In this article, I’m going to share what I believe are the 7 of the biggest small business advertising mistakes. But first, I want to address what may be the biggest mistake of all: not advertising.

Some business owners believe they don’t have to advertise because they already get all the business they need, usually from word-of-mouth referrals. If you’re in that situation, congratulations.

But here’s my question to you: wouldn’t you like more business? You’re missing out on tons of new customers, clients, or patients by not advertising. Done right, advertising can provide you with greater stability and control over your business.

Other business owners look down on advertising as crass or cheesy, but as I’ll explain in a few moments, you can use advertising to elevate, rather than diminish, your expert status in your industry.

But really, I don’t think either of those are the main reasons why small businesses skip advertising.

Most often, I believe small business owners don’t advertise because they’ve  lost money on advertising in the past and they’re scared of losing even more money.

If that sounds familiar, then I’m happy you’re reading this article. My goal today is to help you take the first steps to successful (profitable) advertising.

So let’s dive in…

Mistake #1: Not taking responsibility

It’s my belief that most small business owners become advertising victims because they delegate the responsibility to outsiders who don’t have their best interests in mind. Too often you get pressured into bad advertising decisions by the sellers of advertising and advertising-related.

In order to safeguard yourself against making big costly mistakes, you need to become a student of what really works in advertising.

Once you’ve decided to really dig in, you’ll need to avoid the following 4 mistakes… which I believe are the 4 commonalities of unsuccessful small business advertising.

Mistake #2: Shining the spotlight on yourself

Most small businesses advertising is focused on the business (or business owner), rather than  problems or desires of their customers – and how you can solve/satisfy them.  For example, your customer doesn’t really care how long you’ve been in business. All they want to know is “What’s in it for me?”

Take a look at your company’s website and any advertising materials you’ve developed, and the language you’re using. Who is the focus – you or your customer? You want your ads to be focused on your prospect, rather than on you.

Mistake #3: Trying to be all things for everybody

OK, you’ve made the switch from “company-centric” to “customer-centric” advertising copy. The next big mistake small business owners make is to believe that everybody is their prospect. In many cases this may be sort-of true (you may be able to serve lots of people), but it’s still a big mistake from an advertising perspective.

For example, let’s say you’re a dentist. Sure, it’s possible that anybody with teeth could be a patient of yours. However, you probably don’t want just anybody as your patient.

Think about it this way… If you knew you’d be investing $200 in advertising to acquire each new patient, would you want to attract anybody?

Probably not. Some patients may not be worth that much. Instead, you’d narrow what type of patient you’d like based on what type of problems or desires they have and how much revenue they’d generate for you. For example, you may focus on patients who’d be most likely to opt for $10,000 cosmetic dentistry procedures.

Mistake #4: Making it difficult to respond

If you want to get a great response from your advertising, you need to make it easy to respond. Specifically, you need an offer, a way to respond, and a clear call-to-action.

Offer: Your offer is something that your prospective customer wants. For example, if you’re a dentist, your ideal customer may be interested in teeth whitening services. So perhaps your ad might offer a discount on teeth whitening.

Response Mechanism: How do you want people to respond to your offer? For example, perhaps your prospective patient needs to register on your website with their name and email address in order to receive the coupon. Or perhaps they can call an 800 number and provide a coupon code.

Call to Action: Don’t forget to tell people exactly what to do. Be very clear and specific, and repeat your call-to-action if possible.

One more thing before we continue…

Does the idea of running a “sale” or some other type of promotion to attract customers, clients, or patients make you cringe?

If you’re an attorney, dentist, or some other type of professional, you probably have a negative view of this type of advertising. You may think it’s cheesy or unprofessional.

Don’t worry, I’ve got another option for you: “lead generation” advertising offering free information.

For example, if you’re a dentist, you could offer a free report about how to naturally keep your teeth sparkling white. If you’re a family law attorney, you could offer a free report about how to stop your divorce. If you’re a financial advisor, you could provide a free webinar with advice on saving for college.

You could write and give away a free book. Offer a free DVD. Put on a free in-person workshop or seminar. The options are pretty much endless.

