How to Plan an Effective Advertising Campaign for Your Small Business

Jun 17, 2021 · 6 minutes to read

Advertising can help grow your small business. While you may not have the budget for a big, splashy campaign, you could still see success from a smaller, well thought out venture. Here are nine steps to help small business owners run an effective advertising campaign.

Step 1: Set SMART goals

The key to any advertising campaign is to have clear goals for what you hope it achieves. This goes beyond just saying you want “more sales”. The desired outcome should be more specific than that.

The SMART method is a great tool for defining your advertising goals. SMART stands for:

  • Specific – If your goals are not specific, there’s really no way to track if you were successful in meeting them.
  • Measurable – These are the hard numbers you need to hit to know that you’ve reached the finish line.
  • Achievable – Think big, but also be realistic about what you can achieve.
  • Relevant – Your goals should be relevant to your business, but also to how an advertising campaign works.
  • Time-bound – Choose a realistic deadline for when you should meet your goals.


What does a SMART advertising goal look like? For example, let’s say you run a clothing boutique and are running an end-of-season sale over the Labor Day weekend. You want more people to buy online than last year. Your SMART goal could be to increase online sales by 15% over the holiday weekend (Saturday to Monday).

Step 2: Pick what to promote

Next, decide what your ad campaign will focus on:

  • Your brand
  • A product
  • A service
  • An event, such as a special sale or discount
  • Something else

This should match the SMART goals set in step one. Back to our example, your ads should probably focus on the end-of-season sale. You want more people to visit your website during the sale and take advantage of these limited-time discounts.

Step 3: Identify your target audience

This is another area where you want to be specific. Your target audience isn’t just “shoppers” or “women”. Really think about your customers—or the customers you’re hoping to attract.

What are your customers like? Where else do they shop? How much money do they make? What challenges can your business help them solve? Answering these and other questions can help you create buyer personas, fictional representations of your ideal target customer. Most businesses will have more than one buyer persona they want to reach, so you may want to create several.

Step 4: Find your audience

Once you understand who your customers are, you can start to think about where they’ll see your ads. While some forms of advertising have a wide reach (such has billboards, television, and magazine ads), they may be completely irrelevant to your target buyer.

Other forms of advertising, like online display and social media ads, offer more specific targeting options. You can often drill down and precisely target viewers by demographics and interests.

Let’s go back to our example. You’ve decided that your boutique’s ideal customers are women 35-50 who use Instagram and listen to lifestyle and health podcasts. Placing audio ads in popular lifestyle podcasts during the week leading up to your sale and running visual ads on Instagram during the sale may be a smart strategy.

Step 5: Decide on timing

Some advertising campaigns can be launched in days. Others need more planning to get off the ground. How quickly you can launch will depend on what you want the campaign to do and how quickly you want to see results.

In our example, the timeliness of the offer (a limited-time Labor Day sale) is an important consideration. You’ll need fast results, but also don’t want to waste money on advertising that may stick around longer than the sale (like magazine ads or billboards). Online ads can start delivering results in hours and can be set to disappear shortly before the sale ends.

Step 6: Set your budget

Everyone wants free advertising, but it can be hard to come by. Realistically, you’ll need to spend to reach your advertising goals. Determining your budget can be done different ways:

  • Based off past campaigns – If you’ve run ads before, you can use this info to work out your budget.
  • Finding the lifetime value of a customer – Decide how much a new customer is worth and use this to set a budget. For example, each new customer makes an average of three purchases that total $70. That means each new customer is worth $210. If you’re willing to spend 20% to get a new customer, your cost per lead will be $42 (or ideally less).
  • Looking at industry benchmarks – Information on how much similarly sized businesses in your industry are spending on advertising could help you set your own budget.

Step 7: Choose where to advertise

Once you’ve worked out your goals, target customers, timing, and budget, you can pick exactly where you’ll place ads. Many outlets have online media kits that provide pricing information and how to buy ad space from them.

If you’re running ads online or through social media, you’ll need to set up ad or business accounts. You can manage and track the campaign’s success directly through these accounts.

Step 8: Get creative

Time to craft your advertising message and design your ads! Many small businesses hire a creative agency to create ads for television, billboards, print ads and sometimes radio. This helps ensure the ads look professional. If you hire an agency, this cost should be counted towards your campaign budget.

Other ads can be do-it-yourself pieces. Photo editing and design apps make it easy to create artwork for social media and online ads.

Step 9: Measure results

The only way to know if your ad campaign is truly successful is by measuring the results. If the goals you set were specific enough, it should be easy to know if the campaign worked. This info will help you next time you run an advertising campaign, because you’ll already know what works (and what does not).

On your way to small business success

Following the above steps could help you run a successful advertising campaign. With some hard work and creativity, you’ll hopefully see your small business grow and thrive.

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