10 Inexpensive Ways to Advertise Your Small Business

Banner ads and print ads can be expensive. And they are not necessarily the best way to advertise your small or mid-size business. So to find how to get the greatest return on your advertising investment, Small Business Computing surveyed small business owners. Below are 10 of their top suggestions for how to advertise on a budget.
1. Invest in Google AdWords
“AdWords and PPC [pay-per-click] can give you crazy amounts of traffic if you are tight with your campaign and run niche ad groups,” explained Andrew Riker an SEO specialist at WordStream. “Focused, long-tail keywords that are specific to your industry will cause the highest possible click-through rate and in-turn conversions.”
Riker adds that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get a lot of traffic. “A small daily budget — $10-$20/day — can provide you with a large amount of traffic and in turn qualified leads, as long as the ad is relevant,” he said.
2. Try Facebook Ads
“We tried print ads and banner ads, but for our money Facebook ads provide us with the most focused consumers,” explained Chris Knollmeyer, Web manager for Carolina Rustica. “Being able to target specific demographics lets us pinpoint people we have not reached yet and provides us with a platform to reach out to them. This kind of targeting allows us to minimize extemporaneous clicks from consumers [who are] just browsing or searching for information and gets us the most for our money.”
“Facebook ads have definitely been the most successful overall,” concurred Megan LaBant Abrahamsen, the owner of Blue Star Bazaar. “I can set a small budget (less than $10 per day) and target specific customers – [by] age, gender, education and interests similar to my product categories.”
Even if people don’t immediately make a purchase because of the Facebook ad, many of them wind up “liking” her business, she said, which lets Blue Star Bazaar create a database of potential customers.
3. Look into StumbleUpon Paid Discovery
“One of the best ways to advertise and get traffic to your website is by using StumbleUpon ads [StumbleUpon Paid Discovery],” noted Chris Wise, the online marketing director at CustomerRave. “They cost as little as $0.05 a click, so for $5 you can get 100 unique visitors to your site. While the bounce rate is more often than not higher when using these ads, it’s a great way to advertise contests, giveaways and big promotions,” he said.
And if the content you are promoting proves to be popular and receives a lot of “likes,” you will start receiving free traffic from Stumbles, which can go on for months, even after you have stopped advertising.
4. Get Published Online
Another great way to advertise your business is to “submit articles on topics your customers may be interested in to reputable websites, such as Ezinearticles.com, Articlesbase.com or TheFreeLibrary.com,” said Matthew Kostanecki, a marketing specialist at Archon Systems.
“In exchange for the content, they allow you to include a couple of back links to your website. Not only does this provide you with potential traffic and leads to your business, it also helps establish you as an expert in your related field,” said Kostanecki. Can’t come up with a subject to write about? He suggests asking your customers about their biggest pains and problems.
5. Donate Products or Volunteer Services to a Worthy Cause
“I got the equivalent of $1,000 in advertising by building the website for the Rhode Island Rally for Recovery,” explained Benjamin John Coleman, founder of The Origami Bonsai Company. And his investment of time really paid off — resulting in $5,000 in new business. That’s because when other vendors who participated in the Rally saw what a great job his company did building and maintaining the Rally website, they hired Coleman to help them with their websites.
6. Cultivate Bloggers
“Find influential bloggers in your industry and ask them to review your product or service,” suggested Daniel Weaver, the president and owner of Daniel’sPromise. “Many will be happy to do so if you give them free product for them to use.”
That’s what Juppy, the maker of the Juppy Baby Walker, did. “When we started out, our company we didn’t have a lot of cash on hand to spend on advertising,” explained Mayra Sotelo, the COO for Juppy. “So we decided to seek out mom bloggers who would review The Juppy Baby Walker. This worked out great for us…because there is no better [endorsement of] our baby walker that fits in a purse than by a real mom who loves our product.”
And if you can’t find a blogger who will review and write about your product for free, there are also bloggers “who will write about your site/product/company in exchange for a fee,” noted Mike Scanlin, CEO of Born To Sell. And even with a fee, that kind of endorsement is typically more effective and less expensive than a banner ad.
7. Claim Local Listings on Google Places, Yahoo Local and Bing Local
“You’d be amazed at how many small businesses forget to sign up for services like Google Places, Yahoo Local, and Bing Local even though it’s free!” explained Mandy Boyle, the SEO manager for Solid Cactus. “Claim your local listing, fill out the information and take advantage of people searching for businesses in your area,” she advised.
8. Use Community Sites and Local Directories
“Community-based online networks [such as Thumbtack and Quentin’s Friends] are a great way to cost-effectively get the word out about your business to a more targeted group,” explained Dana Leavy, CEO ofAspyre Solutions.
Leavy uses a site called Quentin’s Friends, an invitation-only network where members can post recommendations and offers for their products and services for a very small fee ($15). “The service is location-specific, so my ad is going out to thousands of people who are specifically in my geographic area, New York,” she said. And Leavy’s return on investment has been an impressive 6,500 percent.
9. Link Up with LinkedIn Ads
If you own a B2B company, a good way to reach your target audience is through LinkedIn advertising, “We are a small business and our target market is small business users,” explained Damian Raffele, vice president, marketing, AnyMeeting.
LinkedIn Ads has worked well for the company, because it allows them to target a specific audience by geography, demographics, job title or LinkedIn Group. “Being able to target users who belong to specific LinkedIn Groups… allows us to design ad copy that is tailored for them, which has resulted in great conversion rates, providing us with a great ROI on our marketing spend.”

