In some respects, advertising is one way large companies stay ahead of their smaller competitors. It takes serious resources to build an effective advertising campaign. That scares a lot of small companies away. But, serious doesn't necessarily mean expensive. It can also mean smart, creative, responsive, and caring. Call it a replay of David and Goliath.

You can waste a great deal of money on advertising if you don't have a plan. Don't assume that any advertising agency can serve you effectively at a reasonable price. Agencies specialize in planning, copy writing and graphic design. They do not know your business and most agencies have no experience in the landscaping industry. That makes it difficult for them to hit the ground running. If they don't know your business, they will be learning on your dollar. It takes time to learn an industry before you can develop a campaign that will be effective.

Don't buy on impulse. Insist on samples of the advertising media with full details on distribution. Ask lots of questions of the salesperson. Never forget that your needs, or shall we say your customers' needs, are the main concern in advertising. The salesperson has a goal, so do you. Perhaps your two goals can work together. Don't hire an advertising agency just because you are tired of calls and visits from media advertising sales people. That is not the reason you retain an advertising agency.

Don't let media salespeople waste your time. A simple way to do this is to set a certain time to handle these calls, perhaps 30 minutes every other day. Tell sales people to call you back within this time frame. Focus your attention on advertising when you have time to learn. Gather as much information as you can about advertising and costs from them. Find out what support services does the publication offer? Realize the limitations of free services. Don't expect complimentary services to match those of advertising agencies. In some instances, they do. You might get lucky.

Resist the temptation to do one big splash instead of a variety of smaller programs. Advertising takes work to do right. A complete package starts with a distinctive logo, business cards, sales kits, testimonials, and advertising themes for specific markets, good creative materials and a system to follow up leads. As you can see, lots of time is involved. In many ways, that time is as valuable as the time you spend on quality control, financial planning and direct sales. Skip any of these and you might never achieve your potential.

Your plan should include trade shows, direct mail, Yellow Pages, premiums (calendars, pens, etc.), doorhangers, local newspaper, radio, possibly television, community projects, billboards, and more. Web sites can make product, service and cost information available around the clock. Reserve five percent of your advertising budget for unplanned opportunities.

Keep in mind that rarely does one impression result in a buying decision. Your potential customers, and your existing customers, need multiple reminders before they decide to act. The trick is targeting those impressions where your customers live.

Knowing what ALL the advertising opportunities are before making decisions is very important. Select a combination that is both affordable and effective. Build from one year to the next and gauge the effectiveness of all methods. Always ask customers how they heard about your company. In a few short years, you will know what works and what doesn't. Keep an open mind to new techniques and test them on a limited scale. Once proven, adjust your advertising formula.

Obviously, spend advertising dollars where they produce the greatest return. Don't promote services that have low margins. Promote in advance of busy seasons. Offer discounts on overstock following the busy season. Stay in touch with customers. Don't let them forget about you.

Use advertising to maintain cash flow. You can borrow money to pay your bills during slow periods or you can advertise to keep money coming in. Either way, you will end up paying interest in some form. At least advertising leaves an impression in your customers' minds that you can build on next year.

Don't let advertising scare you. Do your homework, select a combination of things you can afford, and start making consistent impressions upon your potential customers. Don't surrender to the big guys and don't sit back and rely on word of mouth. Was David able to talk Goliath out of a fight? Stay in there and fight!