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Advertising on the Cheap

Think advertising is beyond your means? Not with these low-cost and no-cost options.

Advertising can be a costly, often prohibitive proposition for small businesses. But homebased business owners shouldn't consider themselves to be the "poor second cousins" of big business, shut out of the advertising opportunities available to their rich relatives. Here are some no-cash tips that can help you get your small-business foot in those big-buck doors.

Print Ads

The design and layout of your print ads, whether for daily or weekly newspapers, free shoppers, direct mail or coupon inserts, will be handled at no charge through the publication or direct mail house doing the distribution. Your media sales rep will show you samples of award winning print ads to get you in the mood.

Weekly subscription papers add color to their pages for special editions and, since they're using it anyway, will sometimes add the same color to your ad at no charge if you ask. Tell your reps to notify you whenever free color, which under normal circumstances can be cost prohibitive, is available.

Radio and TV (Almost) Freebies

Radio and TV advertising isn't out of the question for small-business owners; in fact, with trade and promotion advertising, you can pay for your advertising with products or services instead of cash. Radio and TV stations may need your products or services as much as you need them, and they don't want to pay cash either! They will trade dollar-for-dollar advertising for office machines and maintenance, cleaning and decorating services, office supplies, delivery service, office furniture, news and station vehicles (and the supplies and maintenance that go along with those vehicles, such as fuel, cleaning, tires, oil changes, repairs, painting), printing, office and/or client party planning and catering. . . the list is endless. TV stations will trade hairdressing, makeup services and often wardrobes for their news anchors; the stations often accomplish these trades with annual contracts, insuring that your advertising won't just be a flash in the pan but will reach their audiences consistently.

Contact the general sales manager at each of your local stations by phone. Ask the receptionist for the contact's name before the call is put through, and come right to the point when you get him or her on the line. Managers frequently field these type of requests, so don't be shy. If they're not in need of your product or service at the moment, send them your card or brochure and check back periodically.

Promotional advertising (found more often, but not exclusively, on radio) is slightly different than straight trade advertising in that you get produced commercials plus live promotional announcements attached to a special station event. Perfect candidates for this kind of advertising include catering companies, travel agencies, health spas, boutiques, specialty gift companies and bakeries--basically any business that can provide prizes suitable for on-air contests and giveaways. Come up with your own promotion, and approach a local station with the idea. If they decline, try another--there's always more than one radio station that reaches your target audience.

Before you agree to do trade or promotional advertising with any radio or TV station, be sure you'll be reaching the right audience. Otherwise, you'll waste your products or services, which you should part with as carefully as you do cash. And when figuring out trade amounts, use your highest unit price or hourly rate--they will.

What other freebies should you expect to receive?

  • Every radio and TV station will provide you with no-charge copywriting. Many actually employ full-time copywriters, and some provide the service through their media reps.
  • Production of your radio commercials should be free, unless you're taking a "dub," or copy of the produced commercial, to use on another station as well. You can even get around this charge by providing each station you're going to advertise on with a script and letting each produce its own version of your commercial.
  • You may be able to include the cost of producing your TV commercial as part of the trade or promotional advertising. If producing a full 30-second commercial takes up too much of your trade balance, have a 15-second ad produced instead. They're less expensive to make and run, so you should be able to have the commercial made and still run it with some frequency. Most trade deals like this are negotiated during the first and third quarters of the year when demand on radio and TV inventory, as well as on production time, is down.
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