Posted by: Mike Clough

Top 10 Advertising Tips For Small Business

Top_10-smIf you are marketing and advertising the same way you learned how to do it in college or even the same way as you were just a couple of years ago, you are probably wasting a lot of money! The world has changed dramatically in the last few years and a wise small business owner must change with the times to get the most from their marketing and advertising budgets. Add to this fact, the present economic climate, and the issue becomes of paramount importance.

For retailers it used to be that the most basic and important form of advertising was the Yellow Pages. However, today more people are using the internet and fewer people are using Yellow Pages than ever before. Therefore you might feel that it might make more sense to move some of your advertising budget to internet banner ads. Yet, the results from banner ads have also declined. So what is a small business owner to do? Many small business owners have moved much of their budget to newspaper advertising and have achieved lackluster success. Why? Newspaper subscriptions are also declining with many newspapers filing bankruptcy or going out of business. Again, these days, people are getting their news in other ways than the local newspaper.

To discover the best solutions possible, I have teamed up with Glynns Thomas, fellow SCORE Counselor specializing in marketing and advertising from San Francisco (Small Business Advertising Ideas blog) to bring you the top ten low cost advertising techniques. Small business owners should find these tips very useful:

  1. Create partnerships and cross promotions. Find other companies that hit your same target audience and are complementary to what you offer. Come up with a win-win barter proposal of how to steer clients to each other. Or, offer bundled promotions using the products/services of each to boost interest in both of your companies. Or, pool your marketing dollars together and create a campaign you could not afford on your own. It can be as small as one or two partners you barter with individually or a group, similar to the wedding industry where florists, hairstylists, veil makers, dress makers, bakers, and printers work together to help each other out.
  2. Find place-based advertising opportunities that are creative and free. Example: an author coming out with a book about parenting had post-it notes printed about it and they were posted above diaper changing tables in the area. A financial consultant had bookmarks created promoting his business and put them in financial books at local bookstores (very creative, however it may not have gone over well with the bookstore!). Think of how you could use your partnerships as mentioned in #1 for more place-based opportunities.
  3. Have an effective website. An old study says 70% of people will research online before walking into a store to purchase. That percentage is probably much higher now. A website is a must. There are free services you can use like, etc. Or, you can use a blog format like Having a custom made website with your domain and email is not cost prohibitive as some might imagine. Be sure to use search engine optimization (SEO) to bring people to your site, write articles and place them in free ezines to push people to your site; and use social networking to push people to your site (MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.). Of course, it may require that you invest a little time in learning new technology that you may not be familiar with, but the reward is well worth the time invested.
  4. Teleseminars and webinars ( are cheaper than doing in-person seminars. This is good for businesses that have a long purchase process or a complicated product that is best sold as a demonstration, etc. You can also film a demonstration/presentation and place it on and your website.
  5. Leverage your workforce to spread the word. This can be accomplished through inexpensive flyers or coupons and/or magnetic signs on their automobiles. This can also be accomplished through word of mouth but it is far more difficult to control the message.
  6. Create a lead generation system and contact them frequently. A form can be added to your website to collect names, telephone numbers and email addresses. You can provide an incentive to your prospective customers to provide this information. Examples might include “Join our mail list and receive advance notice of sales and specials…” or “Join our mail list and receive XX% discount on your next visit…” The more compelling your offer, the more prospective customers will sign-up. Using email to stay in contact with prospective customers is an inexpensive way to go. Use an email distribution service to stay CAN SPAM compliant:,, and
  7. Targeted TV advertising. If you feel your business requires television advertising, consider using cable TV. Like conventional TV, you can probably get the cable company to create your ad at little or no cost. Then, unlike conventional TV, you can select only the zip codes in which you wish to advertise (those close to your location) thereby paying only for your geographic target market rather than a huge area like conventional TV where most of those viewing your ads are not in your geographic target market. Furthermore, the cable company should have demographic information about viewers of their many channels. This will assist you in matching your products/services to the correct demographic target market.
  8. Create publicity and press releases. You can use local “groups” within professional social networks (MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) to create free publicity and drive prospects to your website as well as your “bricks & mortar” location. Creative press releases can get you on local TV, in the paper and across the web. You can do this yourself if you have the talent or there are services that will do it for you.
  9. Track results properly so you can save yourself more time and money later on. This is the only way you can fine-tune your results to secure the biggest bang for your advertising dollar.
  10. Start and maintain a database of prospective customers. This is your goldmine for future success. It can be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet or as elaborate as a MySQL or Microsoft SQL housed on a web server. You may only have one use for it today but as time goes by, you will think of many other uses and wish you had this data available to you.

