creative date ideas) consider marketing on this.

Run a competition: IKEA posted pictures on Facebook of their products. The first person to take themselves on each piece of furniture was able to keep that piece of furniture. Allow people to enter contests to win prizes. Everyone loves being a winner!

Place your product in front of the customer: There are many guerrilla marketing techniques. The more time you can get potential customers to interact with your product, the more likely they will be to remember you (and purchase from you later). Do you sell playground equipment? Put a set up in a field and allow families to stop by and play on it.

Really doing anything that puts you out there and separates you from the crowd can create huge press for a small business. The more you are willing to risk, the more publicity you can get (for less).

The more you put yourself out there, the easier it is to attract attention to your business. Bad publicity is better than no publicity! (Just take that with a grain of salt).
The more you put yourself out there, the easier it is to attract attention to your business. Bad publicity is better than no publicity! (Just take that with a grain of salt). | Source

Advertising, Public Relations, and Final Points

As a small business it can be beneficial to focus on public relations as opposed to advertising. The reason for this is that PR is free and something that potential customers will want to see. Meanwhile, advertising is usually forcing people to view you or your product, even when they aren't really interested.

Regardless of what methods you may use to promote your business, keep the following concepts in mind:

  1. Make your marketing relevant. Every day I drive by a billboard promoting an insurance salesperson - it has a bunch of puppies on it. I noticed the puppies for two years before I finally realized it was advertising insurance.
  2. Provide valuable information. Make sure that your promotion is either educating or entertaining. If people benefit from your advertising, they will associate you with positive feelings.
  3. Get the biggest bang for your buck. Discover the best method to reach the highest number of your targeted market. The more potential clients that you can reach with each dollar, the better payoff you will have.
  4. Deliver BETTER than promised. Whatever you may sell or provide, make sure that you never over promote it in your advertising. If people come to you and are surprised for the better, they will be much more impressed than if the opposite happens.

I hope that these ideas have helped to get you thinking. Advertising can be a lot of work. However, it is a huge factor in determining the success of a company.

Post your ideas, questions, or comments in the section below and we can all continue to learn. Good luck in starting your business!


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    • Robert Erich profile image

      Robert Erich 4 years ago from California

      Nice! Yes, Craigslist can be a huge benefit for those interested in promoting themselves - whether a business or an individual. I sold a car on Craigslist and had a friend who found his job through it. Thanks for stopping by and leaving your input Leah!

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 4 years ago from Western New York

      Using the radio for local advertising is a great idea - we often listen to NPR and hear ads for local businesses. Sometimes we forget about a nearby restaurant or hobby shop, and will stop by once we have heard the promotional message. Craigslist is a great free option - we found our piano teacher through Craigslist!