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5 Secrets to Successful Advertising for Small Businesses in the Digital Age


Advertising a small business is a big challenge in this information age. One of the reasons is that as a small business you’re severely limited by your budget, but today you have an ever growing selection of media channels where to advertise, all of them “mouth-watering” and many of them quite pricey.

You have the traditional channels, TV, radio, newspaper classifieds, and direct mail. Then you have SEO and search engine marketing, social media marketing, PPC, text message marketing, etc. You could even break social media marketing down into Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Youtube, God knows what else…

Too many choices is often a recipe for failure, and if you find yourself handicapped and wondering how to advertise your small business in this motley land- and cyber-scape, you’re not alone.

These five tips below will help…

Give Your Advertising Efforts Enough Opportunity to Yield Results

Research has shown that most people have to be exposed to an ad or marketing message at least seven times before it “registers” in their consciousness, to the point where they can respond to it.

So, the more that your prospects see your name in front of them, the more likely they are to call your phone number or check out your website (and not another business’) when they need your services.

Many small businesses give up too soon, their marketing efforts abandoned too early, not because they were off target but simply because the ad campaigns weren’t given enough of an opportunity to work.

If you run a TV commercial one time, or you run an ad in a local daily newspaper only once, or you do just one mailing of postcards, this is never enough to grab and keep the attention of your target audience.

The solution is to get your name out there and do it on a regular basis. This way, people will remember you when they need someone in your line of business. This is probably the most important tip of the five, because failure to persist with their advertising and promotion has been cited as the number one reason why the majority of new businesses fail.

Which brings us to the second tip, another very important one…


Gauge Advertising Success by Monetary ROI not Response Rate

Sometimes a small business owner will run an advertising campaign and give up because the response was very low – even though they actually saw a good return on investment in dollar terms!

So, always make it a point to measure your return on investment (ROI) in terms of actual money generated by your ad campaign, not in terms of response rate.

An advertising channel is working when the money you generated from the advertising/marketing through the channel exceeds the money and time you spent on the advertising/marketing.

As an example, let’s say you spend $2,000 to send out a mailing of 5,000 postcards and you get 10 calls as a result. This doesn’t look like much at first glance. But if, of these 10 calls you close 6 and you get sales of $12,000 in short order, that’s 600% in terms of marketing ROI!

And remember that with media like postcards, some of the sales will trickle in gradually over time, so we aren’t even taking those into account. This advertising campaign above could add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars over a period of five or six months.

The takeaway here is that you should not fall into the trap of becoming discouraged by a small response to a large mailing, or a large PPC campaign, or whatever.

Your advertising will have been a success if you spent several hundred dollars to have your name before a few thousand possible leads, if it takes only a few customers responding to this ad to make enough of a profit for this marketing effort to be valuable.

You can only decide if an advertising channel is useful to your business after you have calculated the revenues generated. So if you spend 1/5 of what you generate, or in other words, if you generate 5 times what you spend, then your advertising campaign was a success.

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Another thing related to ROI is focusing your marketing so that you attract your most qualified prospects or your ideal customers/clients.

If you could choose your customers in advance wouldn’t your choose to attract a customer that is likely to spend let’s say $10,000 with you over time than the one that will spend only $2,000 with you over this same period?

Of course you would choose the first customer/client!

You can do this by focusing your advertising and marketing message to appeal to your ideal prospects, the ones that go on to become your ideal clients/customers – usually the 20% of your customers who bring in 80% of your revenues.


Optimize Your Landing Pages in Advance to Convert More of Your Prospects

Most of the advertising and marketing small businesses do today eventually leads the prospect to the business website – to the homepage or another “landing page” on the site.

So, what this means basically is to make sure before you run an ad campaign or promotion that where your prospects land when they respond to the ad or promotion can convert more of these visitors into buyers.

Most small business websites are poorly optimized to convert prospects into buyers, as Dan Stewart of Dundas Valley Pools discovered (in this interview on StarterStory: "How I Started a $8K/ Month Pool Service And Installation Business")

His company spent like $6,000 on Google ads and Facebook ads driving all this traffic to their poorly optimized website. Here’s what he says about it:

“Another thing we noticed is a lot of people weren’t converting on our page. We had hired a company to redesign our website in the summer and it looked great, but we found that people were still getting lost on our page. The last thing you want is to be paying Google tons of money for clicks and not having those clicks lead to a form submission or a phone call.”

So, whether you’re sending your prospects to your website, or your advertising is getting your prospects to call you on the phone or to walk in at your offices, you better have a process that is good at converting them into buyers when they get there.

If you’re not sure if your website does a good job of converting your prospects into buyers, I have prepared this article that will walk you through how to turn your business website into a high-performance customer acquisition engine.

