Dec 132011

How to make your business advertising work

There’s a famous saying in advertising of a business owner saying “50% of my advertising works – I just don’t know which 50% it is”. If you want to avoid this sort of problem for your small business then read on.

There are three keys to successful advertising – research, development of a strategy and testing and measuring. With advertising, the choice of marketing channels is huge and the costs associated with those choices can be eye-watering especially when starting a small business, so you can’t afford to just scatter-gun your advertising ideas. Remember, for every $1 spent on advertising it needs to bring in at least $1 and a cent in sales if it’s to be effective (and obviously more that in reality!).


First of all research your industry, your potential customers and your competition. You should have covered this in your business plan when you started your business so go back and remind yourself of what you wrote then review in light of your experience to date.

Think about the common ways that your industry markets itself then have a look through newspapers, magazines, local directories, the web and see what and how people are doing (at this stage I would avoid getting too interested in radio or TV – too expensive). Highlight the most common advertising medium that is used because the chances are that people are using that because it works. There will be time later in your business life to start getting a little more creative but let’s get the basics right first.

Next look to your potential customers. What sort of social class are they? That will determine where they spend their time and money so you can focus your advertising down into those areas. Use your research as an opportunity and excuse to actually go out and ask people questions on the street. This will give you good feedback and an opportunity for you to start mentioning your business to them (it will also help your confidence for when you’re doing sales pitches to people in the future). Arm yourself with a set of questions you want to ask people and make an accurate note of their comments immediately afterwards. Read through the notes when you get home and you will start seeing patterns emerging that you can focus on.

Finally, look at your close competition. What are your most successful competition doing and how? Why are they advertising in one media but not another? Why are they using local directories but not newspapers?

Strategy development

Again, have a look back at your initial business plan and review it.  Once you have an idea of what media is being used and how you can start looking at a strategy for how you will develop your campaign. For this I recommend you use the 10 x 10 system.

Pick out the 10 most popular methods of advertising being used by your industry and competitors and which you think will be most appropriate for your business. Now look at how much money you have available to spend on advertising over the next 90 days and divide it between the different methods you want to use. Some people say you should divide it equally but in reality you will probably have to shuffle it around a little which is fine but try to keep them all pretty similar.

Next, write out how you’re going to put the plan into action. You don’t want to do everything this week because that will be too much work, so write out a plan for spreading it over the next month. Aim to have all the advertising up in the first month and then keep it going for the rest of the 90 day period without making any changes.

People recommend 90 day periods for many things in business because it’s a good length of time to work with something. 90 days allows time for something to start taking effect and for changes to start becoming apparent between one thing and another. 90 days is not too long but not too short and I can recommend getting your whole business planning sorted out into 90 day segments.

Test and measure

To understand what advertising is working for you and what isn’t is really important so you need to know what advert/media is bring in the customers. There are various ways of doing this, some of which you’re probably already aware of. Ever filled out a coupon that has a little code on it, or gone to a website where they ask you to put a reference number in? That’s so that the business owner knows where you found out about them. So, when putting your adverts together put a code on them somewhere that you can refer back to.

The other key thing to do is ask people. When someone calls/walks in/sends an email to you about buying something make it part of your sales talk to ask them where they heard about you. You can include it as a question you ask when taking their details (“May I have your name….thank you, and your email address…great, and can I ask how you heard about us?”).

Every answer you get should be marked of against your 10 x 10 grid. By the end of the 90 days it should be clear what advertising has worked and what hasn’t. If something hasn’t worked then knock it off the list and concentrate your next 90 day advertising spend on the remaining channels (you can always try it again in the future but at this stage we don’t want to be wasting money on unprofitable advertising).

Once you’ve done this two or three times you will then start to refine the actual adverts themselves to really make your advertising work for you but that’s for another article.

Are you looking at buying a franchise?

If you are looking at buying a franchise as your way into small business then hopefully a lot of this stuff above should be taken care of for you – to a degree. When you’re doing your research into the franchise make sure that on your buying a franchise checklist is a question about what market research the franchise has done to determine the most effective marketing channels for the franchise.

Also, ask them what help and assistance they give you with regards to national and local advertising campaigns that you can tap into. Be aware, though, that you will probably still need to do your own local advertising to really get those customers coming in through the door.


By using this system properly I can guarantee that you will end up with a structured and profitable marketing campaign for your small business.