Learning to be a smart consumer in the TV and radio market isn't always easy. If you're worried about making the right choice on your own, consider hiring a consultant or an advertising agency to guide you. Advertising agency owner Gene Murray says that for most small businesses, radio is probably the best solution. Television is more expensive and often reaches a broader audience than a small company needs. When approaching radio stations, learn their demographics and look closely at how they match your target market. Murray says sorting out demographics is one area where hiring an ad agency or consultant can really help. "If the businessperson tries to do it on their own, they may get confused because every radio station in the country says they're number one in a certain time spot or with a certain audience," says Murray.

Many business owners find that even local TV stations cover such a broad geographical area that they reach a lot of people who will probably never visit their stores. Unless you offer an unusual product or service that will draw people from far away, advertising on a TV station with a 250-mile radius may mean paying for 240 worthless miles. That's why radio can be the best option for your advertising needs if you only need to reach a small geographical area.

Another option that can help an advertiser pinpoint a small geographical area is cable television. With stations featuring all news, sports, music, weather and other specialized topics, cable lets you microtarget the groups that fit your ideal customer profile.

For example, a business owner looking to reach upscale members of the community might try advertising on Cable News Network (CNN). A sporting goods store might make a big splash by advertising locally during the national broadcast of "Monday Night Football," often carried by ESPN.

Cable allows an advertiser to target specific towns, without wasting money covering viewers who are too far away to use the company's product or service. And cable is very inexpensive as well. A prime 30-second spot on cable that only reaches viewers in a city of about 36,000 households would cost under $50.

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