Mostly though…it’s SO important to anchor any tactic to a solid strategic direction. For example, after you thoroughly define who your target audience is, develop key selling messages that resonate with that audience and set realistic goals. The best tactics can fail if this is not done well.

Glynns has written a tutorial called Low Cost Advertising. It’s meant for new business owners who are doing everything themselves (like sole proprietors). It includes writing a strategic foundation, reviews many low cost and/or free tactics for implementation, tracks results and shows you how to start your first marketing database. The resource section has 290 links to companies to help you grow your business. It costs $69 as an electronic download.

Additional information on non-advertising marketing ideas can be found in a recent post titled, “Fatal Distraction”. You will be amazed at how many ideas are available that can enhance the results from the funds you invest in advertising.

[Editor's Note - 2/8/11] I have received enough emails suggesting that this article is not accurate because it does not mention Social Media, that I felt compelled to add this note to save us all a little time. Social Media is not advertising, it is one pillar in a marketing strategy and advertising is another. Yes, Social Media is a very important part of any sound marketing plan but no, it is not advertising. Those that use Social Media as though it was, will surely fail. This is the reason that Social Media was not included in this article.

If you would like to contact me, you can do so by emailing me at or visiting my LinkedIn page.



Re: Targeted TV advertising…Broadcast TV is the way to go if the business is local, period! Not cable…They’ve got no audience.

Are you only referring to companies and or, websites with national products and services?

I ask because, conventional TV (broadcast) as you called it, is better a place to put Ad Bucks if the business is local…And 85% of them are (nationwide) so, your advice is only good for a small segment of the overall business community, in respect to the TV side.

Elgin, I am not sure why you say cable has no audience. In the Minneapolis/St. Paul area it is very popular. In fact, I cannot think of a person I know that does not have cable. But let’s set that aside for a minute.

Let’s say a business is a retail store. It is a nice store with variety but not extremely unique. How far will people travel to visit the shop? Maybe 25 miles?

If you advertise on a local TV station the population of the viewer area here is about 3 million. This is not an inexpensive proposition, especially when only those in a 25 mile radius of the store will travel the distance to visit. You still pay for advertising to 3 million when only want to advertise to the maybe 150,000 that live in that 25 mile radius.

Compare this to cable (which shows all of the local TV stations) where you can buy advertising by zip code and only pay for viewers in the 25 mile radius.

Both conventional TV and cable can quote you a total price as well as a price per viewer. You will find that by using a rifle rather than a shotgun, you will get more bang for the buck.

On the other hand, if your business is one where you are driving to the customer/prospect and the example above is not an issue, the coverage area is the same and you can compare rates per viewer between TV and cable and select the one that is the most attractive.

Hi Mike,

Great list (from an experienced ad agency media planner/buyer).

On #5 leverage your workforce, I think this also extends through to social media for most businesses.

Your employees are already on social media (many of them), so why not empower them with a corporate policy that lets them carry their customer service through to the time they spend on social media (interacting with the public and answering questions or guiding to the right people).

Your workforce is already there on social media and developing a “following”, and whether or not they list themselves as a representative of your business, they are a representative of your business. Encourage them to participate in social media conversations, as a representative of their employer/your company.

