The purpose of this month’s blog theme—small business best practices—is to help you be better in business. And as any business guru will tell you, advertising is a huge factor in not only creating new business, but also in solidifying brand identity. As a small business owner, you probably don’t have a lot of money to throw at media buying opportunities. But if you’re smart, you can get a lot out of the ad spots you do purchase—even on a tight budget. Here is how you can create an advertising plan for your practice while maximizing your marketing dollar:
1. Consider your—and your competitors’—client base. Even if you create the most ingenious ad in the world, no one will see it if you place it in the wrong space. So, get in your clients’ heads a little bit. Who are they? Where are they? What do they care about? What are their interests and hobbies? Answering questions like these will give you a better idea of which media outlets—print, radio, television, or digital—will give you the most impressions, and thus, the most bang for your buck.
Also, take some time to research the advertising strategies of other clinics in your market. While you certainly don’t want to be a copycat, your competitors’ ads can serve as a great jumping-off point for your own marketing efforts. Figure out what they’re doing—then figure out how to differentiate and market yourself and your profession better.
2. Choose your platforms. Once you feel like you’ve got a pulse on your target market, it’s time to identify the channels that will best reach that audience and the methods you’ll use to execute your strategy. If you’re thinking of going the traditional route, consider the following ideas:
- Hang flyers or sponsorship banners at community events like cooking contests, concerts, fairs, and sports games (and be sure to introduce yourself to the coaches).
- Sponsor a local athletic event, such as a bike race or a 5K run. If you’re feeling super ambitious—or if a good portion of your client base participates in these kinds of activities—think about starting your own event.
- Network with owners, trainers, and instructors at local gyms, yoga studios, or fitness clubs. See if you can work out a cross-promotion deal or perhaps just display some of your brochures and business cards at the front desk.
- Buy ad placements in community newspapers, newsletters, magazines, radio and television programs, and other outlets with a high number of impressions in your target market.
If you’re looking into newer media formats—namely, the Internet—here are a few pieces of advice:
- First things first: if you don’t have a website, get one—and fast. These days, it’s tough—if not impossible—to do business without having an online presence. Clients expect to be able to find you on the web, and if they can’t—well, they might just move on to the next guy or gal.
- When it comes to acquiring digital ad space, start local—with community blogs, newspapers, or organizations of interest to your client base. Local publications often are looking for expert contributors. So, volunteer to write a column, blog post, or health and wellness article. You might just get some free press out of the deal.
- Get onboard with an online deal or couponing site—like Groupon or LivingSocial—and come up with a special offer for services such as an evaluation and/or therapeutic massage. (Just be sure to read the fine print if you decide to set up an offer, and don’t expect to profit directly from it—it’s more about gaining brand recognition.)
- If you’re already a little tech savvy, look into Google adwords or Facebook ads.
3. Be a negotiator. It’s not always easy to ask for more, but when it comes to negotiating an ad deal, it pays to unleash your inner Oliver Twist. If you want a better placement, a larger size, or even a discount—ask! Like you, media companies are in the ads game to make money, and they want your business. So get up the courage to plead your case—after all, the worst they can say is “no.” Here are some additional tips to consider during the negotiation process:
- Get a rate sheet or rate card to help you make decisions about ad placements and sizes. Planning to advertise in the same publication more than once? See if there’s a bulk-buying discount.
- Know the outlet’s reach. How many people will see this ad?
- In the case of digital ads, know how often users see each ad on average, where on the page your ad will appear, and what kind of content will appear next to your ad.
4. Leave design to the pros. Logos and clip art do not make for a good ad. Remember, no matter where you place your ad, one thing's for sure—it won’t be the only one. A professional designer can help make your ad stand out from the competition. The publication running your ad might even give you the option to have their in-house designer create the ad for you. While this is certainly better than doing it yourself, hiring your own designer is typically less expensive in the long run because you’ll likely be able to reuse those ads. Ask around for recommendations—or research your options online.
5. Keep track of your success. Advertising is an investment. You put money into it with a goal of eventually getting even more money out of it. So if the advertising you put out there isn’t driving more traffic to your door, you’ll want to rethink your strategy. But how do you know whether your current strategy is working? Well, you can start by asking new clients how they heard about you. Also, be sure to check in with your online ad sales reps for updated stats. Want to take it a step further? Create unique phone numbers associated with each ad placement and link them to your actual number using Google Voice. That way, you can see exactly how many calls each ad generated.
With everything you’ve got on your plate, it’s probably tough to carve out time for advertising efforts. But remember, clients won’t come to you if they don’t know about you. Thus, if you truly want to grow your business, you’ve got to up your media-buying game. Have you tried any of the above tips? Did they work? Share your experiences—and advice—in the comments section below.