10. Distribute Flyers
“If you have a small business that focuses on a particular area, flyers are a great way to advertise,” said Nathan Letourneau, co-founder of CampusBooks4Less. And they needn’t be expensive. Chances are you have someone in your company, or a friend or family member, who can help you design the flyer inexpensively (or for free) – and you can print the flyer in house or find an inexpensive printer.
As for distribution, “hire some high school or college students and have them put the flyers on parked cars, attach them to house entry doors and distribute them inside area businesses (to employees and on any bulletin boards, if allowed) and apartment complexes,” he advised. “We saw huge increases in traffic after having students distribute flyers on parked cars in our target areas.”
While not every method will work for every business, each advertising strategy is inexpensive enough that you should be able try a few to find out what works for you. Also, many of the sites mentioned, such as Google AdWords and Facebook, periodically offer advertising credits or discounts, which small business owners should use to their advantage.
Jennifer Lonoff Schiff is a regular contributor to Small Business Computing and runs a marketing communications firm focused on helping small and mid-sized businesses.
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Get the most out of your communication specialist

Studios, advertising and communications agencies offer a wide range of services from conception to production. Typically, small agencies will give small and medium-sized businesses better service. A less expensive option is to hire a freelance copywriter or designer who can help you find the right concept and marry visuals with copy.

When you’re trying to choose a firm, you may want to see proposals first. If so, you may have to pay a “pitch fee” up front since agencies won’t generally dedicate time or money to develop detailed proposals unless they think they stand to generate a substantial payoff later.

If the agency sends its top people to make a sale, make sure you know who will be handling the account if you give that company the job. Make sure as well that you have a written contract, with all parties specifying deadlines and costs, including overtime, copywriting, photography, translation, project management and printing.

Once you’ve made your choice, remember that no one knows more about your company than you. By all means, give the agency the information they need to do their work, including your objectives, target audience and the key customer benefit of your product or service. But let the agency do their work. Don’t tell its staff how to write or design. It’s also a good idea to simplify the approval process by allowing a limited number of people to deal with the agency and sign off on the project.

If you’re considering online advertising, consult an agency that specializes in e-marketing. Make sure you get a guarantee of service stipulating that if a website goes down or your ads are not shown, your contract will be extended for the period of time that was missed.

Top 10 Current Website Designing Techniques

From the very basic HTML sites of the early days to the extremely feature rich user interfaces of today, web design has surely come a long way. Looks do matter, and it is more so with websites. But modern website design is not concentrated on just giving a good looking website. Today, a well designed site should also improve user experience, and make the site absolutely usable and interactive for the readers. Moreover, the bells and whistles accompanying the contemporary websites should not obstruct SEO exercise.

In addition, modern website design is also focused on subtly affecting the user to take a desired action, once he/she is going through a website. Each font, every effect and every image is there for an intension, which has been approved by numerous usability studies and plentiful research. SO, what are some of these current website design techniques that seek to take the user experience to a new level? Check these out:

Keep It Uncomplicated: There is a renewed concentration on keeping the design simple and arranged. The layout is also simple – with only one or two columns.

Content Placed in Center: The content on the website is placed in the center. This is a consequential departure from the old practice of keeping the content left aligned or fluid (to help keep the content ‘above the fold).