Great point Debbie! Thanks so much for contributing your thoughts! I plan on having a series of posts on social media in the near future.

Hi Mike! – great post.

Small biz has to be creative when advertising their offer on a small budget.

I just released a video series covering 40 free ad/mar activities a cash strapped biz can try to grow their market. Check it out. The series is called 40 ways to grow your business for FREE (or under $ 40).

Video tip # 14 focuses on leveraging your staff and their online social networking to help extend your business message, as per Debbie’s comment.


tracey :)

Hi Mike –

Great advice! I also recommend that before you even think about advertising and promotion, do some research and find out where your customers and prospects get their information.

For example, say your target market is between the ages of 18-29 – they don’t read the newspaper, so advertising (or even PR) in the paper is a total waste of time and money.

The key to any successful advertising, PR, referral or strategic partnership plan is research and planning. Find out who your target market is, where they hang out, what they’re interested in and make it your mission to touch them regularly with educational (not “salesy”) content, it’s about building a relationship with them, and getting them to trust you enough to want to buy from you!

-Carolyn Higgins, Fortune Marketing Company

Carolyn, I totally agree with you. You might find a couple of my other articles interesting:

Using Generational Diversity to Your Advantage

Web 2.0 Online Marketing Series – Overview

Thanks for reading my blog and commenting.

~ Mike

Very good article.
Why no mention of Outdoor Advertising in the mix of your top 10? Outdoor continues to deliver the highest reach and frequency at the lowest CPM.
Your thoughts?

Mike, I have nothing against outdoor and have used it often as part of my advertising campaign with larger advertising budgets. I used it to reinforce my more detailed message used in other mediums.

The upside of outdoor is that with good locations it is hard to miss the message. Everyone will see it that drives by that location.

The downside as I see it is that there are constraints to message length – it needs to be an abbreviated message and it is more difficult to zero in on specific generational demographics.

My list is for general consumption, but I could see specific cases where I might use outdoor even with a small limited budget. Yet, as with traditional TV, even though outdoor may give you the lowest CPM, generally you are paying to advertise to many that are are not your target audience (exceptions noted).

Great ideas.

We are starting to implement some of them for our IT support business in Minneapolis. Referrals are huge for us and we’ll see how well some direct mail pieces go over.

Thanks for the tips!


I cut my marketing budget in half this summer by using reciprocal marketing.

There are so many ways to collaborate online. You can add reciprocal blog posts, Twitter posts, Facebook Fan Page posts,and all your social networking pages.

Add reciprocal banner ads to your website and newsletter

This is free marketing and it allows you to grow your current business relationships.

I like your comment “anchor any tactic to a solid strategic direction” as this should be #1 before a business does anything.

Unfortunately 80% of businesses rely on their gut and intuition as I discuss in my blog and they get upset when they miss their KPI’s and your ROI’s.

You must first intimately understand your market, its buyers, and their buying criteria.

Mark Allen Roberts


Excellent post. These are some great practical tips small businesses can implement right away. I would also add evangelizing existing customers to above list. Providing a platform for existing clients to share ideas and key leanings can be a very good way for a business to generate referrals and establish thought leadership. Also demonstrate transparency and social media savvy.

Having said that, this strategy is not for the faint hearted, for sure. Existing customers may use the platform to post complaints as well but it is better to address these right there and then rather than having the grievances appear on other sites.

The major advantage of fostering a dialog with existing customers on your website is to establish your thought leadership in your market and garner positive word of mouth.

Brenda, I agree. Some small biz owners with whom I counsel are afraid of the bad things people might say. Do they think that if they are less visual that people will quit saying the negative things? It is like hiding your head in the sand.

Bad news travels ten times faster than good news. And people are sharing their experiences (good or bad) about a company whether or not the company is involved in social media.

The big difference is that when a company becomes involved in social media they become aware of what is being said, learn where they can improve and they can address problems quickly in front of the world. This is all good.

