Most small businesses don’t have a dedicated marketing team. When you’re just starting out, or operating on a shoestring, hiring a qualified marketing department will seem like a luxury that you just can’t afford. Yet effective marketing and advertising is the lifeblood of any business.

To some degree, established companies can coast on their reputation, but when you’re trying to elbow your way into what is probably an already crowded marketplace, you need to shout from the rooftops. Let people know that you’ve arrived and that you’re offering something that’s better, cheaper or just different compared to your nearest competitors.

Finding your audience

A scattershot approach where you’re trying to reach all of the people all of the time generally isn’t cost-effective, especially if you’re on a limited budget and are working with a small, multi-tasking team. The first thing you should do is identify your target audience.

Your audience is made up of your potential customers, and the point of advertising is to reach out to them and turn them into actual customers. There’s no point in reaching people who are never going to spend money with you. For instance, if you’re a local business, then advertising on the other side of the world is probably a waste of time. That’s an extreme example, but spending some time thinking about who your typical customer is will pay dividends.

Who are you trying to reach?

Narrow down your target audience by age, gender, type of job, geographical location, political outlook, common interests and any factor that seems relevant. Don’t be afraid to be too specific: this isn’t about excluding anyone but rather identifying some core characteristics. Your actual customers may not share all of these, but they will share a good many of them.

Once you’ve established a demographic, think about where you will find it. Where do your potential customers hang out, in real life and online? You can use guest blogging services to reach them on websites they already visit and read. Writing a guest blog can introduce your brand to a large existing audience, and if you choose the site that you’re going to blog on carefully, then that audience should be one that will be interested in what you have to offer.

The right channels

The same demographics can be leveraged on social media. Paid targeted advertising lets you put your product or service in front of exactly the people who will want to hear about it. This means that you’re not spending money reaching people who will just ignore your ad. At the same time, think about which social media channels your audience is most likely to use. For some businesses, Facebook will be the obvious choice, but for others, it will be LinkedIn or Instagram.

Effective advertising should work to build a community around your brand of like-minded people who are interested in what you have to offer. From this core customer base, you can gradually expand your reach. Soon, advertising will seem less like shouting into a void, and more like a service that is working for you.