This type of advertising is called “lead generation” because you’re generating inquiries from potential customers (leads) by offering them this free information, in exchange for their contact information.

Now, lead generation advertising is a big topic and I don’t have time in this article to go into all of the specifics of everything that’s involved. However, it’s a very effective way to attract prospective customers while strengthening (rather than diminishing) your image as an expert in your industry.

Mistake #5: Not tracking

Lack of tracking is a huge mistake, perhaps the biggest mistake of all.

If you’re not tracking the results of your advertising, you don’t know for sure whether it’s working or not.  Not tracking hurts you whether your ads are profitable or not.

If you’re advertising’s not profitable, you’re wasting money on the ads. If your advertising is profitable, then you’re STILL wasting money – you’re not earning as high a return as you could because you’re not able to allocate more money towards the specific ads that are generating the best response.

OK, so we’ve covered a lot of ground…

At this point, you’re going to focus on a specific target customer, provide an offer that’s easy to respond to, and you’re going to track your ads.

We’re not finished yet – you’ll still have 2 big mistakes to avoid…

Mistake #6: Quitting too early

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but if you want to be successful, you need to get used to the idea that you’ll inevitably fail a lot with your advertising tests.  Losing money is never fun, but it’s part of the testing process.

The good news is that with each test you get more data, so it’s not a total loss. Also, the testing phase acts as a barrier to entry because most small business owners get scared off before they develop a winning campaign.

As you test advertising ideas, you’ll quickly see what works and what doesn’t. And as long as you learn from each test, you’re getting closer to developing a winner. And often, a profitable advertising campaign can be relied on to perform for weeks, months, and even years in some cases – so it’s definitely worth it.

Mistake #7: Limiting yourself

Lots of small businesses have pre-set marketing and advertising budgets. When just starting out testing new advertising ideas, it can be helpful to use a budget to limit any initial losses from testing. But on a longer term basis, pre-set budgets are foolish.

As I just mentioned, it’s very likely that your initial advertising tests won’t be profitable. So, when you’re just starting out, I think it can be a good idea to use a test budget that your comfortable with. That isn’t too much different from walking into the casinos at Vegas and saying to yourself, “OK, I’m willing to lose up to $500 – but once I get down that amount, I’m walking out.”

When setting a test budget, make sure that you’re giving your test enough funding to collect statistically significant results, so you can really tell whether your test is working or not. And then if you’re tracking the test and you see it’s not working, then you’ll want to pause the campaign and re-assess, or start a different test.

However, on a longer-term basis, assuming your advertising is successful, pre-set budgets don’t make sense.  Let’s say you’re tracking your ads and you know that they’re working. For example, for every $1 you invest in advertising, you’re making $2 back, so you’re earning a 100% return on your investment. Wouldn’t you want to put more and more money into the ads, rather than capping your spend at a certain amount?

OK, so let’s recap.  Here are the 5 steps to successful small business advertising campaign:

Step 1. Take charge.

You need to be in control of your advertising. Sure, you can delegate it later once it’s up and running. And that way, you’ll know how to call somebody else on their BS if you don’t think they’re doing a good job. But if you’re just getting started, you should be doing it yourself.

Step 2. Focus on your prospect

Make sure you’re focusing on your prospective customer rather than on yourself or your company. And focus on a very specific target market, so it’ll be clear to your ideal prospect that you’re talking to them.

Step 3. Create your offer

Provide a compelling offer and clear call-to-action. This can either be a sale or special promotion, or it can be a “lead generation” ad offering free information (such as a free report, DVD, webinar, etc)

Step 4. Track your ads

Make your call-to-action trackable, so you can see how many people responded.

(Here’s a related article: How to Track Advertising for Offline Sales)

Step 5. Test until you find a winner

Don’t get discouraged by initial defeat. Keep testing until you find a winner, and then allocates resources towards the winning campaign so you get the maximum results.

Ready to get started?

Your first question may be, “Where should I get started?”

Our favorite starting point is Google AdWords because it’s fast to get up and running and is easy to track results.

Other Questions?

If you have any questions about advertising, please post your comment below.