Everyone knows that there are sometimes hiccups or things that may make a customer unhappy and they are very accepting of this if the company shows that they are quick to remedy the situation. In fact, remedying a problem quickly to the customer’s satisfaction while the world is watching, buys the company much more credibility and loyalty than if there were no problems ever mentioned.

Therefore they should welcome this transparency. It builds goodwill for them and now as a happy customer, they have gained an ambassador.

Those interested in leaning more about Web 2.0 Marketing (including social media) should read the series of posts I have on the subject, starting with
Web 2.0 Online Marketing Series – Overview

Thanks for reading my post Brenda and taking the time to comment.

Hey all

Thanks for a good article. I was wondering why Google Adwords is’nt mentioned ?


René, the only reason it is not mentioned is because we limited it to the top 10 and this is for a small retail bricks and mortar business. However, there is much more info available on PPC at Web 2.0 Pay-Per-Click Advertising.

Mike, thanks for graciously suggesting I include this information in the comments here as an example of cross promotion on the web:

Retired U.S. Navy personnel Laura Kennedy and I found each other on the web and we have been working together to cross-promote our military-related projects.

Her current project is the campaign for this Veterans Day and beyond — encouraging us all to display the American flag. And this year she’s doing a 24-hour streaming video show the moment November 11th begins on the East Coast.

I interviewed her on my BlogTalkRadio show — here’s the blog post I wrote about her interview along with the link to the interview.

Then she interviewed me to use with the films clips she’s going to show from my site during her 24-hour broadcast.

This is a terrific example of cross-promotional opportunities on the web. And tune in to her streaming video show starting at the stroke of November 11th Eastern time —

Phyllis Zimber Miller

Excellent! Thanks for doing this…it’s really nice to know that I’m not alone on a lot of these things.



Perfect article. I believe I have learned something.

Mike, thanks for the great tips. I am also presently working with a group called Yelp or something similar. For a few bucks a month, they blast your site (500,000) and allow 24 hour updates to keep you in the higher rankings among the SE’s.

As a seasonal business, we are spending a small fortune from December to May, and sales after that are around zero. Facebook ads is a good alternative, but that runs $24 per period (30 days?) and hits a huge target market (For us, seeds and gardening is around 3.5 million hits).

Twitter on the other hand, is not a good social media for advertising. I have found that if you are just advertising your wares, and not getting personal, you lose followers fasster than you gather them.

Facebook pages on another hand is a great advertising tool. Use the link, and you get a good amount of free advertising when commenting on someone else’s posts.

Microsoft adcenter is very expensive, and hard to get out of once the campaign starts. Google adwords can take a stale ad on pause, and run it anyway, even if you don’t reactivate it yourself. With a seasonal seed business, there is nothing worse than getting hit with $100+ for ads that were on pause and income equals zero.

Viamedia says that they can run my TV ads cheaper with better tracking than anyone else. That I will have to research further. We really don’t have anything of TV value for ads. Does Burpee, Jungs, or Henry Fields? Probably not, it is not an exciting business watching someone’s seeds grow…lol.

We have had a small percentage of success by giving our seeds to some bloggers that talk about how they grow and share recipes, which is pretty cool in it’s own self.


Dave that post is over two years old. A lot has changed since I posted this. I have found one of the tools that builds the most credibility for a business is a blog. Search engines love blogs. And I am guessing you could write a post almost daily about your seeds. You could categorize the posts by types of seeds. Each post could include what climate the like, amount of light that is needed, how much water is needed, when to plant, etc. Each post could include a picture of the plant. Assuming you offer as large a variety of seeds as some of the companies you mentioned in your comments, I am sure you would quickly achieve top search engine rankings. I noticed that Burpee does even seem to have a blog (maybe because they have so much info on their site).

Based upon the very little I know about your business, I would think your best odds at this point is Search Engine Optimization and a blog would establish you as the go to location for information on all kinds of seeds.

I hope this is of some help.


