Classified ads don't draw the huge response of a display ad, but they still provide the most economical way to get your business into the public eye. And since they demand neither the eye-catching design of a display ad nor the clever wording of a direct-mail campaign, almost anyone can write them.
What should your ad say? The Newspaper Association of America recommends you simply list your product or service's main benefit to the customer. Does it make people money? Improve their self-image? Use a catchy statement, such as "Feel good now!" to create an impact. Since not every reader is looking for the same benefit, list as many as you can afford. The more readers know about your business, the more they will trust you.
Experts also recommend using white space to make your classified ad stand out from the competition. White space works especially well in newspapers, which sell ads for pennies a word or by the line. If you place just a few words in each line-the first line listing a benefit, the second the name of your company, the third your address, for example-you have a striking, centered ad surrounded by white space.
These brief ads work best when they offer a commonly sold product or service such as tax preparation or catering. Listing the benefits of each isn't essential because the public knows what to expect. White space in classifieds is also effective when you offer a catalog or another form of literature describing your product. In this case, you might place the main benefit in an opening line that is designed to grab the reader's attention, and below the benefit list how to send for the information, noting its price if any. For example, "Play Backgammon Like a Pro" would be a good benefit line in an ad offering free information about a booklet that shows backgammon players how to improve their game.
Ads that use white space are less common in magazines since these ads are often twice as costly as a typical newspaper classified. However, they are often more effective as well-even more so than in a newspaper because few other white space ads will be competing for the attention of the readers. Before placing a classified ad, write or call the publications that interest you and ask for an advertising kit (also called a media or press kit). Ad kits often include guidelines in the form of booklets, pamphlets or newsletters, which help you construct your ad and give you tips on choosing the main benefit, consolidating words or determining whether the tone should be boldly stated or instead employ a conservative description and a list of benefits. Most ad kits also list demographic information about the readers. Finally, repeat your ad as often as possible, so long as it brings in enough money to justify its expense. Repeating ads helps customers gain familiarity with your product or service and helps break down sales resistance.
Once the ad stops pulling in new accounts, it's time to develop a new ad. A classified that uses fewer words will cost less to run, so it doesn't have to pull as well to justify itself. But sometimes adding more words can help your sales, too. It doesn't hurt to experiment.
How much profit do you need to make on classifieds? Unless you run a one-product, one-sale business, you can build a profitable operation through classifieds just by breaking even, or even by coming in a little under the money since many of those buyers will become repeat customers.
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