The Secret to Small Business Advertising

Small businesses are bombarded with advertising opportunities. These sales pitches often make small business owners feel uneasy and uncertain, thinking, “Shouldn’t I try this out?” or, “What if I’m missing an opportunity?” In small business, the fear of missing out often drives advertising decisions.

The secret is that many advertising companies are successful because of this uncertainty, not because of the success they bring their clients. Much of their money is made from the attitude of, “Maybe we should just test this to see if it works.”

So how can you tell which advertising options are good – and which ones are bad?  Let me make it easier for you and give some insight based on what I’ve learned over the years. I’ve talked with many advertisers and heard almost every advertising pitch.

Some advertising offers are inherently shady, such as emails from companies claiming your website failed “international reports” or from other companies promising to place your ad in the first advertising spot on Google for just a monthly fee. In general, if you receive a bulk email from an advertising company, feel free to discard it (and think of all the time you’ll save not having to read these junk emails!).

Other advertising offers can be confusing. You may receive phone calls from pushy advertising salespeople who assure you they’re offering a great deal. Below are a few instances of those kinds of offers and when it might make sense for you to accept them.

There are many companies offering to promote your business on Google and Bing. Some of them (like mine) manage the advertising in an efficient and effective way.  Others try to obscure how the systems work. Keep in mind that Google and Bing advertising are always pay-per-click. It’s reasonable to hire a web marketing specialist to manage and grow your search engine marketing, but the company should provide transparency. Such a company will help you decide if search engine advertising is even right for your business.

In addition to search engines, there are many individual websites that solicit advertisers. Websites such as exist solely on advertising revenue and cater to specialized groups of people (in this case, brides). Advertising on these sites are usually paid for monthly instead of pay-per-click, so is it worth the risk? It could be, depending on what you are selling, how many visitors on the site are looking for your product and how many competitors they allow to appear with your ad. Ask the salesperson for this information to determine if you’ll get a return on this investment. If the salesperson can’t provide this information, don’t buy from them.

Coupon publications are another advertising option often promoted to small businesses. Bundled coupons like Val-Pak have a very dedicated following among a small group of coupon users. Generally, everyone else on the mailing list simply throws out the envelope without looking at it. This pattern means every coupon redeemed from a Val-Pak mailing is used by the same group of people. This behavior is fine for companies who don’t mind regularly discounting products or services, but it’s not a good way to gain new customers who will someday pay full price. This same advice also applies to coupon circulars like Redplum or Dollarsaver.

Don’t worry if you can’t determine if an advertising venue is right for your business. It’s the advertiser’s job to prove it to you. Advertisers should provide you with detailed statistics relating to your business. If they can’t provide you with data, then you can’t be sure they are offering a good investment. For reference, provides excellent public information that makes it clear which types of products and services should be advertised on their site. Don’t expect anything less from those trying to sell you advertising.

Here’s my advertising advice in a nutshell: Always say, “No!” unless an advertiser can prove his advertising will provide a return on the investment.

If you get an advertising offer, and don’t know what to do with it, feel free to send it to me at I’ll let you know what I think.

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