Invest 80% of Your Ad Spend on the Winning Campaigns/Ad Pieces

Most people will be familiar by now with the famous 80/20 principle. Basically it says to examine your processes, routines, activities, transactions, etc. with the goal to find your inefficiencies in order to eliminate them and to find your strengths so that you can multiply them. In his book, Ready, Fire, Aim ~ Zero to $100 Million in No Time Flat, Michael Masterson made this observation:

“The ratio of time, creativity, and money spent on selling as opposed to other aspects of business should be something like 80/20, with 80 percent of it going toward selling and only 20 percent toward everything else.”

He expands this further to say that you should “Identify the optimum selling strategy for the stage of growth that you are in and then focus 80 percent of your resources on applying it.”

For small businesses there is only one stage, Stage One (because you always have pretty much the same problems that a startup has), meaning that selling what you offer must be your top priority.

You can swap out “selling strategy” in the quote above with ad pieces, ad channel, marketing message, etc. So, identify what’s working well – the ad copy that’s working really well, the individual ads that are working best, the channel or channels that are bringing in 80% of the customers – and invest 80% of your time and money working those.

Do enough of that and you will become a small business marketing whiz kid fast!


Track the Results of Your Advertising/Marketing

If it isn’t clear already from the foregoing, tracking the effectiveness of your advertising and marketing is critical for success.

With digital marketing, most marketing options such as PPC and social media marketing have a lot of the tracking and options built in. So, you can get all the data, say for example, they will be able to tell you how many prospects came to your website from Google ads or from Facebook ads.

With digital marketing channels it’s only a question of taking steps proactively to leverage these tracking functions and options – and possibly improving their data with your own in-house tracking systems.

But even with the traditional advertising channels such as postcards, direct mail, TV and radio and even with business cards, there is a lot you can do track advertising and marketing effectiveness.

What you do is to look and see if you can track your sales to the marketing you’ve done, either directly or indirectly. Take a look at the marketing you have done… Can you directly or indirectly track any new or increased business to these marketing efforts or activities?

As an example of direct tracking, let’s say you attended a networking event and following that someone you gave your business card to contacts you and you make a sale. You’d then credit that sale to the networking event, and to business-card marketing.

An example of indirect tracking might be: You attended a networking event and gave a business card to someone. This someone then referred you to a friend, and that friend contacts you and you make a sale.

So, if you’re doing this simple, non-techy tracking, take all the marketing activities you did over the past year, or the past several months and ask yourself these questions below:

(a) Did I (or the business) get any new customers or increased sales as a direct or indirect result of this advertising/marketing activity or through this adverting channel?

(b) If the answer to the above question is yes, then quantify the result of this advertising/marketing by asking yourself: “How many new customers or sales did this advertising generate?

If you can't seem to be able to track your past advertising or marketing activities, then you should ask your current customers how they found out about you, or about your business.

One way you can do this is to conduct a survey. On the survey you should have a number of customer satisfaction questions as I showed you in “How to Discover Why Your Customers Buy from You.” Just make sure to include a question on the survey form that asks them how they found out about you/your business.

Depending on your type of service business, maybe you have a handful of clients that you work closely with but you really don’t know how they found you. In this case, why not simply pick up the phone and ask them?

When you complete this important exercise you will have a list of all of your advertising/marketing efforts or channels and the results your business has enjoyed from each one.


What to do if you have not Been Tracking Marketing Effectiveness

Many small business owners fail to get in the habit of tracking the effectiveness of their advertising and marketing, and if you’re guilty of this over the past months or years, you’re not alone.

So, what if you've run some advertising/marketing drives over the past several months or a year, but you did not put in place ways to track the response? This means you don’t know now what worked and what did not.

Is there something you can do now before you continue with your advertising efforts to avoid continuing to spend money on advertising or marketing activities/campaigns that aren’t so effective?

Yes, there is, and the first thing to do is to recognize the importance of tracking. Make sure, going forward, that you set up systems for tracking all the results of your future advertising/marketing activities.

The simplest way to track the results of your advertising/marketing is to ask each new customer where or how they found out about you or your business.

This could include things like including a code on any flyers or brochures or postcards that you distribute, and giving the prospect a good reason to bring that flyer in when they come into your business.

A good reason to return the flyer could be to take advantage of a special offer, or to get a discount, or to claim a free bonus.

There are ways you could do this by phone or on the internet. You could simply ask your prospective customers to give you the code on the brochure or flyer they are calling or ordering from online.

Make sure the code is specific to their current location or specific to the group of people that this medium is reaching online, for example, people contacting you from Facebook.

If you've done a lot of advertising/marketing in the past that you did not track, continue with all the marketing and advertising activities, but put tracking systems in place so that you don’t end up in the same boat at any time in the future.


Most business experts agree that to succeed in small business you have to advertise and promote a lot – to invest as much as 80% of your time and effort to “selling” what you have to offer.

The majority of service-based businesses unfortunately fall far short of this target.

These five tips above should help you to ramp up the return on investment from the advertising budget for your services business so that you make it as easy and cheap as possible to keep those new customers coming into your business.

Follow this link for more services marketing tips by Chloe...

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