Six steps to an affordable, winning ad campaign

 Q: Steve: I am fairly new to this small business stuff and have an idea for an ad campaign, but I don’t want to make a mistake and lose a lot of money. How do I know if my ad will work? — Gary

A: You are not alone. A common problem many small businesses have is that, while there are plenty of advertising choices, many are expensive, and a mistake can be costly. So how do you avoid that?

Here is a simple six-step process that will help you create a winning ad, without a lot of risk:

1. Brainstorm: There are two types of ad campaigns, and the first thing to do is decide what type you need.

The first is a campaign intended more to build your brand than make an immediate sale, such as the ad in the newspaper that says “Divorce for Fathers.” By being in the newspaper again and again, this ad is designed to infiltrate people’s subconscious. Sure, one purpose is to get customers now, but an equal purpose is to build awareness of the business so that one day down the road, a father who is getting divorced will know whom to call.

The second type of ad and campaign is intended to create business now. This ad often uses one or both of the most powerful words in advertising – “sale” and “free.”

2. Budget: Advertising and marketing is an ongoing process. The Small Business Administration suggests that you earmark 2% of your gross sales toward advertising. Others suggest 5%. Either way, the important thing is to make a commitment and earmark your chosen percentage of gross sales for advertising and marketing.

And remember this rule: When advertising, repetition is the key to success, repetition is the key to success, repetition is the key to success. What is the key to success? See? When choosing an ad and a medium, you need to budget enough money to get your message heard or seen by enough people enough times.

3. Choose the right medium: Different media have different strengths and weaknesses. Your campaign may use only one, or it may take several to accomplish your goals. Figuring out which media to use need not be that difficult:

• Choose media that reach your target demographic. If you sell sporting goods, your customers likely read the sports page in the newspaper or online. If you sell to teens, an alternative rock radio station makes sense. You need to know what your customers read, watch, and listen to so you can make an informed decision.

• Choose media you can afford: Compare costs of several sources and narrow the field to those that best deliver your demographic at the least cost. It might be pay-per-click, TV, bus benches – who knows? That is where research comes in.

4. Create the ad: If you go the mass media route, work with your ad rep; he or she will help you design a good ad. I would also suggest finding a good book on how to create advertising that works.

5. Test the ad: This is the key step. Yes, you did your homework and you think you have the right ad and the right medium, but until you run the ad a few times, you can’t be sure. Therefore, I suggest that you test the ad by first running a smaller version or running it at less expensive times. Try it on a few bus benches before buying 20. Online, test small, tweak it, and see what works.

The important thing is that you avoid spending a lot of money until you are sure you have an ad that works. Once you know that, you can.. .

6. Roll it out: Once you know you have a successful ad, go for it. Spend more and run it often. It should become your cash cow. An ad that pulls becomes a trusted friend; something you can rely on.

Today’s Tip: According to SCORE, the key to a successful ad is to “communicate a simple, single message. People have trouble remembering someone’s name, let alone a complicated ad message. For print ads, the simpler the headline, the better. And every ad element should support the headline message, whether that message is ‘price,’ ‘selection,’ ‘quality’ or any other concept.” Ask an Expert appears Mondays. You can e-mail Steve Strauss at: you can click here to see previous columns. Steven D. Strauss is a lawyer, author and speaker who specializes in small business and entrepreneurship. His latest book is The Small Business Bible. You can sign up for his free newsletter, “Small Business Success Secrets!” at his website —