Advertising – who needs it? Well… small businesses do actually. A properly conceived advertising strategy can dramatically increase a small business’ visibility, develop its brand power and quickly translate to an uptick in sales. Advertising also increases visibility within a business’ industry, helping to attract collaborative partners who can help a business grow.
Advertising isn’t cheap though and with so many types, styles and places to advertise, who’s to know where to start? The traditional forms of print, television and radio advertising are still relevant, but the industry has exploded into the online space, with countless platforms from search engines to social media and everything in between. It can be difficult to know what to do, and whether it will be effective.
That’s where we come in. This article offers you 35 effective small business advertising options, that vary in cost. We begin with a discussion of some basic advertising principles before presenting 30 small business advertising ideas. Next, we look at how business owners can promote their business for free with a website, and 5 great platforms that allow you to do just that. Let’s discover what advertising options there are, and how they can benefit small businesses.
Before we dive into the 30 ideas for you to consider, let’s tackle some fundamental principles that should be taken into account in any advertising strategy.
It is difficult to overstate the importance of knowing and understanding the target audience of an advertising campaign. The target audience is the demographic or grouping of consumers to whom the product or service that a business is selling is most relevant. As they are the people who are likely to purchase the product or service, the advertising strategy is targeted at them.
The reason this is so important is because it should be tailored as best as possible to maximise its effectiveness in appealing to the target demographic. Understanding the target audience will significantly dictate the style and type of ad, where it is shown and at what time, and its subject matter or content.
In many cases, products or services may be in demand across a broad cross-section of consumers – such as in the case of an iPhone. In such cases, targeting a specific audience is less crucial. On the other hand, certain specialised products (like sporting equipment or beauty products for women) are likely to have a much narrower market of consumers.
Where (on social media, television, radio, billboards etc.) and when a particular advertisement is placed or shown, respectively, are other factors that should be considered, and again this will be determined by the target audience.
To illustrate the interplay of these factors, let’s take the example of a business that sells skateboards. It is generally known that the market for skateboards is predominantly populated by young people, who are mostly (though not exclusively) male. It follows, therefore, that, the most efficient and effective advertising campaign is going to be tailored to the tastes of young males, including in its use of imagery, language, music, the style of the ad, as well as where and when it is shown.
An effective advertising strategy for this business might incorporate banner ads on Facebook (which is very popular amongst young people) and television commercials shown during the ad breaks of programmes which young males are likely to be watching that air in the morning and early evening. In this way, the advertising campaign is going to reach more young males, and appeal to them too.
It would make little sense for a television advertisement for skateboards to be in a style more likely to appeal to women in the 65–75 age range, and shown during the commercial breaks of a midday talk show – when younger males are likely to be at school.
That said, there are no hard and fast rules and this is by no means an exhaustive analysis of the factors pertaining to skateboard advertising strategies. However, as a general example, it serves to demonstrate some of the considerations which need to be borne in mind at the outset of any advertising campaign. With that said, let’s now take a look at 30 small business advertising ideas.
Facebook provides many opportunities for advertising and it Ads Manager provides lots of options for customisation. With 2.23 billion users, many of whom use the platform daily, you’re sure to hit the mark with a plethora of interested consumers. For more details on how you can use Facebook ads for your small business, see our article here.
Sponsoring a local sporting team is a great way to build awareness of a brand in a local community. It’s also excellent for engendering a sense of community spirit around the business. This helps to create trust with local consumers, who have a visible example of the way that the business cares about being involved in the community and giving back.
Having a regular email newsletter that is regularly sent out to a mailing list is a relatively inexpensive way of letting people know about a business’ products, sales or promotions, events and other things the business is doing. In-store promotions can encourage customers to join the mailing list for the chance at a reward (such as a store voucher).
Local cinema advertising works well because people are focused and paying attention – they are in a dark room with little to look at but the screen and are usually eagerly awaiting the start of the film. Cinema ads are great for targeting local customers, and can be particularly effective for businesses that can offer moviegoers something to do after the film.
A Google My Business listing is fundamentally important for all businesses to have. A GMB listing improves a business’ overall visibility in numerous ways, not least of which is the appearance of the business in search results on Google itself. The listing can include all the key details of the business as well as options for interaction, making it easier for the business to be found online.
Local newspaper ads are very good for reaching local consumers, and are cheaper than many other options. Businesses can target relevant sections of the paper (such as the ‘Entertainment’ section if the business is a bar) to increase their effectiveness. Online versions of newspapers attract many readers and can also be a great place to reach a wider audience.
