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Small Business Advertising: The Ultimate Guide

Brian O'Connor

Contributing Writer at Fundera
Brian writes about finance, business strategy, and digital marketing. He has worked at Morgan Stanley, Foreign Affairs magazine, Student Loan Hero, and as a partner of a small consulting firm, too. Combined, these experiences allow him to offer a unique perspective on the challenges small business owners face.

Latest posts by Brian O'Connor (see all)

Editorial Note: Fundera exists to help you make better business decisions. That’s why we make sure our editorial integrity isn’t influenced by our own business. The opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations in this article are those of our editorial team alone.

When running a small business, there are plenty of tasks that seem more important than advertising. Or, at least a ton of to-dos that keep you from having to figure out how effective small business advertising works. Many entrepreneurs are afraid of advertising, even if they know how important it is to their larger marketing strategy—and bottom line. Advertising can seem expensive, ineffective, or just plain difficult to do.

Sure, effective small business advertising does put some people out of their comfort zone in terms of skills. If you’re running a shop, odds are you’re an expert at understanding what you sell. Being an expert advertiser is an entirely different story, despite how well you know your products and business. Plus, there are so many places out there where you might want to put your advertising dollars—the idea of making a misstep along the way can feel like a financial mistake.

The good news is that small business advertising doesn’t necessarily have to be all that challenging; nor does it have to be all that expensive. Digital marketing and online advertising have made the process of promoting your business easier than ever before. You can control how much you spend, where it’s spent, and see results in real-time. 

Gone are the days of taking out a newspaper ad and hoping for the best. Here’s how to make the most of your small business advertising efforts in the present.

Why Do You Need Small Business Advertising?

Undertaking an advertising campaign for your small business can feel like a daunting task if you’re looking at the big picture. There are slogans to write, ads to draft, images to approve, and budgets to set. If you’re bringing in an advertising agency to help, you’ll also have several decisions to make on that front too. It’s easy to get frustrated quickly if you’re trying to take all of this in at once.

Instead, think about your small business advertising efforts as a long-term, multi-step strategy. Break the task into bite-sized chunks. Begin by determining exactly what your advertising goal is. Some of the most common goals are:

There are different advertising tactics and options that work best for each of these goals. Knowing what you want to accomplish—even if that’s more than one goal at a time—can help you whittle down your options to find the best way to advertise your small business.

small business advertising

Small Business Advertising Ideas

Anyone who’s ever visited a website, driven on the highway, or opened a newspaper can tell you that there is a dizzying array of advertisements out there. As someone looking to advertise your business, this can be a positive thing. There have never been as many unique ways to reach your preferred audience. However, it also means finding the small business advertising channels that will target the audience you want while not wasting money on ads for those you don’t.

Understanding Your Small Business Advertising Options

Here are a few of the most common small business advertising options out there. Each offers unique benefits depending on your goals.

Social Media Advertising

If your business already has a social presence (no matter how big or small it might be), then this might be a great place to start. You can promote your business on social media to drive people to your business’s social accounts, website, or physical stores; showcase your products, build brand awareness; and more. Plus, social media advertising has a low financial barrier to entry, so it can be a good place to get acquainted with the basics of small business advertising.

Of course, even if you don’t want to pay to advertise through ads, simply setting up your business’s social media pages and updating them regularly is a great way to advertise your business for free and grow your audience.

Search Advertising

Most potential customers begin their search for goods and services through a web search. Think about how many times you’ve opened a browser tab and searched for a service near you within the last day. If you look closely, you’ll notice that the first result or two are ads. 

Search engines, including Google, allow businesses to pay to have their results show up first, which gives you a competitive edge over your rivals. Most search users don’t go beyond the first handful of results, which means it’s crucial to show up as high in search as possible.

And when you’re designing your search ads, don’t just design them for desktops—keep mobile in mind. After all, more than half of smartphone users have discovered a new company or product as the result of a search on their phone, according to Google.

Banner Advertising

Love them or hate them, banner ads are here to stay. A good banner ad can boost brand awareness, drive prospective customers to your website, or even help you sell goods. Banner ad campaigns can be easy to set up, too. You don’t even need to design an image for your banner ad if you don’t have the means to do so (although you probably should). 

Google Ads and Facebook, for example, allow you to run banner ads throughout a network of websites. This option takes away the hassle of working out individual advertising deals with websites, and lets you maximize your presence without having to spend a fortune.

Video Advertising

Video ads tend to be more expensive than the aforementioned categories, but can be quite effective if done well. In fact, more than half of consumers prefer video content to other forms, including email and social media, according to HubSpot. You can run video advertisements on platforms like YouTube, where your content will show up before a video plays. You can also run video ads in other streaming apps to run before or during the app’s content. And, lest we forget, you can always take your video ad and run it as a good old-fashioned TV commercial.

Print Advertising

Digital advertising isn’t the only game in town. Despite what you may have heard, print advertising still works—even if it may not be at the core of your overall small business advertising strategy. Well-designed and effective print ads can still help drive brand awareness and even new leads, especially if you’re looking to boost your local marketing efforts.

How to Choose the Best Small Business Advertising Platform

Choosing the best way to advertise your small business largely depends on your goals and your business. If you offer career-related professional services, a digital advertising campaign on LinkedIn gives you the most exposure to an engaged audience. If you run a local shop, Facebook and print advertising can help you reach local audiences to increase your presence in the community. 

Ultimately, the old adage, “fish where the fish are,” is true here: Advertise your business where your would-be clients are, whether they’re searching for things online, watching videos, listening to podcasts and radio stations, etc. You may even end up spending less to reach your audience this way, since it will be easier to find an engaged audience to which you can display your ads.

