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Low-Cost Advertising Basics

Get the most for your advertising dollars using these guidelines.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Q: How can I advertise on a low budget and get a great response? Where should I advertise to take my business to another level?

A: Paid ad placements are vital marketing sources for some businesses. When customers refer to a directory or advertising section, they've already qualified themselves as someone who needs what you and your competition are selling. Whether you're paying for a display in the phone book, newspaper or church directory, you need your dollars to work effectively in steering people's attention over to your message. Here's how.

Identify which advertising tool is best for your type of business. For example, classified ads fuel some businesses while others use flier distribution effectively. For restaurants, local newspaper ads are effective because most restaurant patrons live within a three- to five-mile radius. Local storefront shops find success with coupon advertising in community mail packs or on the back of supermarket receipts. Scanning a stack of my own grocery receipts reveals ads from such neighborhood regulars as a car wash, a dry cleaner, an auto repair center, a dentist and a storage facility.

Scrutinize the effectiveness of a tool. Before you spend one dime on any placement, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Does the medium allow you to communicate your message as often as you need?
  • Will the format allow you to communicate enough information to prompt people to call for an appointment, send in an order or request additional information?
  • What is the medium's cost in terms of the number of the number of people it will reach?
  • How many of the distribution recipients will actually be your target audience?

Scout out low-cost advertising opportunities. Whether you're a full-time retailer or a service business with a retail center, you should pursue co-op opportunities. Co-op advertising is a cost-sharing arrangement between a manufacturer and a retailer for advertising programs. Collectively, manufacturers earmark approximately $30 million annually to help businesses stretch their advertising dollars. Co-op opportunities are available in every medium, from Yellow Page listings to print ads to radio and TV spots. For more information about co-op opportunities, contact the Yellow Pages Publishers Association online or at (800) 841-0639, or refer to a copy of the Co-op Source Directory (National Register Publishing) at your local library.

Another option is cable TV advertising. The cost is low and the ability to pinpoint neighborhoods and demographic groups is easily available. You may want to contact some of the local businesses you see advertising on cable and get their feedback on using this medium. Direct-mail postcards also work well for some businesses. However, the tool is ineffective when it's mailed to those not interested in your offering. So you may want to consider using these as a follow-up tool. It may also be worthwhile to inquire as to an advertising outlet's interest in bartering with you for your merchandise and services. Don't forget advertising specialties-merchandise imprinted with your name or message and given free. Check out the resources available through Promotional Products Association International.

Be sure to track the effectiveness of any placements, so you're not paying for something that doesn't work. Use special reference codes in your ads or ask every contact how they heard about you.

Kimberly Stansell is an author, entrepreneur and businesswoman in Los Angeles. She has a knack for turning her desires into reality with little or no money and helps others do the same in her bookBootstrapper's Success Secrets: 151 Tactics for Building Your Business on a Shoestring Budget(Career Press). For more business-building tips and resources, visit her Web site,

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.