You’ve taken the great leap forward and opened your own small business. After working with the Small Business Administration, your lending institution, your partners, and suppliers, you must feel exhausted but also invigorated by the idea of launching your own small business. But now it’s time for the real test of your small business: actually selling your product or service to real people. One of the most critical elements of opening a small business is finding, reaching and communicating with your customers. That means getting the word out. But we’re a long way from just running an advertisement in the newspaper or buying an advertisement in the Yellow Pages. There are now literally hundreds of different ways to advertise locally, so let’s look at the most common methods to help you decide which approach is right for you.
Print Advertising. This is the tried and true method of paying for an advertisement in black-and-white or color ink in a real world newspaper, magazine or newsletter. Digital experts will dismiss this method as old-fashioned but don’t be too quick to let this option go. For some specific audiences like older customers or new moms, advertising in a local publication can often mean reaching people who wouldn’t come across your business otherwise. Especially for niche services like cleaning crews or day care centers, print advertising can be a great way to run coupons and specials and connect with users of a one-time service or ongoing customers of a small business.
Digital Advertising: This method is so diverse that it’s difficult to summarize, but essentially you have lots of options for advertising on the Internet, ranging from building your own simple website with tools like Wordpress or SquareSpace to hiring a digital marketing firm to help you spread the word. The only key concept here is that whatever you do with digital advertising, it must produce results in terms of new customers, more business, or better word-of-mouth about your small business. If your digital efforts aren’t producing a return on investment, it’s time to rethink your approach.
Media Advertising. This is another old-school approach that relies on buying time on radio or television stations, producing a short advertisement, and letting the media broadcast your message to your customers. It’s potentially an expensive proposition for a small business so make sure you’re evaluating this option carefully when you’re speaking with a station’s sales manager.
Search Engines. This is a no-brainer for any small business because it’s usually completely free. By listing your business with Google’s small business sites and review sites like Yelp or Urbanspoon, you’re helping your customers find you more easily and giving yourself and your small business better exposure. If you find this method is working for you, you can start making investments in pay-per-click options like Google Adwords or Yahoo Search Results.
Walk-in Traffic. This is a dangerous game to play with your small business. Unless your business is highly attractive to customers on the street and is located in a highly-trafficked, visible and attractive area like an urban open-air mall, it’s not wise to depend on the kindness of strangers to support your small business.
Engage with your Community. This may not be the most effortless option on this list but it’s certainly the most fun and the best one for your neighborhood. Show off the values of your small business by investing in the health of your community. Sponsor a volunteer project in your community. Give backing to a local school or sports team. Give away products or services to support a good cause in your community. By actively demonstrating that your small business is not only a member in good standing of your community but is actively investing in your community’s social fabric, you will show both existing and potential customers that your small business is a good one, and worth the effort it takes to gain their trust and their business.