So, you have a small business, and things are going…okay. But you’d really like to up your exposure on a small budget.
What do you do?
Paid advertising is definitely a good place to look (though you need to work on long-term, organic strategies, too). Knowing what to look for and how to approach it will will save you some serious headaches.
Let’s be honest: There are a lot of options for paid advertising right now. Should you use traditional mediums like television, radio, and print ads, or look for newer avenues offered by online outlets such as Facebook, Google AdWords, or even podcasts?
There’s no right answer to that question, but we’ve come up with a mixture of both—sprinkled with a dash of creativity—that can help you stretch your dollars and draw in some new audiences.
Advertising Channels: What You Need to Know
No matter what channel you choose, you need to make sure you have systems in place to measure the results. Some online channels (like Google AdWords) have reporting built in, whereas you'll have to get deliberate with the other channels. For example, if you host a podcast, you can offer a specific promo code to track users that come in from the channel. You can use different virtual phone numbers on marketing materials as well.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Customer acquisition cost. Be ready to calculate how much it costs you to acquire a customer through each channel.
Goals. Sometimes your goal for advertising might be more vague, like to generate brand awareness. This is hard to calculate, and that's ok. Different goals require different approaches.
Your Industry/Offerings. Some channels will prove better than others considering what you sell. Think carefully about where your prospective customers are hanging out (What do they read online? What social media sites do they like?), and reach them there.
1. Google AdWords
Google AdWords is probably the MOST important place to look to spend part of your advertising budget as a small business owner. It’s safe to say [pullquote]most everyone uses Google to search[/pullquote], so if you can buy your way in to that search network, you should!
Upon opening a new business of my own, I wanted to experiment with this medium. I knew my services were relevant to an online market (and weren’t location-specific, although you can target your campaigns locally) so I created a Google AdWords campaign with a small budget of $10 max per day that was targeted to people looking for my type of services anywhere within the US.
As it was my first time using Google AdWords, I received the introductory $75 credit, and let the ad run for about two weeks. I knew I was willing to spend about $100 of my own money (combined with the credit) for a total of $175.
I found that in two weeks, my $95.83 worth (out-of-pocket cost) of advertising had resulted in about 26,000 impressions and 68 click-throughs, which cost about $1.41 per click. I had one lead generated from the ad that contacted me through our website.
I was also able to discover which keywords were most relevant for my needs and which were good for SEO purposes. For a small budget, I was impressed by these results!
2. Blogger Partnerships
Working with well-established and relevant bloggers is a great way to reach new audiences when your budget is tight. Sometimes these partnerships come in the form of product reviews, giveaways, or banner ads along the side of the blogger’s website. Whichever avenue you choose, you’ll find that loyal readers place a large amount of trust in the products these bloggers feature.
Owning an online jewelry business for five years, I knew that social media and blogger reviews were going to be my bread and butter for advertising. Plus, I really didn’t want to spend money on ads that would cut in to my sales.
So, I opted for monthly features with fashion blogs like A Beautiful Mess, Keiko Lynn, and Selective Potential (just to name a few) who either wore my jewelry in an outfit post, hosted a giveaway, or traded product for advertising space on their blogs.
Sometimes there would be a cost associated with a giveaway if the readership was large enough, but never more than $300 at the time (and most of the time, I could leapfrog that cost by trading and sending extra product.)
I pulled the referral traffic section of my website’s Google Analytics (another great, free tool!) from August-December of 2013 to show that four of the top nine referral sources were residual traffic coming from earlier collaborations with bloggers, which meant fourteen percent of my total referral traffic was from past blogger collaborations.
Big impact, little cost.
3. Radio Ads
Let’s take a look at a traditional medium that’s very worthwhile—especially for local businesses: Radio ads.
Radio advertising can sometimes be on the expensive side, but if you can be creative and bring in another element, you can get more bang for your buck.
Say you highlight that your company gives back to a local charity on your radio ads. Pomp’s Tire in Springfield, Illinois always mentions on their radio ads that they support the local food bank. So not only are they showcasing their own services, but they’re showing community involvement and getting some extra exposure from all the times the food bank helps promote that local business from their end, too.
And what about a good jingle? A catchy tune is an awesome tool for getting people to remember who you are and what you offer. Jingles can become iconic and rooted in peoples’ brains.
There are a lot of variables when projecting cost on this one (how many weeks your ad will run and on how many stations, listener demographic, etc.) but you can expect to spend anywhere from $500-$3,000. Again, there may be opportunities to trade, discounts for extended ad runs, and community involvement opportunities from the non-profit you help promote.
4. Podcast Sponsorships
Loyal podcast listeners tune in weekly or daily to listen to their favorite shows. Because they are pre-recorded, the listener can download an episode on his or her phone or computer and listen to it whenever they have time. Each episode opens with information about the program’s sponsor.
This is a great avenue to reach people because since the listener is choosing a time when they can actively listen, you know you have their full attention. And typically, there are no more than three sponsors per episode, so you’re not getting lost in the mix.
If you can be creative with your sponsorship spot and offer a coupon code associated with the podcast (for example, Stamps.com offers This American Life’s podcast listeners a unique coupon code ‘American’ for 10 percent off) you can better track your results through this medium AND further entice the listeners.
Entrepreneur on Fire is a podcast hosted by John Lee Dumas, which showcases daily interviews with business owners on how they got started and what makes them tick. Sponsors must sign on for at least a full quarter (three months) at a cost of $20,640 total. It guarantees a listener base of minimum 16,000 people per episode (often more) in 145 countries.
So, while it may seem like $6,600 worth of advertising in one month is intimidating, for businesses that are mid-sized and looking to grow, this is a place to look for bridging that gap. In comparison, a quarter page black and white ad that runs for one day in the local paper (in central Illinois) costs $1,500. FOR ONE DAY. That $6,600 per month suddenly doesn’t seem like such a big number.
5. Facebook Ads
Before we collectively groan over the ever-changing world of Facebook, let’s discuss the opportunities presented by Facebook ads. The targeting abilities of Facebook advertising allow for a tailored audience, so you’re only reaching out to people you WANT to connect with.
Personal Experience: I promoted a post on my jewelry business’s Facebook page in December to get greater exposure for a free shipping promo I was running that month. I only spent $15 over the course of about 18 hours (parameters I set) and saw 36 link click-throughs—which meant that many people went through to my online store. For only $15, that’s a very low cost for lead generation.
Not only was I able to set the amount I wanted to spend and how long the campaign should run, but I targeted it to females ages 16-27 living within the US, as I knew this was my target audience for making sales. I also added targeted interests, so I could further pinpoint that demographic to more specifically, the ones who “liked” (via Facebook pages) stores like Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, and Forever 21.
The more specific the better when it comes to Facebook ads. If you have a strong, creative piece of content you really want some exposure on: A quick video, an interesting photo, or a sale happening—Facebook ads can help you reach a larger audience. The budget is your call.
Get Your Feet Wet
So now that you have some ideas on how to be creative with your paid advertising, which avenue will you explore first? Will you reach out to some relevant bloggers, sponsor a podcast, or put your toes in the water with a Facebook ad?
Experiment. Find out what works for you and what doesn’t. Business is trial and error sometimes, so don’t be afraid to help your business grow. You won’t get any new customers if people don’t know you exist!