When I was teaching entrepreneurship at the then College of Saint Thomas, the best advice for marketing was to get the business listed in the yellow pages.  Today in most parts of the nation they don’t even exist anymore and where they do, I could not recommend it as an avenue for advertising a business.

I come from a time when there were four television stations and they each presented news as neutrally as possible because they were all after the same market.  Today there are hundreds of stations.  Those major network station news programs are as much social and entertainment as they are news.  If people want news they go to news stations.  But now there are so many of those that they are as much editorial as they are news.  You have far right Fox and far left MSNBC, and actually even those are not the most extremely left and right.  The problem is that a business trying to sell a product very seldom has a product that would be desired only by the political Left or Right but they want to reach the largest demographic they can.

Newspapers that used to have a news department and a separate editorial department, have lost so much revenue that some of them, like the Saint Paul Pioneer Press, do not have that separation anymore.  Local newspapers are failing from loss of advertising revenue because the perception is, and it may be true, that they are not read and therefore that advertising in them is not worth the price.

The landscape has changed so drastically and is changing so rapidly, that advice to a business on how to best advertize their product may be good one day and within a year or even a week may not be the best way anymore. 

Pop up computer ads are now being used by candidates for office, and they are very careful about their advertising money.  Web sites, Twitter, E-mail and other options are all the fad today, but may very well be obsolete within a year.  I am so far behind, they may already be.

A business person has to be very careful today about defining who their customers are and where they are going for information and therefore where the business wants to advertise.  Just as important, one can not develop a long term plan because the market is changing so rapidly that the small business owner has to be ready to change direction on a moments notice.

Maybe the best advice for the small business person is to be active in the community in which the customer base will be. Being in the local Chamber of Commerce, Rotary or Kiwanis has become a business necessity rather than just a nice thing to do.

When it comes down to it, the best marketing is word of mouth.  The best way to get positive word of mouth is for the small business is to provide good product and good service.       

Small Business – Suggestions to help Minnesota’s Small Business Owners and Potential Small Business Owners

by Mel Aanerud, Former Assistant District Director of the United States Small Business Administration

Column 10-12