Cheaper than the Yellow Pages: Advertising alternatives for service-based businesses

Cheaper than the Yellow Pages: Advertising alternatives for service-based businesses

I might well be an exception, but as someone who lives almost exclusively in the online space, the BEST use I have for the Yellow Pages is an ergonomic accessory to prop up my computer monitor to the right height.

It’s expensive advertising in the Yellow Pages, but the traditional markeing mindset for trades and field service industries is often to advertise in the Yellow Pages first and then (if there’s any marketing money left over) consider secondary alternatives. Despite the above, I will occasionally check the Yellow Pages if I need an electrician, plumber or for someone to spray the house for bugs, but not really for much else and usually as a last resort.

For many people, the Yellow Pages is still (sadly) THE go to place to find a plumber, sparky or for other similar tradies. It’s especially popular for those that represent the older demographic and who maybe have less access to Google and other online resources.

For many small businesses, paying for an ad in the Yellow Pages will represent a significant cost to their new business – here are a few low cost extras/alternatives to the Yellow Pages to get your business name out there, to find new business and to get in front of people when they need you.

1. Your website

This may not ‘technically’ be cheaper than the Yellow pages, but if your Yellow Pages ad spans more than a quarter of a page and you’re advertising in a book with a large distribution, it might! Your website (if it’s established and well optimised for customers in your local area) might already have good placement in the Google search results and be driving custom to your site. Be sure to have web statistics enabled and understand how visitors are arriving on your website and then work to improve that through content development – blog posts, how to guides and similar useful information.

2. Advertising in local online directories

Some of these are free, but many are paid. Some of these have excellent rankings and so can be a good band wagon to jump on. Search Google for a trade and a location and you’ll notice directories like and appear on page one. Take a look at them and look for ways to add a listing if it makes sense.

3. Google My Business Pages (probably the top tip!)

Set up a Google My Business page ( for your business and set your area of service. This is an especially effective way for businesses to appear in mobile searches, since they’re optimised to take advantage of the GPS and location services in a phone and deliver locally hyper-relevant results. Google ‘electrician’ and your suburb or town ie. ‘electrician Marrickville’ and notice the map results that appear AHEAD of everything else. You can be in that space – for a small amount of effort, and no cost. This is often the quickest and easiest way to make it on to page one of Google without spending any money

4. Run Advanced Twitter searches to find people in need

( if you’re a plumber, do regular searches for phrases like flooded, burst, leaking, tap, pipe etc and add a geographic search criteria ie. within 25km of Newcastle, NSW. Do this periodically and see whether you come to someone’s rescue in a timely way. Tools like Hootsuite can help you out there too by saving these searches in a dashboard.

5. Facebook advertising

Facebook advertising isn’t free and so this’ll cost you a few dollars but you can spend as much or as little as you like. The main advantage with Facebook advertising is the precise targetting based on interests, geographic location and demographics. For example, as an electrician, in one campaign you might target your people who are married, between 25 and 45, have interests in home renovation and decorating and are fans of The Block. You can be **that** specific. Try that with your Yellow Pages!

6. Physical signage

If you provide an in-field service, you’re likely to carry a bunch of tools, and to do that you have a ute or a van. Advertise on it. Be original and innovative so when people see you out and about your business is memorable. Use clear fonts and be bold.

7. Set up a Facebook page

Easy (and free) to do, and an opportunity for people to leave reviews and comments (see point 8). Facebook pages also perform well in Google’s organic search results, and are a good way of communicating offers to your customers.

8. Word of mouth

One of the most powerful methods of getting your good name out there. Deliver good work, and get others talking about you and your services, and referring you to their friends. Positive social proof, whether in person, or through online reviews (on Facebook or Google My Business) can’t be beat.

Bonus tip

9. Tweak your Yellow Pages ad

old style phone over yellow book

I’d love to know how well A1 Aaaaardvark Electrical with their two line ad performs against those with full pages

If you’re already in the Yellow Pages, consider how much you are paying and how you are advertising. Can you make any changes to the ad to save some money? Maybe make it a little smaller, changes the graphics to make the ad more impactful by changing fonts or colours? Maybe add a more direct call to action? Are there any add-ons to your advertising package you’re paying for and do you have a sense of whether they are working for you? Can you cut any of those back? Tweak your ad to save some money and hopefully improve your customer conversion rate.

KNOW what’s working – DON’T guess!

If you try any of these additional methods or tweaks, you need to always be asking your customers how they found out about you when they contact your business. You need to know what’s working (and what isn’t) and if you’re not measuring you can’t properly evaluate anything. Track that customer acquisition information and review it periodically. Attach some numbers to each channel – ie. an average job value. Which of these customer acquisition channels works best for you? Are any of them out-performing traditional advertising and do they cost less to do? If so, focus on developing and improving those better performing channels and scale back on the poorer performers.

I’m not saying DON’T advertise in the Yellow Pages (it’s still a must for many industries) but consider spreading your marketing efforts and budget across a number of channels and maybe scaling back on your Yellow Pages ad to unlock some of that marketing budget. Only do this when you’re fully informed and when you know which of your efforts are working to best effect.

Remember, this is your business, your livelihood and your customers. Be smart with your advertising and KNOW what brings customers to your door each week. DON’T guess and waste any of your precious marketing dollars.

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