Another crucial component of choosing the best small business advertising platform is diversification. This is as true for advertising outlets as it is for your ads themselves. If you can run ads on several platforms—be that a mix of digital outlets or even a blend of print and digital ads—you can see which outlet gives you the most bang for your buck. Once you’ve established the platforms that work best for your small business, you can also experiment with the ads themselves to determine which ones perform best. The larger your audience gets, the less you pay per view, click, or lead.

small business advertising

Small Business Advertising: How to Get Started

Getting your small business advertising campaign underway should involve a decent amount of preparation and strategic thinking. After all, you want to make sure you’re using your marketing budget wisely. The better you prepare up front, the less you’ll need to worry about your performance later on. 

Here are a few considerations that go a long way when planning out your small business advertising efforts.

Understand Your Budget

Effective advertising is largely dependent on your budget. Sure, you could slap your logo on the side of a blimp and get plenty of attention, but that might not be the most cost-effective way to get your company’s name out there. The real sweet spot for advertising is finding the right balance of cost versus return. Not every advertising option costs the same, and their efficacy varies similarly.

Digital advertising tends to be the most budget-friendly option for small businesses. Small-scale social media campaigns can start out at $5 or $10, which allows you to dip a toe into the advertising waters without making a major commitment. You can also build out a digital advertising strategy with incremental budget allocation—that means you remain in control of how much money you’re putting into your advertising while also keeping an eye on how well it’s performing.

The best way to approach small business advertising budgets is to start with a modest amount of cash. With a budget of $500 to $1,000, you can get your campaign off the ground and have it reach enough of an audience to provide you with useful performance data. You can always put more or less money into your campaign than this range, but not without potential downsides. 

Put too little into your ad account and you may not be able to run your campaign long enough to get meaningful information at the end. Or, if you increase your budget, you may spend money ineffectively—only to find out that your ads didn’t perform well once the money’s been spent. The trick is finding just the right amount of money to get your ads out to your audience without wasting it on efforts that aren’t working.

Figure Out Goals, Messaging, and Assets

Creating great ads is only one part of the small business advertising equation. To make your ads truly effective, you’ll also need to determine what you want people to do when they interact with your advertisements. There are several goals from which to choose, each with different implications on how you spend your money and time.

Determining Goals

Digital advertising goals are usually broken out into four options: 

  • Brand awareness: When you want people to know about your business and have them remember who you are when making a buying decision
  • Clickthrough: When you want people to see an ad and click through to your website to get more information about your company
  • Conversion: When you want someone to click on an ad and make a purchase or subscribe to a service
  • Lead generation: When you want a prospective customer or client to provide their contact information so you can reach out to them about future business

You may want to pursue one or several of these goals at the same time, depending on what your objectives are. If you’re unsure of what you want to accomplish, it’s often helpful to start small. Think about the business objective you have in mind, and put yourself in the mindset of a potential customer.

Creating Effective Messaging

Once you know what your goal is, you can then shift your attention to messaging. Messaging includes the visual aspects of your ads, what you write, and how you portray your company. Effective messaging is clear, concise, and easily understood. Most business owners have a hard time thinking about their business or product from the buyer’s perspective, and fall prey to getting too detailed or taking for granted how much (or how little) a new customer knows about their company. Effective messaging speaks in a language the buyer understands, rather than what the business owner knows.

Designing Your Assets

In advertising parlance, your assets are the videos, images, and audio that you’re using within your ads. For digital advertising, your assets take the form of social media posts, banner ads, paid search results, or other materials you’re displaying to your audience. For print, your assets are the ad files that you provide to the printer, magazine, or newspaper.

It’s crucial to design your assets well. Ads that have too much copy, too many visuals, or are hard for the viewer to understand are rarely effective. Assets, like messaging, should be concise and easy to understand. Be sure that you’re only asking the viewer to take one specific action—whether that’s visiting your website, buying an item, or providing their information so you can reach out about doing business together.

Small Business Advertising: Measuring Success

Every ad campaign has a different metric for success. Campaigns that focus on brand awareness usually measure success in terms of the number of impressions their ads have received (in layman’s terms, how many people saw the ad). Efforts that put conversion at the fore will measure success in terms of how many people saw an ad and made a purchase. Success with clickthrough means seeing how many people clicked on your ad and visited your website. Lead generation campaigns, as you’d expect, are successful if they’ve generated a significant number of leads.

Ultimately, you’re in the driver’s seat when it comes to determining what success means for your small business advertising campaign. The guiding principle here is to set a goal in the beginning of the process, and then looking at whether or not your efforts led to the results you were hoping to see. There are industry benchmarks for success available online as well, if you want to delve a little deeper into your performance stats. But again, it’s crucial to remember that your business and advertising efforts are unique. What might look like success to you could be a disappointment for someone else, and it’s all relative.

Launching an Effective Small Business Advertising Campaign

Small business advertising can feel like a daunting operation, particularly if you’re an advertising newcomer or are simply pressed for time (and budget!). The thing about advertising, particularly in the era of digital ads, is that you can get as detail-driven as you want. Or, on the other hand, you can put a little bit of money behind a social media post or two and see results. Your preferred level of engagement depends on how much time you have, and how much of the process you want to control. Hiring an outside advertising agency or marketing consultancy firm can take much of the work off of your plate as well. 

Ultimately, you’re in control of how you want to run your ads, what you want them to accomplish, and how you measure success. The right strategy is the one that accomplishes your goals—no matter what they might be.  

Brian O'Connor

Contributing Writer at Fundera
Brian writes about finance, business strategy, and digital marketing. He has worked at Morgan Stanley, Foreign Affairs magazine, Student Loan Hero, and as a partner of a small consulting firm, too. Combined, these experiences allow him to offer a unique perspective on the challenges small business owners face.

Latest posts by Brian O'Connor (see all)

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