A department store mogul once famously said: "Half my advertising is wasted; I just don't know which half."
You need to advertise your firm, but that comes with two stipulations: Advertising needs to be both inexpensive and targeted to your local audience. Who wants to spend thousands of dollars reaching prospects in Topeka, Kan., when you're based in Tacoma, Wash.?
Consider these 15 suggestions for low-cost, local advertising, from the National Federation of Independent Business:
1. Set up online accounts on local business directories, such as Yelp and Yahoo! Local. The online guides help people find local businesses, restaurants, retailers and more. In addition, users post reviews of businesses, so ideally your company will receive great word-of-mouth marketing from happy clients. Setting up a business account with Yelp is free, though you can buy sponsorship ads, too. A basic Yahoo! Local Listing is free, and you can upgrade for a small monthly fee.
2. Submit press releases to local newspapers and business magazines. Be sure the story is newsworthy, not simply an advertisement. Send press releases when you hire new employees, open a branch, win an award, reach a milestone, host an open house, partner with another company, expand your products or services, restructure your business, work with a charity or rebrand your business.
3. Drive home your message -- literally. Make your car can an advertising vehicle: Put your company name on your license plate or license plate frame. Place a bumper sticker, decal or magnetic sign on your car.
4. Sign up for a free online phone directory, such as yellowpages.com and yellowpagecity.com. You can also purchase ads in the directories.
5. Post flyers about your business on message boards at libraries, community centers and grocery stores.
6. Donate a prize to local radio stations for giveaways or contests. You'll get on-air exposure and perhaps a mention on the station's website, too.
7. Place an ad on Craigslist.com in your city's edition under the appropriate business category.
8. Enter a parade float in your town's homecoming, Memorial Day or July 4th parades.
9. Try out cross-promotion. Talk to a non-competing company in your community about cross-referrals. You could add links to your websites, share a booth at a local trade show or split the costs for a direct mail piece. You can also help many kinds of clients team up: a hair salon and a clothing boutique, a print shop and a computer repair store, a day care center and a pediatrician, etc.
10. Sponsor your local chamber of commerce's website.
11. Attach a promotion to your invoice. Offer customers a discount if they refer a business or person who buys your product or service. Extend a discount on the new client's first purchase, too.
12. Try pay-per-click advertising: You can create an ad for search engines and specify the city or region where you'd like it to run. Two popular options include Google AdWords and Yahoo! Sponsored Search. Both allow you to set the click amount and daily maximum you're willing to pay, so you remain within your budget. For more information on pay-per-click options and reviews of more than 30 per click search engines, check out payperclickuniverse.com.
13. Create a company Facebook page, join local Facebook groups dedicated to business and post frequent comments to the group's wall. Consider joining other local groups: For instance, businesses in Pittsburgh can become members of the Green Pittsburgh group.
14. Volunteer at a community event wearing company t-shirts. You might hand out water at a 5K race or run a concession stand at a local art fair.
15. Don't underestimate word-of-mouth marketing. Encourage employees to talk about the company at sporting events, church functions, the grocery store, etc. Reward referrals, too.
What would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments below.