Advertising 101: Tips to Get You Started

Advertising spaces in public

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Advertising really just boils down to telling a story in order to convey a message about your business, products, or services. Advertising "stories" can be told with words, sounds, videos, or even simply using images.

In the world of advertising creativity does count, but being clear about your message is even more important than being the most clever and unique company out there on the map. In fact, advertising that is too off the beaten path can be an expensive mistake. Think of whimsy ads as the house with all its interior walls painted pink -- it has little mass appeal making it harder to find the right buyer and close a deal.

If you do not have the budget to hire someone to help with an advertising campaign, rely on your own strengths.

If you have strong writing skills, start with a flyer or brochure. If you have artistic ability, use more images and fewer words in your campaign. But no matter where you start, have someone else proofread your work before going to print.

Advertising Should Be Focused, Not All-Encompassing Attempts to Reach 'Everybody'

There are many different types of consumer groups, so you cannot reach everyone with a single ad campaign. Target a particular group (i.e., working mothers, homeowners in a particular area, pet owners, etc.) and address their specific interests. Providing broad, or too much information in ad campaigns tends to turn customers off.

To create a successful ad:

  • Keep ad campaigns small and simple;
  • Choose a specific consumer group to target;
  • Do not use ads to promote personal, religious, or political agendas unless that is your business' mission;
  • Choose a specific product, product line or service to promote;
  • Offer coupons, discounts or incentives - everyone loves a bargain.

Advertising Requires the Ability to Take Criticism

Test your marketing ideas on other people, and listen to their feedback. The goal in advertising is to reach consumers, not to be "right." You want to make money, and that requires an ability to accept constructive criticism. You might "get" your idea, but if consumers don't "get it," your advertising campaign will fail.

Business Cards: The Little Big Promoter

Business cards are inexpensive and many online printers now offer free design tools. You should have two types of business cards: cards you plan to give out for networking and corporate identification purposes; and cards to use for advertising purposes (i.e., cards with discount incentives, product promotions, etc.)

Carry business cards with you at all times - you never know when you might run into someone who has a need for services you can provide.

Start a Blog

There are many free, customizable blog services available that only require minor computer skills. Before you start a blog, take the time to read competitor's blogs. If they are making sales in your industry, they must be doing something right. Studying other blogs and websites can help you think of new promotions and or marketing ideas.

Buy a Domain and Start a Website

There are many service providers that will host a website for free if you pay for the domain registration; registering a domain costs about $10 per year.

If you do not have web design skills, choose a service that has "drag and click," or other user-friendly tools that make designing a website as easy as typing a document. Be sure to look at other websites to get ideas for layout and features. Pay special attention to the content listed on competitor's websites - what they are selling, and their specific marketing tools.

If you do not have the budget to hire someone to create a website for you, but want something a little more professional than "freeware," you can purchase a website template for less than $60. Templates are edited in an HTML editor but do not necessarily require a working knowledge of HTML codes. Simple templates are designed so that you just replace images and text with your own.

Pay-Per-Click and Other Internet Ad Services

It may seem like a fast and easy way to get your blog or website noticed, but buying Internet ad space can also be very expensive. Be sure to understand the difference in advertising services that are being offered and how you will be charged. Some services charge for each click through to your website from an advertised link, others take a commission from any sales made.

In general, it is better to pay more for quality advertising, then it is to buy bulk advertising through lesser-known search engines.

If you have the budget for Internet advertising you might compare pricing to the cost of hiring someone to do Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for your own website. Effective SEO can drive consumer traffic to your site from search engine queries much better than click-through ads can.

Television and Radio

Few new businesses can (or should) start out advertising on television or radio. It is expensive and, unless you have access to multiple resources, will be counterproductive, because your media will look "homegrown." Television and radio ads require professional skills for scripting, set design or staging, taping, and then editing.

Register With Your Local Better Business Bureau (BBB)

This is one expense (usually about $500 per year) that is worth it to anyone in a service industry. Consumers often use the BBB to check out contractors, cleaning services, car dealerships, and other businesses where they plan to spend a lot of money. Having a good BBB rating encourages consumers who are unfamiliar with your company to trust your business.


The best source of advertising is still by word-of-mouth and personal referrals. Second only to the Internet, consumers turn to people that they know for recommendations about products and services. Let your family and friends know you are in business and ask them to help you spread the word (networking).

Be quick to resolve customer complaints, because people are more likely to casually offer anecdotes about negative experiences to friends and family, rather than good ones.


An ad campaign tells a story and you will need to write more than one to reach a variety of consumers. Campaigns should be focused on generating income, whether directly or indirectly. Do not use advertising campaigns to promote a personal, religious, or political message(unless this is something your company does as part of the business).

Advertise within your budget. Be creative, but be clear. And relax; one bad ad campaign is not likely to ruin your business - but a few good ones could make it!