How to advertise your business

Advertising your business helps inform potential customers of your products and services, and why they should buy from you. Here’s our guide to the best ways to advertise your business.

When starting a business, advertising is a great way to tell potential customers about your products and services – and a chance to tempt them to buy from you. Advertising can seem like a costly exercise but you should aim to spend around 8% of your overall income on marketing your business via advertising.

If you’ve a small marketing budget there are cheap and free ways to market your business – although advertising this way can result in fewer customers. The golden rule when advertising is simple: ensure that you generate more profit from customers responding to your advertising than you spend on the cost of the advertising. This is known as a positive return on investment (ROI) against your advertising spend.

Before you jump into buying advertising space in a local newspaper and designing your ad it pays to know how to advertise your business so that it will attract the right kind of customers.

Four steps for effective advertising

Advertising to the right customers using the right channels means that every pound you spend on advertising will be as effective as possible. The aim with advertising is to generate as much profit from the money you spend on advertising – a negative ROI will mean you’ve wasted money that did not bring in enough business to warrant using it. To help ensure that your advertising is as effective as possible, try following these steps:

Step 1. Decide who your customers are: This sounds simple but you should research the kinds of customers who will most likely buy from you. Understanding who your customers are will ensure you create the right message in a way that appeals to them and that you know how best to reach them. Unless you’re willing to spend a fortune advertising to everyone, being able to target your advertising at the right customers is more effective.

Step 2. Learn where to advertise your business: Different types of customers will use media in different ways. Knowing what kinds of media your customers engage with means you can advertise your business where customers are more likely to see and respond to it. If your customers are mainly other businesses then why not identify the trade press that staff with purchasing control within those companies are most likely to read. You can also use social media to target specific types and demographics of customer, such as the over 50s, to better target more lifestyle services and products. There are lots of different media channels to advertise with including search engines, websites, social media, local newspapers, community service boards, radio, TV, leaflets, billboards and posters. Select the ones that your customers use most.

Step 3. Create effective advertising copy: Lots of businesses make the mistake of telling people about how brilliant/cheap/exclusive/special their products and services are and then wonder why their advertising wasn’t effective. Instead of talking just about your product or service create advertising that shows how your product or service will solve a problem faced by your customers. For example, rather than a dog grooming service advertising “open 9-5, qualified staff and friendly environment” instead promote problems such as “Fido looking a little shaggy? Dog smell overpowering your home?” Connect the problem to how your services can help.

Step 4. Measure how effective your advertising is: With tight budgets it pays to keep tabs on how effective your advertising is being. Consider adding a reference code to ads, a dedicated phone number or a specific website url so you can count the customers who contact you or visit your site because of an ad and measure how much they spend with you. Some channels – such as TV – might generate lots of calls but low conversions into customers, whereas specialist magazines might generate fewer calls but from people more likely to become customers. Review how effective your advertising spend is being across channels and move your spending to the ones that are the most effective.

Cheap and effective ways to advertise your business

If your business is just starting and you don’t have much marketing budget there are plenty of cheap and even free ways to start promoting your business and attracting customers. You don’t have to spend a fortune and using online techniques and hard work such as distributing your own leaflets can attract customers for relatively little money.

Set up a website to advertise your business: It is important to have a strong online presence and with a website you can reach new customers through social networking sites, search engines and online listings. Having all your information accessible on a website means potential and existing clients can easily research your business. A website doesn’t need to cost the earth, and there are plenty of cheap website building services online. Companies such as Create.net and web.com offer great online web building services and some such as Moonfruit even build basic sites for free.

Ensure your web address is simple and easy to remember and then set up listings for your business in search engines. Google and Bing are both free to list local business. Setting up a blog and updating it regularly is a good way to increase readership and traffic on your website. Include the types of words and phrases that potential customers would use to search for a business such as yours in the title of your website and on headlines and within text.

Don’t forget that getting your website noticed online in search engine results is important in order for you to attract customers. Check out our free SEO toolkit for start up businesses for a wide range of beginner and also advanced tips and tricks on getting your site noticed online.

Use online advertising services: Online advertising services are an effective way to advertise your business. Google AdWords allow businesses to put ads at the top of search pages related to specific search terms such as ‘London plumber.’ It can be quite cost effective as you only pay when someone clicks on the ad. This form of advertising can generate huge amounts of visitors to your website if you use focused keywords for your demographic. You’ll have to bid against other businesses for key words; the more you’re willing to pay the more likely your ad will appear.

Learn how to use Google Adwords with Google’s learning videos:

Facebook also offers an advertising service. This allows you to target specific customers, for example by age, gender, profession and similar likes. While it offers a smaller platform than Google, Facebook’s focused advertising can be more effective in targeting potential customers.

You could also get your business on Yelp which is a website where customers review businesses. Good reviews are important in persuading potential customers and Yelp lets you reply to bad reviews so you appear more professional. You can also list your business on Google Places, which means your business will appear when people search on Google Maps. People are also able to review your business here, which is a great way to advertise your expertise.

Advertising on social networking sites: Social networking sites are used by millions of people and are a great way to strengthen public relations and market your products. Stay in the public eye by setting up Facebook and Twitter pages for your business. Ensure your profile includes a detailed description so people know what your business does, and keep posts short and entertaining. Encourage people to comment on your posts by posting questions and ask for feedback as this is a good way to create a personal connection with your followers.

It’s important to post content that your customers will appreciate such as tips, skills and special offers. Attach images and short videos to your posts – these often get more views and can be a great way to show previous jobs you have done or things you’ve made. Link your social media back to your website as much as possible.

You can also make use of social media users who have lots of followers and a large online presence by giving them free products and asking them to review your products.

Distribute leaflets to advertise your business: Distributing leaflets is a good way to advertise your business as it is simple and relatively cheap. Distribute leaflets in letterboxes or hand flyers out in busy areas like shopping centres. The more broadly you distribute hand-outs, the more likely you’ll reach potential customers. Ensure the messages are brief and memorable and the leaflets are colourful and bold.

There must be enough information to explain who you are, what your business is and where to find your business. To help, consider including a giveaway or the chance to win a prize if people send you an email or follow your business on social media websites. Alternatively offer discounts for new customers when they respond to the leaflet, with a time limit before the offer expires to prompt a quick response.

Advertise your business locally: Increasing local awareness will increase business recognition and result in more customers. Use local newspapers to advertise your business and send out regular press releases about anything your business has done that relates to the local community. Write articles for local newspapers or websites and magazines in your field to demonstrate your skills. Working with other local businesses and charities can also increase your audience. If your business involves a vehicle, like a van, have the name of your company on the side of the van and an easy-to-remember web address and phone number – this can create a strong presence in the local area.

Offer special discounts: Offering incentives and discounts is a fantastic way to encourage customers to visit your website and buy your products. Offering discounts for first orders or a competition is a great way to attract new customers and offering discounts for their next order will ensure they come back. Make sure the discounts have a deadline so people don’t wait too long.

Word of mouth is valuable advertisement so reward this by offering recommendation discounts for the people who recommend and the people who have been recommended. Give away free samples of your products for people to try or free merchandise such as key rings or pens with your company name and number on. You could even team up with another local business and offer coupons to each other’s shops.

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