Partnering with other local businesses for cross-promotional campaigns can be a good method for getting more customers through the door. For example, a restaurant could offer early bird meal discounts for people attending the local theatre on performance nights. Cross-promotional partnerships are win-win and foster a sense of community spirit – not only between businesses, but in the eyes of customers too.
Television advertisements are a time-tested medium for reaching broad audiences. For small businesses, local networks are the way to go, rather than large national ones. Not only are they likely to charge less for advertising time, but local viewers are more likely to be the audience. Television ads are expensive, but when done well can reap significant rewards.
Instagram offers users great photography functionality, making it easy for just about anyone to make beautiful photos. Instagram photos are a great way to showcase products or things the business is doing, for free. Business can also set up a business profile, allowing them to create paid ads using the Facebook Ads Manager.
Getting involved at industry events or tradeshows is a great way for businesses to grow their brand profile and can be done by simply exhibiting at the event, or through sponsorship. Involvement in industry events helps to establish credibility and reputation, letting consumers know a business is a serious player. These events also offer exceptional opportunities for networking with other local businesses, which can lead to partnerships and other benefits that flow from intra-industry relationships.
Having a branded vehicle such as a car or van is like having a mobile sign that advertises a business wherever it goes. The branding can be as a simple as just a company logo, or it can include contact details too. Furthermore, in many countries, branded vehicles can be written off as a tax deduction (as a legitimate business expense).
Influencers are social media personalities who command a huge number of followers (on Instagram, for example) and therefore can reach many people with their posts. Engaging an influencer to endorse your product or business is a powerful way of generating hype, and elevating a brand’s status.
Much like sponsoring a sporting team, getting behind local events promotes trust and a sense of community spirit with local citizens. People like to see businesses that are willing to give back to the community and will be happy to support that business in turn. Events can also offer great exposure by putting put the brand or business in front of a large local audience.
While they may not seem like much, business cards can actually have a really positive effect on a business’ visibility. They are a great low-budget advertising option that, thanks to their size, can be employed in multiple scenarios. They can be placed at the business itself, handed out easily by staff members, or even placed strategically at other businesses (with their permission of course).
A blog is a great way to create engaging content that doubles as promotional or advertising material for a business. Topics might include news and events, product reviews, stories of the industry and many others. A good blog that attracts a large readership will likely be hugely valuable to the business at the centre of it.
Competitions or giveaways are a brilliant way of cultivating hype about a business and getting people to interact. Usually, a competition will require consumers to purchase products or in some other way promote the business (such as by liking its Facebook page) for a chance at a prize. Competitions not only drive sales, but they also create engagement and generate discussion amongst consumers – all for relatively little cost to the business owner.
Online business directory listings, which are often free, are essentially a cost-effective form of advertising. Directory listings increase a business’ visibility and also bolster a business’ online presence in a variety of other ways. Check out our article here for more information on the benefits of business directory listings: ueni.com/online-directory
Again this is a simple, traditional method, but one which can be of great use. Well-placed signage assists by letting passers know that the business is there, ensuring that the business captures foot traffic. This can be particularly important depending on the nature of the business and the specifics of its premises.
Create wearable, moving advertisements for your business by having t-shirts made with your logo or business name on them. These can be worn at local events or just generally in the community and can be given to other customers as well. If you can manage to make them into a fashion item of sorts, then you can double down by charging for them, allowing the advertising to pay for itself.
Social media platforms like Facebook allow users to promote or boost posts they make (for a fee), which means the post reaches a much wider audience than just the page’s followers. This can help to increase organic sharing and commenting on the post, leading to even greater visibility.
With 560 million professional users, LinkedIn is a huge pool of relatively wealthy experts with specific skill sets. Because of this, LinkedIn is becoming increasingly popular for advertising, especially business to business. It’s an excellent place to advertise for small businesses that supply goods or services to other businesses. For more information on LinkedIn advertising, see our local ads article here.
Flyers are a simple and inexpensive yet effective advertising strategy, especially for targeting local consumers in the vicinity of the business. Flyers are easy to distribute, and can also be left for collection at other places in the community such as community bulletin boards, information centres and even other businesses.
Advertisements on search engines like Google are very good at targeting consumers already looking for a product or service, so these ads can be effective. The sheer popularity of Google (and even other search engines) also adds to the appeal – an ad will surely reach a wide audience if it’s placed at or near the top of search results. The cost of ads on search engines can vary, but their effectiveness is undeniable.
