The types of "ads" that often work for small businesses without huge advertising budgets include the Yellow Pages, business directory listings, and "notification" type ads placed in all sorts of appropriate locations, from free "penny saver" newspapers to the program of the local symphony.
For most businesses, listings are essential -- particularly for businesses that people use primarily in an emergency -- for example, a drain cleaning service, a plumber, or a locksmith. Listings in the Yellow Pages and, where appropriate, the Silver Pages for seniors and various Yellow Pages used by people of different ethnicities, are invaluable.
In a few instances, the concepts of listing and advertising have all but merged. For example, in many areas of the country, Wednesday is traditionally the day grocery stores put items on sale. Thrifty shoppers therefore check the full-page lists (ads) of items for the best bargains.
Similarly, in the computer software business, a great deal of software is sold at discount prices by companies that regularly advertise their wares in computer magazines. The ads feature, in very small print, long lists of available software. Sophisticated customers know to check these listings first whenever they need software, because the prices offered are usually lower than retail stores.
The chamber of commerce, employment and rental agencies, professional newsletters, magazines and journals, and special interest books, such as those geared to the writer or photographer, are commonly accepted places to list goods or services. And in some instances, newspapers have developed such strong special interest sections that it also makes sense to list one's services there. For example, a travel agency specializing in charter flights to Asia might place a list of prices in the Sunday travel section. Similarly, small community newspapers exist primarily thanks to local advertising, which usually consists of listings of goods and services. Many merchants find that this type of listing produces good results for a small investment.
To Learn More
For more low-cost marketing ideas, get Marketing Without Advertising, by Michael Phillips and Salli Rasberry (Nolo).