From the September 2007 issue of Entrepreneur

TV's power to build companies and brands is virtually unmatched. And while TV was once used predominantly by America's largest and most successful corporations, it's now the workhorse of growing businesses nationwide. What has made TV so accessible to entrepreneurs? Vast new programming choices and the ability to geographically pinpoint your best prospects to reach smaller, better-qualified audiences for less.

TV advertising is a branding and positioning tool as well as a proven direct-response medium. It works best in combination with other media, such as print and online marketing. For example, you can introduce a new product or service on TV with spots that send qualified prospects to a deeper source of information, like a website.

Putting TV to work for your business isn't as complex as you might think. Here are four important things to know before you begin:

1. Buying TV time is more a science than an art. There are thousands of professionals nation-wide who make their living buying airtime. If you have a large enough budget for your TV campaign--at least $10,000 a month in a small media market--you can hire a local advertising agency with a skilled media-buying staff that will also produce your commercials. For more modest budgets, a media-buying service that works on commission is a terrific option. Small buying services generally have relationships with the local advertising sales reps and can negotiate cost-effective packages for you. Of course, you can become a cable TV advertiser for as little as $1,500 a month in many markets nationwide (not including production costs). On this budget, you should expect to place your own spots.

2. Geography costs money. If you're placing your media directly, your first consideration is the geographic area in which your spots will run. Begin by contacting your local cable TV provider, even if you plan to advertise in multiple markets, because many companies provide cable service in a wide range of areas. Most cable systems break large metro areas or states up into advertising zones, and the more zones you buy, the more it will cost. So your advertising budget will go farther if you narrow your geographic market area as much as possible and concentrate your dollars on your target areas.

3. The more you know about your prospects, the greater your chances of success. As a business owner on a budget, it's imperative to pinpoint your best prospects. You must look beyond basic demographics (age, gender and location) and understand what they like, their hobbies and their interests. This is enormously important in choosing the right programming. Share everything you know about your prospects with your cable rep and ask to see quantitative and qualitative data that shows exactly which cable networks and programs your prospects are watching. Since consumers multitask while watching TV, by going online or reading the newspaper, for example, your spots are more likely to be seen and remembered if they air during your prospects' favorite shows--when they're engaged and attentive.

4. It pays to look good. Most cable companies and many local network affiliates now provide access to low-cost TV-spot production. Depending on your market, you may pay as little as $500 to $2,000 for a basic spot. The good news is that this helps many businesses that can't afford to spend major dollars on production become TV advertisers. The bad news is that the spots can sometimes look amateurish and reflect poorly on the advertisers. So be a careful shopper. Ask to see spots the production company you're considering has created for other advertisers. If you're unhappy with what you see, don't feel boxed in. Shop around for other producers, and create spots that will make you look good and achieve your advertising goals.

Contact marketing expert Kim T. Gordon, author of Maximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars: The Top 50 Ways to Grow Your Small Business, at smallbusinessnow.com. Her new e-book, Big Marketing Ideas for Small Budgets, is available exclusively from Entrepreneur.