When President Lyndon B. Johnson passed the Highway Beautification Act of 1965 to constrain the sizes and locations of the nation's billboards, some thought the industry might die. However, it is now one of the fastest-growing forms of advertising media in the United States. Newspapers? Read and forgotten. TV? Too pricey for most. Billboards, on the other hand, stay up for months, get plenty of repeat glances and are cheap to rent. For these reasons, billboard rental is a good start-up business if advertising is your game.
Research billboard advertising before investing money or getting a loan. In particular, compare rental rates for billboards in your area and then determine how many locations you'll need to launch your enterprise. National monthly rental rates vary, from $700 to $2,500 and more, so know what your market will sustain.
Contact state, county, city, village, township and other regulatory bodies to learn what areas are zoned for billboard erection and what areas forbid them. Become acquainted with federal laws governing billboard installation as well.
Shop for locations. Renting just the area on which the billboard stands will be the most efficient, but landowners may require you to lease additional acreage if parceling off a small tract means they'll lose revenue. Given this disparity, leases should be negotiated individually.
Complete all leasing transactions with property owners.
Decide on your billboard production medium. Hand-painted billboards are relics of the past, but legal statutes may require original art. Most of today's billboards are designed using Photoshop software, then the art is output on vinyl or other heavy-duty material that can withstand the natural elements. The art is glued to the billboard and stripped off after the ad contract expires.
Hire a graphic artist to handle billboard design responsibilities for clients who have not already taken care of this task. Traditionally, design students learn these two rules: Graphics are the single most important billboard element, and ad messaging is best accomplished in seven words or less. That rule is broken every day, but work hard to convince clients that short and succinct is the best rule of thumb for billboards.
Hire a construction company to erect billboard structures. Also hire an electrical contractor to run power to the site if none exists. Make arrangements for lawn maintenance if you don't plan to do it yourself or it's not part of the negotiated agreement with the landlord.
Draw up a billboard rate card. This price list should offer clients multiple options, so create a fee structure that covers a minimum amount of rental time, such as three months, and offers substantial discounts for longer terms. Align your rates with those of competitors.
Hire an attorney to draw up a standard leasing contract. Include language that stipulates contract length, states penalties for breaking the contract, designates which party is to supply the billboard art and outlines other legalities that will safeguard you and your business should a client withdraw from the agreement before the contract date is up.
Obtain commercial insurance to cover damage to your billboards should they be ruined or destroyed by natural disasters, vehicles or accidents.
Design and erect a billboard for your company. Use other means of advertising to gain customers if your budget allows.
If money is no object, forget about wood, metal and other types of billboard bases that accommodate vinyl art and go straight for the LED billboard market. These advertising boards can produce messages in billions of colors that--for all intents and purposes--are nothing short of traffic stopping.
Based in Chicago, Gail Cohen has been a professional writer for more than 30 years. She has authored and co-authored 14 books and penned hundreds of articles in consumer and trade publications, including the Illinois-based "Daily Herald" newspaper. Her newest book, "The Christmas Quilt," was published in December 2011.