Recently, I moderated a panel discussion with Lori Greiner from TV’s Shark Tank. If you have ever watched the show, you know that Lori is one terrific entrepreneur. With literally hundreds of patents to her name and having created scores of successful businesses, Lori definitely knows a thing or two about business (and then some!)


Someone asked her what she liked best about being an entrepreneur. “The freedom,” she told us. Like many entrepreneurs, Lori loves being able to come up with ideas, execute them, and do things her own way. When she was asked about mistakes that she sees small business owners making, one of the things she suggested avoiding was trying to do everything yourself. Instead, she said, it is important to surround yourself with a great team.


I couldn’t agree more. Too often, being in business for yourself can be like sitting alone in a room with the lights off; you know you are there, but no one else does. The question therefore is,  “how do you turn the lights on?” “How do you get people to notice your product and/or business?”


One answer is that you need to advertise.


Advertising is an essential way for businesses to get the public to pay attention to what they have to offer. While many small business owners already know this to be true, the challenge is that it’s really easy to waste time, money, or both when undertaking an advertising campaign.


So, to help you, here are some key Small Business Advertising Do’s and Don’t’s.




Do know your purpose: There are basically two reasons to advertise. It is either to get immediate sales (see below) or to brand your business. Sometimes your ads can do both, but usually, it’s one or the other.  Since the type of ad you will run depends upon your purpose, knowing your purpose for advertising is the key to not wasting time or money.


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Do craft your ad appropriately: If the goal of your advertising program is to get immediate results, then your ad needs to do two things exceptionally well:


1.  Do have a catchy headline: YOU HAVE TO GRAB PEOPLE’S ATTENTION. See? This is especially true in this “always-on” Internet age. People are bombarded.


So how do you do it? There are all sorts of ways– humor for instance – but the tried-and-true best way is to use one or both of the best words ever in the history of advertising: “Free” or “Sale.”


2. Do have a strong call to action: “Quantities are limited.” “This week only.” That sort of thing will make people take action now, which is what you want if you are looking for immediate results.


A branding ad, on the other hand, is a more of a long-term commitment where you continuously repeat the same value proposition  so that people will remember it when they eventually do need what you sell: “Always the lowest prices. Always.”


Do test: Even today with the advent of so many ad choices like pay-per-click, banner ads, text ads and the like, it still may take a while until you figure out the correct combination of placements and cost, and it can be pricy until you do. That is why it is smart to test small, see what works, and then roll it out once you know.




Don’t stick to the tried and true: A mistake I see too often is where a small business owner will figure out a marketing or advertising method and then will proceed to run it into the ground until it is no longer effective. It might be a Saturday sale or a Facebook contest or whatever, it doesn’t really matter. The danger comes when you don’t branch out because, by doing the same thing again and again, you ensure that your campaign will be seen by the same people – again and again and again.


Don’t be illegal: Running false or misleading ads is illegal and can get you in hot water. The important rules to remember are these:


  • Be accurate:
  • Be fair to competitors: Sure, you can compare your business or product to theirs, as long as what you claim is verifiable.
  • Stock up: The old days of bait-and-switch by advertising a low price only to “run out” when folks come in and ask for it won’t fly anymore.


Don’t be boring: Taking the time and spending the funds necessary to run a successful ad campaign is an opportunity to get your name out there, but that will only happen if you make sure that your ad is catchy and creative.

About Steve Strauss

Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Ask an Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest,The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success, visit his new website TheSelfEmployed, and follow him on Twitter. © Steven D. Strauss.

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