How to Set Up a Small Business Advertising Campaign – A Checklist

Small Business Advertising Checklist

Want to know how to set up a small business advertising campaign? In this article, we’ve identified nine essential steps. The 9 steps to set up an advertising campaign are:

  • Define your advertising goals  
  • Pick what you want to promote
  • Identify your target audience
  • Determine where to find your audience  
  • Decide your campaign timing
  • Set an advertising budget
  • Select outlets to advertise in
  • Create the advertising message and graphics
  • Measure results

While large corporations hire advertising agencies for campaigns involving millions of dollars (think “Mad Men” if you were a fan of that show — and the Madison Avenue ad agency featured in it), small businesses don’t have that luxury.

As a small business owner or marketing manager in a smaller company, you may have to do most of the work on your own without much outside help.  

Let’s dive into detail around each of the nine steps in setting up a small business advertising campaign. Here’s our small business advertising checklist detail:

1. Define your Advertising Goals

Clearly define a business goal or goals for your advertising campaign.  Ask yourself: what are you trying to achieve with advertising? Don’t just say you want “more sales.”  Everyone wants more sales. Be more specific.

Use the SMART method to define your goals better. SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused, and time-bound goals.

Consider these five different advertising goals and how to put SMART goals around them:

  • Find new customers –  If your goal is more customers, identify how many and in what time period so you can measure results. But make sure the goal is achievable. If you have a small budget of $2,000, you’re not going to get 10,000 new customers in 30 days. But 50 to 75 new customers might be doable, depending on your industry. A   SMART goal might be: Acquire 50 new customers in 30 days.
  • Reinforce brand awareness –  If you would like your company or solution to be top of mind in the future when prospects are ready to buy, then brand awareness may be a good strategic goal.  If so, how will you measure brand awareness success? By an increase in word of mouth referrals? By an increase in search engine visibility? What about store foot traffic? More social media mentions? More website traffic? A brand awareness survey? Identify concrete results you will measure. A SMART goal might be: Increase social media visibility for your brand by at least 20% in 6 months, as measured by Social Mention.
  • Launch a new product – If promoting a new product is the reason for the campaign, how will you measure that?  A SMART goal might be: Sell 300 units during the initial 3-month product launch.
  • Inform about lesser-known benefits – Those that sell professional services or complex business solutions may want to inform their targets about possible benefits. Example: A digital agency comes out with a new service offering. A SMART goal could be: Generate 150 downloads of a lead magnet explaining the benefits of that offering, of which 30 are solidly interested in hearing more about it, during a 90-day campaign.
  • Gain a seasonal push – If you are in retail and hold seasonal sales, then your advertising will be concentrated in a narrow time window of perhaps a few weeks or days. This goal requires you to focus on techniques that spur people into action during that time, such as event-based radio broadcast advertising where you try to get a large number of people to come to your store one weekend. A SMART goal could be: Increase foot traffic to your store by 30% during the weekend event, and increase sales by 10%.

2. Pick What You Want to Promote

The next step in your small business advertising checklist is to decide what you will promote. Choose whether ads will promote:

  • a product
  • a service
  • a group of products / services
  • your brand
  • a special sale or event
  • something else

What you promote must line up with your goals.

Example 1: if your goals include a seasonal sales bump or launching a new product, your focus might be on promoting an event or product — not on promoting your company as a whole.

Example 2: if you are a home improvement contractor trying to boost sales, then you might promote capabilities or a group of related products and services that appeal to target customers. For instance,  “Custom kitchen remodels, cabinets, granite countertops, more – call us for a free design consultation and quote”.

3. Identify your Target Audience

Identify the targets you want to reach — precisely. Targets are not just “more buyers” or “consumers.”  Be specific.

Develop buyer personas to zero in on the targets you want to reach with advertising.

Buyer personas are fictional representations of your ideal target buyer.  Personas include demographics, firmographics (for business customers), preferences, habits, challenges they are trying to solve, income and more.

If you’ve never set up buyer personas, go over to Make My Persona and use the free tool. Most businesses have more than one ideal customer profile, so create several.

4. Determine where to Find your Audience

When setting up your small business advertising campaign it’s important to have a good audience fit.

Estimate where your targets spend their time and get their news. What kind of activities do they engage in? What are their daily preferences? How do they research purchases? Understanding these things helps identify how to find people in your target audience.  

While billboards, TV ads or magazine ads might reach a very large number of people, the real question is how many of YOUR targets are they likely to reach? Going for wide reach could be expensive overkill — or miss the mark altogether.

Go back to your buyer personas. Do they suggest your target audience is mainly urban  millennials who don’t drive much and prefer to go online rather than read print or watch TV? In that case, billboards, print ads and TV ads won’t reach many of them.

Some of the online advertising methods allow you to target precisely. For example, consider how Facebook ads let you target by interests and demographics. Or use keywords in Google AdWords to attract buyers actively searching for your products.

However, online ads could be expensive — and may not hit the mark if you’re mainly trying to lure local foot traffic into your bakery. Community coupon books or advertising in a community bulletin might be better for reaching these local shoppers.

5. Choose your Campaign Timing

Some types of advertising can be launched immediately.  Others require advance planning.

