I bought some ads and they didn't work... this is a common phrase from small business owners. The ads were costly, but looked like a great deal. When there are very few positive results it can be a discouraging experience.
First off - don't beat up on yourself. Maybe it wasn't the best business decision you ever made, but it's done. The best thing you can do now is learn from it and move on. To make better decisions in the future consider the following.
My number one rule... be proactive rather than reactive. Did you search out that advertising deal? In many cases "no" - it found you and this is the first warning sign. When you react to such an offer you are making an impulse purchase - avoid these. Decide what you need in advance, and then search out the best solution.
Know your customer (or use your best guess.) If you are just starting out - think about who you would ideally like to have as your customer. Start with the basics - male/female? Geographical location - local/national/international? Next areas to consider - age range? Education level? Income level? Hobbies/other interests? (Look at a competitor and/or mainstream equivalents for your product or service. The type of people they feature in their ads or websites may provide clues as to who your potential customer might be.)
Set a marketing budget. If you are starting out this can be very difficult. Estimate how much you would like your sales per month to be. Calculate 3-5% of this amount as a starting point for your marketing budget. In the beginning you will likely spend more as you set up a website, or purchase banners you will use for several years. **If you are considering ads that would consume or exceed this amount be wary.
Try publicity before advertising. Publicity generates awareness about your product or service without a specific payment for the exposure. The cost of publicity is in the time it takes to send information and build relationships with media. Depending on the complexity of your business this may be something you can do yourself, or something where you need to pay for assistance. The big benefit of publicity is how it is received by the audience. Readers of an article about your product/service see you as an expert - this gives your business credibility - more so than from an ad.
Explore other ways to get your products or services noticed. There are many, many ways to market your product or service. For example, your website, emails, social media such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, flyers, signage, networking, sampling, events, and many more. All offer different pros and cons. Some will promote your product better than others. Consider all of these options before automatically deciding advertising is necessary.
If you decide to purchase advertising consider the following...
• Know what you are getting. Confirm the size, the date(s) and times of day (if applicable) when they will appear.
• Do you need to provide the artwork for the ad? If so consider these extra costs. If artwork is included be sure to look at samples - sometimes included artwork is not the best option.
• Timing - Is there enough time for you to think through what you want to feature in the ad and have compelling artwork created? Will the ad appear at a time when your customers will need or want your product/service? ** Be wary of 'deals' with short print deadlines. Also be cautious of 'deals' offered at slow times for that publication.
• Campaign or one time offer? Campaigns that allow for ads to appear over a period of time are usually more costly but ensure more people will see the ad. One time deals are not as impactful but are likely less expensive.
• Keep track of when you placed ads and their costs. This will help you decide whether the ads were beneficial and whether you want to continue them in the future.