The most difficult question for a business owner to answer when allocating a portion of the company’s resources to advertising is this: where’s my money going?

There are various metrics one can use to measure advertising’s effectiveness. But let’s face it, the best way to measure the value of advertising is to measure how well it achieves your overall goal of increased sales.

Developing top-line growth through advertising isn’t as easy as allocating a portion of your budget to the cause and hoping for the best. Sales are on the horizon; it’s just a matter of forging the road to take you there. If you want to grow your sales, you have to possess the strength to make honest evaluations and the discipline to follow a marketing process such as this:

• Research. If you’re not able to hire a research firm, simply call your customers and ask them a few important questions. How do they view you? What value do they see in you? How, in their minds, does your company fit into their industry? At the very least, this will give you some impression of how you’re seen within the marketplace.

• Market review. Look at all the factors that affect the future of your business and market. Develop a list of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Also consider political, environmental, social, and technological variables that could affect your company.

• Objectives. Set realistic objectives for your business to achieve in six months, one year, two years, etc. Objectives can range from improved in-store traffic to greater business awareness among the community to increased web site activity.

• Strategy. Your strategy consists of strategic marketing decisions you’ll make to achieve your objectives. For example, “To increase in-store traffic, we’ll target a brand new audience: people who fall within the XX demographic.” Your strategy then concludes with a list of tactics, which are the actionable items for achieving the strategy—billboard advertising, direct mail, specific cable TV programming, etc.

• Measurements. Establishing measurements to track your efforts can be tedious, but the payoff is huge when you run your next campaign. This way, you’ll know which messages were effective, in which media, etc.

• Schedule/budget. Put together a detailed timeline to help you stay on the ball. Make it realistic, give yourself time for a change in plans, and allot dollars to your plan. You can veer from the plan, but a defined amount will give you valuable perspective when considering changes to your plan.

• Sales support/collateral. This is anything that supports your sale and can have enormous effects on close rates. Brochures are simple examples, but don’t be afraid to be creative. With thought, you may be able to outfit your sales force with information that not only conveys important information, but also reads well and looks good. This shows potential customers very quickly what you have to offer and a little bit about your own values.

• Implementation. Implementation often is the most difficult step. If you neglect this, all steps prior are a waste of time. Stay focused on the process, remain persistent, and trust that it will bring valuable results…because it will.

• Evaluation. Evaluation will track the measurements that you set up so you can use the gained information to your advantage the next time.

This is the type of marketing process that, once executed, can increase traffic and/or sales in a relatively short timeframe. While developing your own advertising plan will take time and effort, it doesn’t have to be complicated. However, a detailed, well-thought-out plan will produce a greater harvest than a superficial effort. With the development of an intuitive and hardy plan, you can almost be assured of increased sales. IBI