Local markets are a fantastic place for businesses to set up a ‘satellite store’ of sorts. Business owners or staff can engage with customers in a more casual setting, offer product samples and really get their brand out into the community. Markets are often exceedingly busy, so the exposure is likely to be well worth the effort.
An affiliate program is one which provides the mechanism for people to become a ‘distributor’ of sorts of a business’s products. The ‘distributors’ advertise or share the business’ products through their own channels and if this converts to sales, then the business compensates them in return. Affiliate programs are a good way of broadening the market and sales of a business. The basic logic is that the sheer volume of sales outweighs the decreased profit margin on each.
Podcasts have grown immensely in popularity in recent years, with some boasting subscriber numbers into the millions. Podcast topics are hugely diverse, with many designed for entertainment purposes only. There are, however, many which focus on business or discuss business topics. Much like radio advertising, a podcast programme can include ads for its sponsors. Depending on the business type, it may be worth considering sponsoring an industry-specific podcast, although those that are more entertainment focused generally command higher numbers of subscribers.
YouTube is another hugely popular platform where the audience numbers are vast. Ads can be purchased relatively cheaply compared with other online platforms, and can be strategically positioned to be shown prior to related videos. Outside of paid options, a business can treat YouTube like any other social media platform and create videos that promote itself or its product, for free.
Magazine ads are a fantastic option for businesses whose product or service is conducive to visual representation. High-quality photographs or well-designed graphics in a magazine can have a significant impact. With countless magazines to choose from, including many that are industry-based publications, a magazine ad is sure to hit the mark.
Human billboards are particularly effective for businesses that don’t have street frontage, alerting passers by to the business’ presence. While the cost of labour makes them more expensive than a regular sign, human billboards have the advantage of being able to interact with potential customers and can draw attention to the business by being vocal and animated.
Referral promotions are an excellent way to stimulate word-of-mouth publicity for a small business. Rewards or the chance at a gift can be offered to customers who refer their friends to the business – a great way to double down on this benefit is by offering referring clients a discount off their next purchase. This all but ensures the original customer returns, in addition to the new customer they referred.
It may seem counterintuitive, but there are a number of free online promotion methods that business owners can take advantage of. One of the most important ways of promoting any business online is by simply having a website, and there are now several website builders that allow you to just that for free. Let’s take a look at them.
UENI is an international company that provides low-cost, easy solutions to get small businesses online. UENI's mission is to take away the time, cost, and complexity small businesses face when going online. UENI does this by providing each small business a fully built, mobile-friendly, SEO-optimised website, a verified Google My Business page, and listings on the most relevant local platforms.
Weebly makes the task of building a website fairly simple, particularly with its drag-and-drop feature. Their websites include integrated marketing and advanced analytics, allowing business owners to take advantage of data, and can be easily optimised on the platform for mobile phones. Unlike some other free website platforms, Weebly includes a code editor which allows more savvy users to customise their website more extensively.
With over 125 million websites worldwide, Wix is clearly doing something right. Wix’s simple website builder features more than 500 templates and is coupled with over 200 separate apps to assist business owners to manage their business all in one place. Wix also provides a support team, SEO assistance and secure hosting.
x10Hosting is a free web hosting service that has been around for more than a decade. As well as free hosting, the service includes unlimited bandwidth and storage, email hosting, good support and all-round solid performance. You can use the web builder to create your own website, or you can simply use x10Hosting as the host for a website designed elsewhere, such as Wordpress. Overall, x10Hosting is great for small businesses with a limited budget.
Much like x10Hosting, Byet.host offers free website hosting. The service is hosted on clustered servers which make for better performance. The service includes numerous features, such as unlimited storage, free tech support, no ads (something which is less common in the free hosting world) and a website builder. It also comes with a script installer, which includes scripts for great features such as blogs, photo galleries, shopping carts and more.
Wordpress is one of the most popular and well-known website building services and has been around since 2003. As a large player that hosts a huge proportion of websites, you can be sure that the service Wordpress provides is reliable. The free version offers hundreds of design themes which are mobile friendly, email and free hosting (although only through a subdomain, eg: [your business name].wordpress.com).
For more information on free website builders and hosting services, see our blog post here.
Clearly, there are a huge number of options at the disposal of business owners when it comes to advertising. Knowing what to do can be difficult, but we hope the ideas we have presented in this article have given you some inspiration. Clever advertising requires creativity, and while many forms can be expensive, there are also many ways that business owners can advertise for free. It all takes hard work, but with the right strategy, you can expand your business’ visibility and jumpstart its growth.
If you’re looking to take the next step with your business and need some advice on how and where to advertise, get in touch with us – we’d love to help you grow your business.