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I need to advertise my small business…now what?

February 12, 2009

Hopefully that is exactly the way you feel…because if you WANT to advertise chances are you shouldn’t.  Why?  It’s an expense and like baseball it fails more often than it succeeds.  One reason for its failure is because of incompetence on both client, vendors and  agencies and the other reason is that it is an extremely arduous, stressful, shot in the dark process of getting someone to change their routine and switch to your product or to believe that your new ‘fad’ is worth their hard earned money.  So if you’re lucky enough to have solid foot traffic, or are successful with an ad in the phone book and online listings…by all means stick with it, offer good service and your positive word of mouth will naturally grow your business.  However…if you are not that lucky…do not go out and spend a ton of money.  Do not listen to any radio, print, TV or cable salespeople that darken your doorstep and throw a bunch of ad lingo at you and a $5,000 package for one or two week’s worth of advertising.  It won’t work.  You might see a slight uptick in your business at first, but not enough to offset the $5,000 you just spent for two week’s of advertising…and guess what?  Your ad message just sailed through the air and is gone.  It’s not coming back…it’s not ever going to do anything else for you.picture-1

But you’ve got to do something right?  You’ve been patient.  You’ve sat and waited.  You put the sandwich board outside your front door and people are not coming in on their own.  So what should you do?  The first thing you should do is look at your finances and come up with a realistic budget.  And be just that…realistic.  Don’t increase your ad budget by 10% and expect a 10% increase in traffic.  It doesn’t work that way.  Work up a number that makes sense for you long term and by long term I mean a monthly expenditure that you will be able to afford for the next 12 to 18 months.  Because the process of educating your market about what you do takes time and if you stop in the middle…everything that came before is now wasted.  You could advertise for six months straight and if you stop then…guess what…all of those impressions you made are gone.  They are gone and now what are you going to do for month seven?  So you’ve got to be strong and realistic when it comes to your budget.

Second…you need to determine your marketing area because this, along with your budget, will also determine the best media for you to use.  Again…be realistic.  If you run a sub shop…people are not likely to travel more than five miles (if that far) to come get a sub.  If they do…please send me a cheesesteak, because they must be really good.  If you own a car dealership, for instance, check out where your like-minded competition is (same make) and then draw a ten mile radius around your store and that is your primary marketing area.  Draw a ten mile radius around your competition…you typically won’t have much luck going into those areas, but the space between is up for grabs and you should consider cost effective ways to reach those unclaimed customers.  Depending on whether you own a service business, a restaurant, a store front, or you are completely online will determine your marketing area.  And again be realistic about the customers you can reach and can reach you…because that will save you a lot of wasted money and increase your chances of success.

So your homework is to determine a realistic budget and to determine your marketing area.  To determine your marketing area be realistic about how far customer’s are likely to travel for your product / service and then take into consideration your competition.  Sometimes you might shy away from competition and sometimes you’ll need to get in their grill a little.

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I have my very own business…now what?

February 11, 2009

Well normally you’d want the phone to ring and people to come in on their own and clear off the shelves faster than you can stock them.  But it just doesn’t work that way.  There are a lot of obstacles to overcome when you’re looking to create customers.  I’m still learning myself, but hopefully the experience that I have can help you hit the ground running from day one…or get you re-energized on year 25.

If you’re just starting out hopefully you’ve given some thought to what your marketing plan is and what type of monthly budget you can afford for the next twelve to eighteen months.  When you’re calculating your advertising budget you need to be realistic and understand that spending your wad in the first two or three months is not smart.  A realistic budget is one that you can sustain for a twelve to eighteen month period.  Even if it is only paying your neighbor’s kid $5 to wear a sandwich sign around town promoting your store.  If you can afford to do that consistently you will have more success with that than running your entire budget on cable for a month.

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Now obviously that small measure of success won’t be what you want for your business for the long term and hopefully if you NEED to advertise you have shelved some of your start up money for that purpose.  Consistency is the key…that is why you need to hold back and be as patient as you possibly can with that advertising budget.  It is gold and if you rush to fill your store or drive people to your site you will waste it.  There are only so many people in the market for your product on any given week.  For instance in the car business it is estimated that about 2% of any given market is car shopping that weekend.  That 2% will see any and every car ad during that time period.  The other 98% have no idea that they watched 5,000 car commercials between Thursday and Sunday. And that goes for any and every product.  If the consumer does not have top of mind awareness (that is…in the market for the product you sell) they will not remember or register the fact that you’re having a sale.  So long story short…don’t over do the advertising in a short period of time because regardless of what you’re saying not that many people are in the market to buy your product…and you can’t make them no matter what you say or do.  That is why long term and consistency are the key words you should remember when you plan out your advertising.

Another suggestion…You need to HATE advertising.  You need to get past the pride of seeing your ad in the paper, or on local cable or seeing it pop up first in the Google paid search listings.  You want to hate them for taking your money.  The sooner you see it as a necessary evil and less of a ‘hey look at me’ or ‘come buy something’ premise the sooner you will start to truly be a smart advertiser and smart business person.

In the coming posts I plan to discuss what to base your budget on, media outlets that are available and make sense for most small businesses starting out, as well as, free advertising (yes, there is such a thing) and whatever I can shake loose in my brain that I think will help you whether you’re starting out or have been in business for years.

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