One of the more frightening realities of business is that in order to make money, you often have to spend it first. For independent software developers, the costs of doing business are usually very low. There are often no expensive offices to purchase or lease, a limited amount of hardware to buy and maintain, and for most, no stock to tie-up precious capital.
For many developers, the first and most obvious option for productive spending is advertising. And for the online business, there is no shortage of options to choose from.
Most websites offer some form of graphic or text advertising, and there is a bewildering variety of mailing lists, newsletters, and regular mailings. And that's before you even begin to consider the printed media.
However, before you even start to think about how to advertise software, you need to consider why you're advertising in the first place.
For many companies, the aim of an advert will simply be to increase sales and make more money. Other legitimate reasons for wanting to advertise can include raising the profile of your company or product, increasing brand awareness, and testing new pricing strategies or new markets.
From the outset, it's important that you are clear about exactly what it is that you want to achieve. From there, you'll be able to choose where to advertise.
When selecting a venue, an important factor will be how targeted the audience is, as this will have a major bearing on the price that you should be prepared to pay for the ad. In general, the less targeted the audience, the less money you should part with. And even though it's not always the case, you might want to consider spending a little bit extra for a highly targeted advert.
The next obvious factor is the price.
First of all you need to know how much you will be paying, and whether this is a flat fee, a cost per click, paying per exposure, or some arrangement.
You also need to consider the costs involved in preparation. If you're using artwork, you may wish to use a professional designer to create it, and don't overlook that the graphic might have to be in a specific format. More importantly, you have to take into account the amount of time that you will have spend on arranging this.
You also need to consider the time period that you're hoping your advert will cover. If the ad will be on a website, then you'll probably be looking at days, weeks or even longer. If so, then you should find out whether you can change the content of the ads as you go. If this is what you want to do, all the ads should be prepared well in advance, and the total costs of these should also be factored into the budget.
A good starting point in finding a suitable place to advertise is to learn from the experiences of others. As an ASP member, you have access to the private newsgroups, where other members will often be considerably more open, detailed and revealing than they might in public.
When you think you've found the right venue, read through whatever information you can find on their website or in their publications, and only then contact the person who handles these matters.
Present them with a general introduction to yourself, your products and your needs, and don't be afraid to ask questions right from the start. Ask about their terms, payment terms, conditions, and whether they offer any form of guarantee or minimum response levels. A little bit of optimism never did any harm!
You'll also want to find out if there are any deadlines or timescales to consider, and whether they will publish your ad "as is", or reserve the right to edit it to suit their content.
Bear in mind that whoever you contact is likely to know their audience very well, so make sure that you ask for any guidance, tips or pointers that they can offer. Find out who will see the ads, what behavioural patterns you might expect, what outcome or response rate you might get, and whether they can offer any helpful suggestions.
Also find out who else has advertised with them in recent months, and ask if you can have their contact details. Make sure that you chase these up, and ask them outright about their experiences.
Leave nothing to chance, and find out whether there will be a contract to sign, and any commitments that may be involved throughout and beyond the advertising period. It's also a good idea to find out how flexible they may be. For example, if the ad will run for a number of days or longer, can you change the content of the ads with little or no notice?
At this point, it's very important to keep in mind that you are the customer. Don't be afraid to ask questions, don't be worried about bargaining, and make very sure that you're getting all the information and answers that you need. If not, move on. There are many other places to advertise.
Assuming that their answers meet your satisfaction, you are then in a good position to negotiate. The web is full of advertising, but even the more popular websites and newsletters often find it difficult to sell all their advertising space nowadays.
You might also want to ask them whether some form of trial period may be possible. If they're very confident of a high click and success rate, then they shouldn't object to an ad going out to a smaller test group, or perhaps a normal ad running for a number of hours.
When it comes to the actual payment basis, the ideal scenario would be a vendor offering high-quality, targeted advertising, with payment based solely on a commission basis, with no sign-up fee or base rate.
This is, however, a little on the unlikely side. A more realistic option will be advertising that is based on a flat fee, most (or all) of which will be paid for in advance.
When the terms, price and payment conditions have been dealt with, you're then ready for the content of the ad itself.
The following article will look at the importance of knowing your target audience, what to include in the ad, and how to know when to call in the professionals. We'll also be looking at the importance of implementing a good tracking system, and how to follow up an advertising campaign to gain from your experiences. In short, we'll be looking at everything else you need to help make your ad campaign a successful one. Until then, be seen, be sold.