A common small business advertising mistake and how to fix it – July 2013

DirectResponseRunning small display ads in the local paper, in specialist magazines and other business newsletters, on websites and online directories can be an attractive low-cost option for a newly-started firm.

But this is an area where many small business owners end up being disappointed with the results due to a very common mistake. A mistake that, fortunately, is very easy to fix.

So what do you think that mistake might be?


Ad not big enough, perhaps? No, because it doesn’t matter how big the ad is, as this mistake is seen in ads of all sizes.

Not showing a picture of your product? No, because even a picture of the product doesn’t necessarily get you a response, especially if you’re making this mistake.

Not having enough “design” in the ad, such as colour and graphics? No, that doesn’t matter either. Graphics don’t sell, but words do.

So what exactly is this mistake?
Probably the single biggest mistake that is made in small business ads is failing to include a clear and convincing call to action. And ideally a call that your prospects will act upon straight away.

Can you picture your ad?
Wonderful headline, great design, full of benefits, perhaps an endorsement from someone well known, or quotes from satisfied customers. Great stuff, but what exactly do you want your prospects to do?

Nod in appreciation?
Go and have their lunch, then come back and read it again later?
Memorise it and look for your hidden subliminal messages?

Of course not!!

What you want is for them to act now, or at the earliest opportunity. And your prospects, if they’re interested in the offer in your ad and want to find out more, will want it spelled out as simply and as clearly as possible exactly what you want them to do next.

If you don’t ask them to act, then you can pretty much guarantee that they won’t.

Unfortunately, most small business marketing is like this, failing to prompt, encourage or direct people to take further action. And this doesn’t just apply to small ads, it’s also a common mistake in sales letters, website pages, brochures and fliers. I make no apology for driving home this message during the 2 day business start up course – I’ve seen too many examples where there has been no compelling ‘call to action’, resulting in disappointment and a depleted marketing budget.

If you encourage, ask or compel your prospects to take a specific course of action, you’ll massively increase your potential to sell more.

What you’re seeking is an immediate response, hence the term “direct response advertising“. You’re getting prospects to respond, act, sample or buy your product or service at the earliest opportunity.

Here are some popular and very effective examples of calls to action that you can use in your small ads and other direct response marketing materials.

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Hopefully, these will provide you with one or two ideas which you can try yourself. Think about how you can use a clear call to action in all your advertising and marketing. This is not difficult to do and will hopefully make a big difference to your results.