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A Simple Guide for New and Small Business Local Advertising.

November 17, 2016

Starting a new business is very often a HUGE step for the person or people running things.

With so many things to concentrate on, from supplies to staff to bills to completing new work on time, advertising is often left to last or even ignored all together. This is a greater truth in smaller towns, because the assumption is often 'Everyone knows everyone, so, of course, they'll all know my doors are open!'

Sadly, frustratingly, for business owners, this is often not the case. I have come across many a business in smaller towns whose doors have been open for years, and yet a sizable portion of the local population was completely unaware of the fact.

Another frequent mis-step of new business owners, especially those who are confident in the superiority of their product or service, is the belief in the old adage 'If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door!'

This was true when the majority of people lived in villages with less than five hundred people and the next closest city was three days away by horse-back.

In this Internet-of-Everything age, not only are people not automatically looking for the 'better mousetrap' in their own towns - they are often looking for it on different continents.

In short: In order for your business to truly grow, you must tell the world that you exist, what you do, how your products or services benefit them and how they can acquire your wares.

There are a few, simple, indisputable truths, if you are looking to grow beyond those in your immediate, four-city-block radius:

  1. You MUST be online. You MUST have a website. In a perfect world, all of your products, services and prices, along with detailed descriptions and examples of uses would be there, along with customer testimonials and regular, bi-weekly updates.
    In the real world, especially for a new business where money and time are in short demand, that is not always possible AND THAT IS OKAY. A 'brochure-ware' page is far, FAR better than nothing at all. A brochure-ware page is a simple, single-page website that lists your hours of operation, methods of contact, location and a broad description of your products or services. The idea is simply to be found in search engines. This will not, by any means, elevate you to compete with Amazon or eBay, but it is infinitely better than nothing at all.
  2. You MUST have a social media presence. Again, in an ideal world, daily updates to your Facebook or Twitter account about your business, your customers and events and issues related to your industry would be ideal. Real-world, again: At least twice per week, updates to your social media should be made, even if they are a sentence or two describing new specials, products or accomplishments. Just like the search engines, the idea is simply to be found; More people use their smartphones to find businesses, these days, than they will the Yellow Pages. In fact, many phone companies no longer send out paper telephone books - white or yellow - automatically. They are heading to their slots beside the buggy whips of history.
  3. With the exception of a few, specialized services, your local market should be your first priority. DO NOT ASSUME that 'everyone knows I am here' - It will be a very disappointing surprise at just how many people, be they in small villages or major metropolises, could not tell you what exists more than two addresses to either side of their homes.
    TALK to other businesses around yours: Find out, from them, what forms of advertising they are using that they have found success with. This will vary from town to town. For some, the local grocery stores' bulletin boards are 'the place to be' in terms of letting people know what's happening. In others, the local radio station may be the most popular. Cities with colleges or universities often have campus newspapers, with associated websites, with very high levels of readership.
  4. GET YOUR MESSAGE OUT. The most frequent reason I hear for lack of advertising is cost. Do not misunderstand me: This is a valid argument - BUT: You have a printer and a computer. You have paper. You can print a ream of paper at a time - 500 fliers - and deliver them door-to-door, yourself. To use a cliche: All journeys begin with a single step.

If you have a budget for broader advertising, take a look at the options your fellow local business owners told you about and start a small campaign, there.

Do not ignore word-of-mouth, either - But do not rely solely on happy customers telling others - There is nothing wrong with not only ASKING your customers to tell others about your business, but ENCOURAGING them, too;
Loyalty programs are great: They don't have to be huge, massive discounts or enticements, either: For example: Tell your customers that mentioning their name when they make a purchase gets them a 5% discount (or $5 - you know your budget and margin, best) for every 5 or 10 recommendations (you'll have to keep a record of who recommended who) the original customer gets a bonus, be it a larger discount, a free item, and so on.

Remember your fellow, local businesses, too! If, for example, you are running a restaurant: Ask the local hair salons and barber shops if they would be willing to post a small sign for your business in their shop in exchange for the same in yours: There is virtually zero cost and definitely mutual benefit!

There is always the benefit of personal, one-on-one, in-the-community, face-to-face advertising. Close your shop for an hour, during a slow time, fill your pockets with coupons and/or fliers and take a walk down the main thoroughfare of your town. As you pass people, introduce yourself as the owner of (your business name), give them a flier and tell them you would love to serve them in your shop, sometime, soon.
Not only does this advertise your business, but it puts a personal, relationship-building touch to potential customer contact - and this is something that no web page, radio, television or print ad can accomplish!

These are just some of the possibilities for low and no cost advertising of your new or small business. Naturally, as your business and your ad budget grows, you can pay people to do the above, since you will be focusing on the new business you generated, yourself, when you first started out. Eventually, as your business grows even larger, you will move on to more "traditional" forms of marketing, designed to reach larger audiences across much broader locales.

Just remember - If you build it - You must TELL PEOPLE that you have done so, before they will come.

Marc Bissonnette, Arnprior, Ontario, Canada

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