Dave, I searched Google with your name and found it tied to Dollar Seeds. I certainly don’t want to insult you, but if this is your site, I would highly recommend that you invest some of your marketing dollars in redesigning your web site. I am not surprised that you are not receiving traffic.

Using CMS software like WordPress, Joomla or Drupal, You should be able to find someone that could build a beautiful professional site with shopping cart from under $3,000.

I would speculate that making this investment would increase your revenue by 10-20 times and more.

Just a suggestion…


Small business advertising is a science and an art. Companies should adopt the fundamentals of advertising. Regardless of the size of the business an understanding of the laws of advertising can reap huge rewards. Successful business advertising speaks to one target market only. Focus the message to the target group. Successful business advertising does not sell a product or service. Create ads that generate interest and make the customer want more information.

Advertising costs a lot, consume a large part of new businesses’ startup costs and existing small businesses’ operating expenses — but without advertising there will be no customers or continuing sales.Need more personal work to have success

Great article. I definitely agree with you that you must try different mediums. Being creative and finding ways to have your messages seen continually increases brand recognition. There is a new form of print advertising on pizza box toppers that has just emerged. A company can get 12,000 imprints the same size of a business card for as low as $275.00. Companies from BMW to local plumbers have advertised continuously on these box toppers!!! If you would like more information on this please feel free to email me

great artical I agree with you

I have been absent for a while, but now I remember why I used to love this site. Thanks , I¡¦ll try and check back more often. How frequently you update your website?

Hey Mike,

Love the idea of putting bookmarks in related books for a guerilla type approach. Cool suggestion.

I agree with your thoughts regarding the importance of a website, and more specifically, a blog where you can share your personality.

As a small business owner, I believe that’s your biggest asset. That, and being really good at what you do.

I jotted down my thoughts – what do you think?

Thanks Mike.


please send me more information about your services.

Larry Brown
P.O. Box 130
Washington, D.C. 20044

Just wanted to give you a quick update. Here is my site that is now highly promoted Any thoughts? They do have an SEO check system that each new item in the store has a minimum requirement to get a thumbs up. I’ve also recently hired a graphics artist to give it all some eye candy. Still working on the blog part, but somewhere in the cybershpere, I do have something in the works. So many social media mediums, it’s hard to keep track of all of them ;-(

Excellent blog here! Also your site loads up very fast! What web host are you using? Can I get your affiliate link to your host? I wish my website loaded up as quickly as yours lol|


I am sorry to inform you that Mike Clough passed away and is no longer managing this blog. I am in the process of taking over for him. Regrettably, at present, I am unable to respond to your requests.


I am sorry to inform you that Mike Clough passed away and is no longer managing this blog. I am in the process of taking over for him. Regrettably, at present, I am unable to respond adequately to your comment.


I am sorry to inform you that Mike Clough passed away and is no longer managing this blog. I am in the process of taking over for him. Regrettably, at present, I am unable to respond to your request.


I am sorry to inform you that Mike Clough passed away and is no longer managing this blog. I am in the process of taking over for him. Regrettably, at present, I am unable to respond to your comment.

My deepest sympathy to Mike’s family. He was a really good guy and will be missed by the web community he has so generously supported with his insights and ideas.

Tracey DeLeeuw


Thank you. In addition to being my business partner, Mike was also my husband. There are no words to express how difficult it was to lose him.

Susan, so sorry for your loss. Please let me know if I can be of any assistance during the transition.


Thank you. Although it is taking me much longer than I would have liked, I believe I am making some progress.

I know of a good free advertising site called , I have used it for a few months now to promote my catering business.

The type of advertising you choose should be based on your average customer. Newspaper and yellow page print media may work for some local businesses but has a declining customer base. Magazines can be targeted but offer limited venue options. Radio and television can reach either local or expanded areas. It can be directed to specific customer bases with proper ad placement and timing. Internet advertising is the medium of both present and future. It allows advertisers to reach out to customers in a variety of ways and is able to pinpoint demographics as well or better as broadcast media. Display and novelty advertising can be designed to stand out to your target audience.Space Age is a major player in the production of all kinds of office materials.

