Like other small business owners, you probably wish there were more stretch in your advertising dollar. It never seems to go as far as you'd like – or reach the people you'd like to see become part of your customer base. For more than 100 years, the Yellow Pages have been as much a staple of the small business owner's advertising plan as the stapler on his desk. Advertising in the directory may be a staple of your plan, too, especially if it fits your budget, you're in the services industry and the pros outweigh the cons.

Pick an Ad Size

Display ads in the Yellow Pages vary in cost depending on their size and the location of your business. “Business card-sized” ads are often just that: a replica of a business' calling card (and a real time saver for time-pressed business owners). These ads can cost between $250 and $400 a month.

A quarter-page ad might cost about $1,250 per month while a full-page ad might cost between $2,500 and $5,000 per month.

Standard listings – those that include only a business' name and phone – can be purchased for much less money. While these listings may not stand out or “pop” nearly as much as display ads, some Yellow Pages publishers offer listings that are highlighted – and in yellow, of course.

Calculate Your ROI

People who criticize Yellow Pages ads as “dinosaurs” that have been exterminated by the Internet rightly point out that the ads are not as easily tracked as today's web ads. And tracking where leads come from is crucial in determining where you're getting the greatest return on your investment. While this criticism has merit, it's also true that business owners who have grown to depend on the Yellow Pages have also grown accustomed to simply asking new customers: “How did you hear about us?” This is a form of tracking, too.

So how do you assess the cost of a Yellow Pages advertisement? Divide the cost of an ad by your average sale. Then multiply this number by how many phone calls it usually takes for you to make a sale.

For example, let's say an ad costs $400 a month, your average sale is $50 and it takes 10 phone calls for you to make a sale. Divide $400 by $50, which equals 8. Multiply 8 by 10, which equals 80. This means 80 people will have to call your business after seeing a Yellow Pages ad in order for you to break even on your investment.

Listen to the Pitch

If you're a new small business owner, it's probably only a matter of time before you hear from a Yellow Pages sales representative. You're a prime target, just as new homeowners are targets of Welcome Wagon and other greeting services.

A representative is likely to tell you that:

  • 91 percent of people who rely on Yellow Pages are active users, meaning they use it to contact businesses. You can customize your ad with your business' colors and logo, which is important in preserving your brand identity. You can better track your ad's effectiveness (ROI) with a “unique” phone number and reporting system.

Balance the Argument

The representative may even tell you that the Yellow Pages should play a role in your marketing mix. Business directories are part of a $3 billion industry, and you don't want to lose out on reaching the 40 percent of Americans who the Wall Street Journal says consult a directory at least once a year.

Yet, it's also true that 60 percent of Americans do not consult a handheld directory. In fact, internet searches have become a go-to resource for most Americans, with services like Yelp offering the additional offering of customer reviews. (And therein lies a valuable marketing tip: make sure that you regularly optimize your website to secure better search rankings.)

So how do you know if advertising in the Yellow Pages is right for you? Remember that you must make a one-year financial commitment; you cannot back out of the agreement if you don't track any calls from your Yellow Pages ad.

Then take a close look at those 40 percent of Americans, who tend to be over the age of 50 and residents of non-metro and rural areas. These are the people who grew up with the Yellow Pages and are most likely to crack it open and scan the listings for an electrician, plumber or that pizza place they can never remember the name of but is located in the town next to theirs.

As says, “If this sounds like your target audience, it may be worth putting out a few print ads.”