From the Nolo eCommerce Center
Unlike most types of advertising, listings such as the Yellow Pages or local business directories are cost-effective – and they get results.

“Hey, wait a minute,” you may be saying. “Advertising may not be as worthwhile as it’s cracked up to be, but many types of advertising do work for small businesses.”

The types of “ads” that often work for small businesses include the telephone Yellow Pages, business directory listings, flyers posted in laundromats, and “notification” type ads placed in all sorts of appropriate locations, from free “penny saver” newspapers to, in the case of a restaurant with late evening hours, the program of the local symphony.

We make a major distinction between these types of small scale ads and traditional print and electronic advertising. In fact, we prefer to call these sorts of notices, whether paid for or not, “listings.” One good rule to distinguish the two is that a listing is found where people are looking for it. An ad, on the other hand, like a billboard in front of some lovely scenery or a deodorant commercial in the middle of an engrossing TV show, is usually intrusive and often annoying.

Another aspect of advertising, but not of listings, is that advertising agencies get what amounts to a kickback for selling an advertisement: they make most of their money from the discount the media offers only to them. For example, an ad agency might sell you an ad for $100,000 and then buy media time for $85,000. If you list your business in the Yellow Pages, even using a large ad, you and the ad agency are charged the same rate. In other words, listings almost never have an ad agency discount policy.

We strongly encourage the use of listings. Indeed, for most businesses, they 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 phone book Yellow Pages and, where appropriate, the Silver Pages for seniors and ethnic Yellow Pages 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. In our view, this sort of advertising qualifies as a listing as long as it is placed where consumers normally check.

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 does produce good results. Local schools and theatre groups also depend on the support of the business community. We consider those kinds of ads as listings of the best sort.

In this vein, we have long been associated with the Common Ground directory, a very successful cooperative enterprise that publishes information in newspaper form about businesses involved in personal transformation. Interested people subscribe or pick up a copy at coffee shops, health spas or wherever the businesses listing in Common Ground feel it is appropriate to leave a stack of papers. Since distribution is taken care of by the people who list in the directory, the paper has an uncanny ability to be located exactly where people who are interested in the services listed are likely to find it.

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