Hi all,
Try PocketCents. It’s a great and cheap way to advertise whether you are a small or local business. Use promo code: toms333.
Thanks for your time.

Wow, wonderful blog layout! How long have you been blogging for?
you make blogging look easy. The overall look of your website is
magnificent, as well as the content!

I’m also using to promote my business. I have been getting some pretty good results…Its similar to a craigslist but you can list your business so that it wont expire and invite people in as well and promote the listing out on other sites and its all totally free…

This blog is incomparable.

Hiya – I found this blog to be really useful.

Asking questions are in fact good thing if you are not understanding something fully, but
this paragraph gives nice understanding yet.

Great tips and thanks for sharing. In addition, the cloud based solutions give the greatest benefits to an organization and their customers; they are not only seeing a greater variety of solutions but also enhanced cost savings and increased speed of deployment.

Hi! Would you mind if I share your blog with my zynga group?
There’s a lot of folks that I think would really appreciate your content. Please let me know. Many thanks

If you own a small business then internet advertising could be the most cost-effective way to advertise your business. Create a website, a blog, write and then publish compelling content.

I’m going to suggest to all my contacts that they should also visit this weblog on regular basis to get up to date information!

May I simply just say what a relief to discover a person that
actually understands what they’re discussing on the web.
You actually understand how to bring an issue to
light and make it important. More and more people ought to look
at this and understand this side of the story. I was
surprised that you’re not more popular given that you certainly have
the gift.

An outstanding share! I have just forwarded this onto a coworker who has been doing a little research on this.
And he actually bought me lunch because I stumbled upon
it for him… lol. So allow me to reword this…. Thank YOU for the meal!!

But yeah, thanx for spending the time to discuss this matter
here on your internet site.

Also visit my blog … great newletter writing tips (

Thank you.

With havin so much written content do you ever run into any issues of plagorism or copyright
infringement? My site has a lot of unique content I’ve either authored myself or outsourced but it seems a lot of it is popping it up all over the internet
without my permission. Do you know any methods to help
prevent content from being stolen? I’d truly
appreciate it.

I think everything typed made a bunch of sense. However, what about this?
what if you composed a catchier post title? I mean, I don’t want to tell you how to run
your website, however suppose you added a headline that makes people want more?
I mean Top 10 Advertising Tips For Small Business | America’s Best Business Practices is kinda
vanilla. You should look at Yahoo’s front page and watch
how they create news titles to grab viewers to
open the links. You might add a related video or a picture or two to get people interested about everything’ve
got to say. In my opinion, it might bring your posts
a little livelier.

As a matter of fact, content from my articles is often copied by other bloggers and, quite frequently, I consider it a complement if they credit the author and include a link back to my site.

Thank you for taking the time to comment. Your suggestions are excellent, especially those related to pictures and video. And, if I had the same resources as Yahoo, I would not hesitate to implement your suggestions!

Aw, this was an incredibly nice post. Spending some time and actual effort to create a very good article… but
what can I say… I hesitate a lot and never manage to get nearly anything done.

Its very nice and well written article for solving advertising issue, help small business. I would like to know more about free of cost On-line advertising methods and secrets.

[...] ensure that you’re targeting only those who live near your practice. You’ll find plenty of ideas for small business advertising online and ensuring you have an up to date, well designed website with all your business info [...]

You are so awesome! I don’t think I’ve truly read a single thing like that before.

So wonderful to discover someone with some original thoughts on
this subject matter. Seriously.. many thanks for starting this up.
This website is something that’s needed on the internet,
someone with a bit of originality!

Ahaa, its pleasant conversation concerning this piece of writing at this place at this weblog, I have read all that, so at this time me also commenting at this place.

Leave a response

Your response: