Six advertising tips for small business owners

Small Business Advertising TipsMy friend Sandy Ratliff understands small business. Sandy’s a star marketer at the Virginia Department of Business Assistance and travels all around her state sharing her wealth of knowledge with small business owners. Here’s how she describes what she does. “I primarily focus on helping individuals launch and expand business within my 25 county service area of Southwest Virginia.   I do about 40+ workshops a year and over 200 counseling sessions with new and existing business.”

Sandy and I originally met on twitter and our friendship has blossomed to occasional lunches and regular contact through our social networks.
Recently she reached out to me to ask for my input on tips to provide small businesses who want to advertise.

It was an interesting question since the whole field of advertising has been turned on its head over the past few years with the advent of social networking for business. Clients now obtain information when, where, why and how they want it. (For more information be sure to check out David Meerman Scott’s The New Rules of Marketing and PR)

Here is the list we discussed and that Sandy presented to her clients:

  1. Look at the demographics of the media source: Does it reach your target audience? Example: I used to be the executive editor of a high end regional lifestyles publication. One of our advertisers, the owner of a classy gentlemen’s clothing store, swore by his success with our publication and said the price was worth it.
  2. In what markets will it run? Example: If you are a small neighborhood based gym do you really want to run a radio ad that will reach thousands? We’re moving to an era of geo and micro-marketing.
  3. Be educated: Know the media source coming to meet you in advance. Know your target audience and how best to reach them.
  4. How does your target audience like to hear from advertisers? Coupons? Facebook? Twitter? Daily deals? Ask them!
  5. Can you do it yourself? Google and Facebook have brought advertising opportunities direct to the small business masses. Experiment with some online D.I.Y.
  6. Cause marketing: Recently MarketingMel had the opportunity to sponsor a portion of the PTA night at the Johnson City Cardinals baseball game along with one of my client’s, CapTeeVation. Together we paid for the hot dog supper provided to the first 250 through the gates. What a great opportunity to support something very positive in our community; education. Look for things that your company believes in and then get behind them. You’ll reap multiple rewards!

What are some tips that you’ve used effectively in small business advertising? Please feel free to share here. I’ll be glad to add them to the list.


  • Wonderful tips, Mel. I always shake my head when someone says they want to reach the “general” public. Ha! No such thing. You are right on target about the trend to a more geo- and micro-marketing approach. I especially love the cause marketing suggestion. Thanks for another great post.

  • Sue Painter says:

    Love this idea of “micro marketing.” And these days I am ALL ABOUT NICHE. Great post, thanks so much Mel.

  • Jeff Brunson says:

    Micro … in my line of work, that is it! More specifically, it is relational marketing; and I love it!

  • Linda Pucci says:

    These are great tips and really do help me hone down to what I am doing to reach my target market. I’m intrigued by the idea of micro marketing, Mary Ellen and hope you’ll write more about that in upcoming blogs! Thanks!

  • I love that today’s marketing is all about getting to know who your customers and clients really are and connecting with them. In my past life as social worker, we always talked about meeting our clients where they’re at. This concept applies to entrepreneurs and small business owners too. Learn about your clients and then meet them where they are at.

    • maryellen says:

      Fantastic point Tiffany. It’s got me thinking of my own client base as I write and how it has become more clearly defined as my business grows.

  • Bill Painter says:

    Great ideas. Since we all have it drummed into us to identify our target market as tightly as we can, it makes senne to direct our advertising to them also. An effective use of resources.

  • Renee Preis says:

    Excellent tips on marketing. I so agree with the above comments that the business niche is the key to growing your business. I am still amazed at how many business owners still “believe” that they can be all things to all people…it’s a tough sell. Thanks

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