Small Business Advertising that Works

Have you tried advertising and been burned? If so, you’re like most business owners. In fact, identifying small business advertising that works begins by understanding what doesn’t work.

If you haven’t run an ad that’s failed, then you probably haven’t done much advertising. Like any important task, one learns advertising by trial-and-error. Nothing works for everyone all the time. The only sure way to fail in advertising is to quit trying altogether.


“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas A. Edison


Most small business owners have no idea how much they should spend on advertising. This uncertainty is compounded when it feels to them that they are spending more to “figure it out.” In this quick guide, we’ll give you some basics to help you “figure it out” as efficiently as possible.

Small Business Advertising

What Kinds of Small Business Advertising Work?

There are many ways to advertise a business. Today, many small businesses focus on online advertising. However, traditional advertising media still make an impact. In some cases, “offline” media can be more effective for certain businesses within specific contexts.


For example, network marketing is still highly effective for business services like accountants, attorneys, and insurance brokers.


Whether you decide to spend your money on pay-per-click (PPC), online display, print (magazine, newspaper, etc.), direct mail, TV, or radio, effective advertising in the right context will always drive sales.


That’s why it is difficult to answer the question, “What kinds of small business advertising work?” It all depends upon who your customers are, what mediums they prefer, the messages you use, and more.


Steps to Building Effective Advertising Campaigns

Step 1: Selecting the Right Media

Your audience segments will be more inclined to engage your brand across specific media. To properly identify the right advertising mediums, you need to know details about your audience.


  • How old are they?

  • What media do they most often enjoy?

  • What is their income level?

  • What is their education level?

  • Where do they live?


Knowing the answers to these questions will make it apparent to you which media outlets are your strongest options. Ideally, you engage more than one medium and add them to your broader marketing mix.

Step 2: Creating the Right Message

It’s tempting to start your ad campaign planning with attention-grabbing graphics. But the ad design should emphasize what you are trying to communicate. 


If you haven’t fleshed out your message to your audience, how are you going to create a design that grabs their attention? 


Amazing graphics can greatly enhance an ad campaign. But it is the message that sticks with customers. 


Keys to good small business ad copywriting include (but are not limited to):


  • Words that your customers use to wrap around their problems

  • Headlines and questions to grab your audience’s attention

  • A unified message that is relevant to the problems and desires of your target audience

  • Words and phrases that put pressure on customer pain points

Step 3: Delivering Value to Customers

You’ll want to focus on the benefits of your product or service. 


Too many ads are just product/service features lists. But why should those features matter to your audience? 


Every business is trying to solve customer problems. Your message and campaign should tell them clearly how you are going to solve a problem and why your approach is ideal. Like most small business owners, you love your products and services. But your customers don’t have the same affinity toward your brand as you do. They will need hand holding to understand why you are their best solution.


Step 4: Establishing Calls to Action (CTAs)


Tell the prospect what they have to do to take next steps. Guiding your audience toward next steps is known as call-to-action strategy, or CTAs.


First, you’ll want to create a sense of urgency by letting the prospect know what will happen if they fail to act:


  • You can prevent… 

  • There’s no need to suffer

  • Don’t lose out on this last chance to save 


When you make assertions, you’ll need to back them up. Some examples of this might include an expert opinion, verified review, customer testimonials/ratings, a list of certifications, or competitor comparison charts.

Calls to Action (CTAs)

The last part is the CTA itself – the action you want the person to take. As simple as it sounds, many business owners forget to explain next steps. A CTA can include a phone number, signup form, purchase button, web page link, etc.   

Step 5: Designing the Ad

After crafting a message, delivering value, and establishing call-to-action, it’s time to create the visual to bring the copy to life. As you add your graphics, remember your message and your audience. Every image should be relevant to both.


Your graphics should be appealing and compelling. And while your goal is not to shock, you do want to get the viewer’s attention and direct them to your message. Some keys to great ad design include: 


  • A concise, grabbing headline

  • A subtitle or slogan to further invoke curiosity

  • Tasteful amounts of white space

  • Images or other graphic elements appropriate to the message and complementary to your products/services


If the ad is going to be only a section of a larger page, such as in an online display ad or a partial page print ad, you might want to put a frame around the ad to set it apart from the rest of the page.


Position the copy so that it is easy for your target audience to understand. Avoid using jargon exclusive to professionals in your industry. Your goal is to connect with, inform, and guide your target audience towards next steps.


If you are creating a small ad that may be surrounded by many other ads, use graphical elements to make your ad stand out. For example, you could give your ad a dark background and light colored text. Or you can use other graphic elements like strong images or bold text at odd angles.

Step 6: Tracking Performance

You will never know for sure if your advertising is working until you start tracking all your ads.


For ad tracking, you can use a free analytics tool like Google Analytics or Google Ads. Google analytics is easy to set up and will give you a great deal of information about who visits your site and where they come from. For Google Analytics beginners, all Google Academy classes are free.


If you are buying ads on one of the leading pay-per-click platforms, you can also use their tracking systems. Depending on your business, you may also want to track call leads as well. You can use an app to help you track these calls. Google offers forwarding numbers for free that you can integrate into your Google Analytics.


Offline ad tracking is a little more complicated. There are no cookies/tags offline, and as a result, tracking is more difficult. 


Many people use special offers and coupons customized for each ad as a means to track advertising. If your employees are conscientious, you can train them to ask customers how they heard about your brand and record their response. There are also call tracking vendors for offline advertisements.


Step 7: Testing, Tweaking, and Repeating


The best way to develop small business ads that work over time is to build ads, test them, tweak them, and then track whether performance increased or decreased. With the tools available today to measure digital advertising, it has never been easier.


Testing other media can be as simple as trying different headlines and offers and monitoring the results over time. Testing, tweaking, and repeating your advertising is the surest way to identify the techniques that generate the strongest ROI.

Step 8: Partnering with Experts


Depending upon your workload and your comfort level with these small business advertising tasks, your advertising may perform better if you partner with an expert. 


If you want to manage the bulk of your advertising, you may only need a freelancer to create copy or design your ad. However, if you need to outsource your whole campaign, you may need to partner with an agency with strong client reviews and experience in your industry.


In Conclusion: Small Business Advertisements that Work for Your Small Business

What works for one business may not work for another. Your small business serves a unique target audience and provides a specific set of solutions. Personalizing your advertising means using the best practices described above and then testing various components to dial in your advertising strategy.

2 thoughts on “Small Business Advertising that Works”

  1. Great post on advertising! I totally agree with offering value to the customers rather than just informing them about the products/services. When business delivers how they can solve their customer’s problem, they eventually gain loyalty and thereby building a brand for themselves.

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