How fast do you need results? Many small businesses want instant results. But not all types of advertising are immediate.

For example, if you’re running a special promotion for a limited time, you need results before the special runs out. A magazine ad that you have to place months ahead of time will be too late. A better option is pay-per-click ads that start delivering clicks within hours. Or consider radio spots that go up within a few days.

On the other hand, with a new product launch, you typically plan it well in advance. So a blitz campaign that includes direct mail, TV commercials and Internet display ads along with a PR campaign, can be coordinated so it all starts to roll out around the same time to make a big splash.

Remember, timing is a key part of any small business advertising campaign.

6. Set an Advertising Budget

Be realistic when setting your advertising budget. We all want free advertising.  But usually you need to budget for some level of spend.

Next in your small business advertising checklist, consider these three factors when setting  your budget. Look at:

  • Past history – If you’ve advertised in the past, you’ll have a baseline to start from. Evaluate past campaigns to see if they hit the mark with good results.  And look at what you spent. Adjust accordingly.
  • Lifetime value of a customer – Consider what a sale is worth to you to make sure the cost of the advertising will lead to profitable sales. Know what a completed sale “conversion” is worth to you, advises Robert Brady, a Certified Google AdWords partner with Righteous Marketing.

“Know the lifetime value of a customer. And know how much you’re willing to commit to acquiring that new lead or purchase,” he adds. “Then use those numbers for your digital advertising efforts. For example, say that your average customer purchases 3 times and each purchase is roughly $50. That means every new customer is worth $150. Say you are willing to commit 20 percent to acquiring new customers. That means your goal for cost per conversion is $30. Any advertising that gets a customer for less should be emphasized and expanded. Methods that can’t achieve that goal get tweaked or dropped.”

  • Industry benchmarks – Take a look at what others of roughly the same size in your industry or similar industries spend on advertising.  Industry benchmarks give you a number to compare against, by calculating advertising expenses as a percentage of annual sales (factoring in both new and existing customers).  

7. Select Outlets to Advertise In

Find media outlets that align with your goals, audience, timing and budget.

In other words, what media outlets or properties are the best places to advertise` for what you want to accomplish? Start with where you audience spends time.

If you decide pay-per-click search ads are appropriate, the obvious choices are Google AdWords and Bing ads. Or perhaps you know that a large chunk of your target audience enjoys  Pinterest. In that case, promoted Pinterest pins may be an obvious option.

However, other types of advertising may require more research to identify outlets. Sometimes you find hidden gems.

You may need to check out various television or radio stations, websites, magazines, coupon clipper books, outdoor advertising or other media outlets. If you decide a particular outlet is promising, simply look on the website for the “sales” or “advertising” contact (or find a number to call and ask).

Many outlets have an online media kit that provides information for prospective advertisers.

8. Create the Advertising Message and Graphics

Next, you will need to create the advertising message and “creative assets” (graphics, footage or audio) for your campaign. Some types of ads require professional design. Others can be do-it-yourself.

For print ads, TV commercials and possibly radio spots, many small businesses engage the services of a creative agency to produce the ad assets to make a professional impression. Remember to budget for the cost of the ad creative assets.

Many types of online ads, on the other hand, can be do-it-yourself.  For instance, you can create Google AdWords or Facebook ads right within the provided dashboard.  For display ads, you can have an inexpensive banner ad made through an online service such as DesignPax starting at around $50.

9. Measure Results

Last but not least, measure results.

Based on your business goals, you should have identified specific metrics to know if your campaign is successful.  You need to measure performance against those metrics.

Some types of ads, such as AdWords, are easy to measure because the data is automatically collected.  For instance, you can track click-throughs and identify how many converted into online sales or leads.

Other types of ads such as television commercials may require you to manually collect and measure data.  For instance, you might need to compare the amount of foot traffic or the number of closed sales, before, during and after TV commercials run.  

As you track performance, learn and react. Tweak mid campaign if possible. Or do an analysis and debrief afterwards to learn for the next time.

So there you have it — how to set up an advertising campaign in 9 steps. By following this small business advertising checklist you’ll be positioned for success. Take a look at this sample checklist to help your small business plan an advertising strategy of your own.

Read the complete Small Business Advertising Guide:

Photo via Shutterstock

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Shawn Hessinger Shawn Hessinger is the Executive Editor for Small Business Trends and a professional journalist with more than 20 years experience in traditional and digital media for trade publications and news sites. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and has served as a beat reporter, columnist, editorial writer, bureau chief and managing editor for the Berks Mont Newspapers.

3 Reactions
  1. To be able to measure your results in step 9, you’d better have correctly set up conversion tracking code during previous steps. Make sure this is done before turning any campaign on. Also, for many platforms you may want to target audiences based on a previous visit to your site or behavior on your site. In those cases you may need to install code and define those audiences long before you start running a campaign to target them.

  2. It is important to keep track of everything. This will ensure that the money that comes in is tracked with the money that comes out. This will let you see if you are really making money or not.

  3. My best friend has been looking for ways to promote her products. She recently opened a small business, and she plans to expand it to other towns and, eventually, to other states. It appears that she could use some help from creative agencies to help her create a commercial to boost the visibility of her products. It’s great that you also mentioned being financially ready. I can’t wait to share this with her. Thanks!