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Advertising to Maintain or Grow – How to Make the Choice Work Best For Your Small Business

Are you a small business owner thinking about starting an advertising campaign? Are you a small business owner about to review the effectiveness of your current advertising campaign? If so, try starting either process by answering this question:

Do you want your ad campaign to maintain your business or

do you want it to grow your business?

It’s important to choose one of these two options. The difference between them in terms of results is night and day.

To illustrate this difference, here’s a recent conversation that took place between my client, a replacement window contractor and a painting contractor, both local, family-owned businesses....

PC: “Why do you spend so much money every month on new ads? I see them in the papers, on billboards, in Money Mailer. You must be spending a fortune, not to mention all the time involved. I’ve used the same ad for years in one paper and get all the business I can handle.”

CLIENT: (AFTER A THOUGHTFUL PAUSE) “All those ads in all those places have tripled my revenue in five years. I’m making three and a half million dollars more a year than I was using on ad in one paper every now and then. How much has your one ad done to grow your business?”

It all boils down to one simple choice: Maintain or Grow.

If you want to maintain your business, one ad in one local paper may be all you need. Support that ad with a website (a must have today) and some basic SEO and you’re probably good to go. You’ll be able to maintain – if, and this is a big if, there isn’t strong competition in your niche. If a competitor decides to break from the pack and begins to advertise aggressively, your maintenance strategy is going to need re-evaluation (which means you’re going to want to take notes when reading what follows).

If you want to grow your business, you’re going to want to view that single ad as a launching point... and you’re going to have to do two things:

• Ensure your business is prepared to grow

• Invest in your growth.

Ensure Your Business is Prepared to Grow

This may sound like a crazy place to start but here’s why it’s the best place to start:

If you spend money and effort to bring in new customers and they have a bad or unsatisfactory experience, you’ve wasted your money and effort – plus, you’ve shot yourself in the foot.

Why? Because customers who have had a bad experience with your company will tell 27 people. Customers having a good experience will only tell 9 people. This has been the basic fact underlying the customer satisfaction movement for 30+ years. Today’s iteration of the classic word of mouth forum is the the 5-star rating. 3-stars? You’re treading water. 5-stars? Smoother sailing.

That said, before you bring in new customers, make sure you have a reputation for taking care of customers and creating positive value.

In today’s business climate, success is not just about offering products and services at the best price. It’s about the positive value of the interaction you and your company provide the customer. Surprisingly, consumers will pay a little more if they truly believe your company understands their needs, wants and desires better than any of your competitors. The deeper the commitment to creating that positive experience flows through the company, the stronger the relationship with the customer becomes – because they will feel validated in their decision to trust your company with their business.

When a customer chooses your company over another, they are taking a leap of faith. The more money they spend, the more nervous they are about taking that leap. When every company representative they meet provides them with a positive, caring, competent interaction, tenuous faith transforms into confident belief. And that level of belief results in a happy customer who will, not only give you a 5-star review, but -- and this is the winning lotto ticket -- will gladly and vocally recommend your company to friends and neighbors!

When your company is consistently receiving 5-star reviews and experiencing a strong number of referrals, this is the time to break from the pack and start growth-oriented advertising.

Invest In Your Growth

An advertising plan intended to grow your business takes investment. You have to know what you want to spend and commit to spending that money every month. It’s not going to be easy to do this. You’re going to be taking a chunk of money out of your operating fund and put it into an “untouchable fund” that is solely for the use of advertising.

How much do you need to set aside? There’s actually a rule of thumb to follow that is very accurate:

• If you want to just get noticed, spend 3-5% of gross revenue.

• If you want to move to the front of the pack, spend 6-10% of gross revenue.

• If you want to leave the pack behind and dominate, spend 11-15% of gross revenue.

In order to maximize the impact of your investment, you need to remember just one word: consistency. It is far better to show up in one place consistently than in several places sporadically. The magic of advertising starts when you have consistent presence.

So, where do you begin? It is possible to experience growth from humble beginnings. Remember the conversation at the start of this article? The seed for growth was planted for my client by a consistent presence in, of all places, Money Mailer. Yes, he also had a website and a basic SEO effort, but, contrary to current millennial wisdom, has growth didn’t start until he had consistent “real world” presence. It’s important to note here that, consistency doesn’t mean using the same ad over and over. You need to vary the message. Consistent advertising presence creates a conversation with your audience. Vary what you say. Reveal different aspects of your company. Let your audience get to know you.

It’s okay to start small. In fact, that’s the best place to start. Small starts make for healthy, sustainable growth. Unhealthy growth happens when it comes too much, too fast. Sudden, fast growth may sound like a dream come true but it quickly over burdens your team and systems. What happens then? Your ability to satisfy customers is compromised and your 5-star rating drops to 3-stars. The once positive chatter about your company turns negative – overnight! (You want to avoid this situation like an ebola plague for this reason: It takes – at the minimum – three times more effort and energy to turn a negative into a positive.) Set as your goal steady growth that allows you to expand comfortably, controllably and consistently.

As you grow, re-evaluate your ad spend and the out-reach channels used. Your advertising spend is now tied to your gross revenue. As revenue increases, so does your ad spend and so do your out-reach channels. When you are able, add to them. The goal is for you to be able to have as many different points of contact with your audience as possible... and to have them consistently. What sort of direct mail options are available in your area? What newspapers service your area? Is there any available billboard space? Creating a mix of traditional and digital outreach channels does two things;

• It ensures you have exposure in both the digital and real worlds

• Provides a safety cushion for those times Google drops changes into the marketplace that create a two to three month recovery period. Trust me, it happens!

Making the decision to grow your business with advertising is a big one. Advertising takes time. It takes thought. It takes commitment. It stretches resources. It can also be extremely rewarding. Gross revenue can be doubled, tripled and more. You can find yourself with a new and unexpected challenge – what do I do with all this additional profit?

To create an effective growth-oriented advertising campaign, you may need help. Finding an ad agency that specializes in small business will definitely help make the move easier and help ensure success. Don’t think you can afford an ad agency? BMCG Creative Services, Inc., takes a novel approach to its partnerships with small businesses. Our fee structure allows us to grow as you grow which means we become vested partners in your success.

If you want to grow your business, you need more sales. To get more sales, you need effective advertising. To have effective advertising, seek the help of a professional.

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