Concentrate on Content Design, rather than Page Design: There is a greater accomplishment that the users regard good content highly, and good design should encourage the reader to focus the attention on the content rather than the shape of the website. The focus has clearly shifted from elements such as background design, to content design.

Focus on Utilizing White Space: The current web designers seem to be using white space with retaliation, a significant departure from the old practice. Intensified use of white space helps in the separating of each designing element.

Icons and 3Dimensional Effects Used, But Thriftily: Web designers are making use of beautiful icons and 3D effects, though these factors are use thriftily – only to catch the eye, not to clutter the webpage with too much design.

Efficient Use of Colors: The backgrounds are being cleared in neutral, soft colors, with white and grey being the favorites. Strong colors are used sparingly, as a surprise element to attract others to look.

Large Texts &Fonts: There is an increased use of large, and sometimes, highly large text types. This is to grab reader attention and provide immense readability.

Increased Utilization of Media Blocks: With greater expansion and approachability of broadband, there is a greater incorporation of media blocks too, for videos and screen casts. However, they are being used only to complete the main text content, not to supplement it altogether.

Social Design Factors: With increasing popularity of social media and a greater stress on cooperation and sharing the content among users, there is a greater inculcation of social design factors in the website designing process. This helps in making the content easily ‘shareable” among users, and helps in making the content viral in nature.

Approachability Issues: There is a greater concentration on making the content easily approachable to people with disabilities.

Possibilites are endless – Do you have a reputable business? Have someone create a custom web design for you. OR are you a designer? Try a content management system like Joomla or WordPress for your design! What ever you select – keep a SEO friendly web design in mind.

Five Ways to Test Your Marketability

Maintain Your Competitive Edge with This Checklist

How marketable are you? Are you using a sound career strategy to keep fit for today’s fluctuating marketplace?

Whether you’re looking for work or want to hold on to the job you have, maintaining your marketability for the long term requires that you continually invest in yourself. You are the product you’re selling, but you must be proactive to remain competitive. Here are five ingredients for a winning strategy: work that serves your goals, lifelong learning, staying current with your skills and industry knowledge, networking, and maintaining balance.

Use this checklist to test your marketability. If you find any areas wanting, use your answers to create an action plan to improve them.

My Current Employment Serves My Goals

Measure your current or prospective situation against short- and long-term goals. Aside from financial reward, do you gain in these ways:

  • Do my responsibilities sync with my strongest capabilities?
  • Am I developing relevant skills and meeting the right people?
  • Is there room to grow? Or is this a good stepping-stone?

Tip: Maximize your experience by looking for opportunities to increase your value within your company.

My Education, Certification and Training are Current

Lifelong learning is the key to staying marketable. Prepare for varied options.

  • Do I need a degree or certification to keep up with my present employment, get promoted or land a new job?
  • Do I regularly attend professional association meetings, workshops, seminars, and continuing-education classes?

My Skills and Industry Knowledge are Up to Date

Staying current is a prerequisite for ongoing employment. Could you qualify for an equivalent position with a competitor — or do you readily qualify for the upgrade you seek? If not, what do you need to do?

  • Am I technically proficient in the latest software?
  • Do I know my industry’s trends and major players?
  • Do I read trade publications and industry blogs? Join discussion groups?

Tip: Check current requirements by reading employer posts on job boards, such as Monster.com, and company sites..

My Networking and Communication Activities are Constant

Strategic networking helps cultivate mutually beneficial business relationships. Word-of-mouth is the most powerful tool to gain opportunities and referrals.

  • Do I routinely develop new contacts, nurture existing ones?
  • Do I meet in person with people most important to me rather than relying on email threads?
  • Do I make weekly connections through online groups and social networking (Yahoo! Groups, LinkedIn)?

Tip: Networking is about quality, not quantity. It’s about being a helpful resource, a relationship builder.

My Life and Work are in Balance

Long-term marketability relies on a healthy balance between life and work — emotionally, physically, intellectually, financially and spiritually.

  • Do I follow sound self-care practices?
  • Do I give equal attention to relationships and work?

Tip: Difficult to do, but maintaining balance and perspective are key to surviving and thriving.

How did you do? Is there room for improvement? Follow up with an action plan targeting areas you find wanting. Set short- and long-term goals with specific tasks and a timeline to get you there. Managing your career proactively will keep you marketable: Your livelihood depends on it.