If your business is seasonal, your advertising costs should reflect that ebb and flow, says Dean Otto, a small-business advisor and business management college instructor at the South Central Technical College in Man-kato, Minnesota. "Research the typical peaks and valleys inherent in your business; reduce your advertising a month before the valleys, and increase it a month before the peaks," he advises. If your drive-thru restaurant in North Dakota specializes in Jumbo Freezies, transfer your ad budget for January to June and close during the coldest months--or expand your menu.
"You can be creative with a small budget," says Riley Harrison, a Minneapolis consultant for new entrepreneurs. "A Twin Cities company that manufactures and sells garage shelves sent a letter to a local radio personality, who hosts a political talk show called `Garage Logic,' asking him to be the company's official `interior decorator of garages.' He read the letter on the air, including the company's phone number, and the manufacturer received numerous phone calls. The company gets frequent mention on the radio and free posters of the radio personality to use as eye-catchers at trade shows."
All entrepreneurs should look at nontraditional ways of advertising and marketing their businesses, but it is particularly important for small businesses, according to Senjem. "Make a list of ideas and keep adding to it," he advises. "You can prioritize the list for each target market and then work it into your budget.
"When marketing, always keep in mind who your audience is and where they spend their time. To reach business executives and managers, place advertising on country club bulletin boards. Give away promotional items, such as golf balls, with your logo on them," Senjem suggests. "Try the newest advertising medium--signs in public bathrooms (advertising posters under a plastic pane, positioned for easy contemplation in each toilet stall). These are more appropriate for a sports-oriented product or a cosmetic-sales business than for, say, a business consultant."
Cut ad costs in half by purchasing a joint ad with a business that's complementary to yours; a florist might make an arrangement with a candy shop, for example. Barter your product or service for print-ad space or broadcast time--a common arrangement with many media, according to Jane Wesman, founder of Jane Wesman Public Relations Inc. in New York City, and author of Dive Right In--The Sharks Won't Bite (Dearborn Financial Publishing Inc., $19.95, 800-621-9621, ext. 3650).
A business such as "Teriyaki Take-Out" might place coupons on car windshields, supermarket bulletin boards, and neighborhood doorknobs; a Scout troop or church youth group may do the legwork as a service project, or for a small donation.