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Advertising Do's and Don'ts

According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), more than 99% of all businesses are small businesses. A "small business" has fewer than 100 employees. Collectively, they have more than 48% of all workers in the United States. Small business owners must keep their businesses alive and thriving in a competitive marketplace.

A good marketing strategy is the first place that business owners should start when bringing their product or service to consumers. Potential customers need to know what you're selling and why they want to buy it. Many new businesses have failed because nobody knew what they offered or what made them different from the hundreds or thousands of other products on the market.

In today's social media marketplace, you can create high-quality advertising on a low-cost budget. You must know federal, state, and local laws about what you can promise and show in your ads. This article will review some of the "do's and don'ts" in advertising for small businesses.

See FindLaw's Marketing and Advertising Laws section to learn more.

Operating Your Small Business

Presumably, by the time you begin your marketing efforts, you have registered your company name, applied for all necessary business licenses and permits, and filed your "Doing Business As" or "DBA" with the city or county. You need a Federal and state tax ID number if you have any employees. Every state has its laws about start-up businesses and can advise you on what you need to get going.

Small business marketing is no different than large business marketing. But your budget is smaller, and your prospective customer base is narrower. Rather than marketing to the entire world or the whole nation, you're selling to the neighborhood or the state.

Develop a Marketing Campaign

Rather than throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks, devise a targeted campaign that funnels customers into your business. If you are a brand-new business, you need to attract new customers. If you're rebranding or offering a new product, you need to create brand awareness of your new offering.

  • Start with a wide net. Email marketing can work if you have a good email list. Email marketing is the electronic version of direct mail. Most of it gets thrown away, but a few people are curious enough to read it.
  • Do not spam customers with endless email ads. A single email blast announcing a new product or special offer is more than enough.
  • Coordinate your email campaign with your social media platform. Your business should have a social media presence on Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok. The email should direct potential customers to your social media site, and your social media site should collect email addresses.
  • Do not harvest data with your social media site. If you have a business site on any social media platform, take time to learn their terms of service (TOS) and follow them. Nothing will get you shut down faster than fraud, data mining, or improper business practices.
  • Online advertising should always steer people to your main business page. If you don't have a website, get one. Even a DIY site with nothing but your address and phone number is better than nothing. Pay the extra fee for your own domain name.
  • Do not put a web address on your advertising if you don't have a website. People still do this, and it is a sign of a cheap or fraudulent business. Don't put your web address on your advertising until you have an online presence.

Beef Up Your Search Engine Optimization

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the buzzword of today. It's how search engine algorithms find sites based on the daily queries people type into Google and Bing. There's more to good SEO than packing your Google business profile with keywords. Algorithms look for "keyword stuffing," the excessive use of keywords to boost a page's rankings. The recent use of AI writers, like ChatGPT, has led to an increase in AI detectors and the rejection of AI-written content.

Improving your SEO is essential for online marketing. Take time to do it right.

  • Small businesses need local customers. Local searches find sites with the names of nearby towns and streets. Be sure to put your address and the towns and locations you serve on your pages.
  • Do not neglect areas with demographics you want to target. Search engines are specific but not smart. If you want Smalltown and Littleton but forget Tinyville nearby, search engines will not include it in the search results.
  • Do a Google search for your business and see what else comes up with your company. Take a look at their pages and see what keywords and phrases their sites use. You can get good marketing tips from sites similar to yours.
  • Do not copy anything from other people's sites. That should go without saying, but it must be said anyway.
  • If you're not a wordsmith, you can find software online that will help improve your keyword count. SEO companies can rewrite your pages for a modest fee if your marketing budget allows it.
  • Do not rely too heavily on templates or fill-in-the-blank style pages. AI detectors may flag these as computer-generated or plagiarized.

In-Person and Real-World Advertising

In today's digital marketing world, it's easy to forget the power of in-person and word-of-mouth advertising. In-person advertising includes online and real-world techniques to create brand awareness by attaching a human face to your product.

  • Video ads may run on TV, but they run just as often on YouTube or streaming channels. You can produce a good video ad yourself with the help of online software.
  • Do not post an ad without checking the advertising laws in your area. Some types of businesses have specific rules about what and how you can advertise.
  • Press releases aren't just relics of the newspaper days. Any time you have a new product, rebrand, or have a sale, you should notify the media. Press releases should include your business name, address, and the product release date.
  • Do not overdo it. A press release should announce a special event, product, or sale. If you're a small business, restrict your press releases to local newspapers and media outlets.
  • Local events are free advertising for small businesses. No matter your product or service, you can find a way to tie it to a local event. If your target audience attends the event, they should see your brand there.
  • Do not go to events willy-nilly. Take time to research the event beforehand. Do not tie your brand to the local rally of the Fringe Extremists for Annihilation.
  • Customer reviews are a staple of Yelp and Google. Always ask your customers and clients for referrals and reviews when they patronize your business. You should also put good reviews and testimonials on your website.
  • Do not get into flame wars on Yelp or Google with bad reviewers. You are the one who looks bad. If you know the circumstances of a bad review, you may wish to correct it. Google will remove erroneous or fraudulent reviews, but in general, it's best to let bad reviews die a deserved death.

Other Useful Advertising Ideas

Never stop advertising your business. Good entrepreneurs keep trying new ideas and finding new company marketing tools.

  • Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising: In print advertising, companies buy ad space or ad time, and the ad runs without anyone knowing whether it works. With PPC advertising, companies place an ad on a sponsor's page and only pay if a prospective customer clicks. PPC ad campaigns are inexpensive but can be time-consuming to set up and manage.
  • Webinars, blogs, and vlogs: Make your social media account sell your brand. If your business provides a service, a webinar or video class about your service takes as much time as explaining it to a client. Do it once and post it to your site.
  • Email newsletters: These help you keep your regular customers updated on new products, incentives, sales, and more. Giving your regular customers special deals keeps them coming back and encourages them to bring their friends.

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Get Advertising Law Help From a Business Attorney

Despite the freewheeling attitude of e-commerce, there are federal, state, and local laws that businesses have to follow. A knowledgeable business attorney can help you navigate the laws of your state and the internet so your local business can successfully compete and thrive online.

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