Most print ads out there are poorly conceived and, as a result, perform badly. If an ad lacks a strong motivating message, especially in the crowded marketplace of a newspaper or magazine, it becomes a costly lesson-one the business will be lucky to survive. The good news? With so many bad ads out there, if you can put together a good one, you're way ahead of the game. Whether you are developing an ad yourself or having someone else craft it for you, make sure it follows the five fundamentals of successful ads.

1. It should attract attention. That sounds obvious, but nothing else matters unless you can do this. And that means having a truly arresting headline and visual element.
2. It should appeal to the reader's self-interest or announce news. An ad that takes the "you" point of view and tells readers how they will benefit from your product or service piques and keeps their interest. And if, in addition, it has news value ("Announcing a bold new breakthrough in moisturizers that can make your skin look years younger"), your ad has a better than fighting chance.
3. It should communicate your company's unique advantage. In other words, why should the prospect pick your firm over a competitor's?
4. It should prove your advantage. The most convincing way to do that is through testimonials and statistics.
5. It should motivate readers to take action. This is usually accomplished by making a special offer that "piggybacks" your main sales thrust. Such offers include a free trial, a discount or a bonus.

Excerpted from Start Your Own Business: The Only Start-Up Book You'll Ever Need, by Rieva Lesonsky and the Staff of Entrepreneur Magazine, © 1998 Entrepreneur Press