The Case for Buying Facebook Ads, Even If You’re a Small Brand

May 7, 2015

Organic reach keeps falling on Facebook, and everyone knows it. In every blogger / entrepreneur / social strategist community I follow, marketers are complaining about how the posts on their Facebook page simply don’t reach as many fans as they used to.

We’ve seen this with The Write Life’s Facebook page. We have more than 12,000 likes, but our posts often don’t get shown to more than a few hundred, maybe a thousand people. Posts that get shared a lot do tend to gain more traction — because Facebook values user engagement — but even then, the reach compared to total followers is rather pitiful. This update, for example, got 97 shares and still only reached 4,000 people.

I used to tell small business owners and new marketers to continue growing their Facebook following organically, through high-quality content and networking, even if it took a lot of grit and patience. But there’s barely any ROI in that anymore.

Instead, brands that are killing it on Facebook are investing in advertising.

Advertising on Facebook isn’t new; big brands especially have spent dollars on the social network for years. What’s new is this is becoming the ONLY way to see any results from the platform. And it’s worth it not just for the big guns, but for smaller companies and brands, too.

I can hear the whine starting to come out of your mouth. Except… I’m not writing this to complain. Instead, what I want to share is how some brands we work with are absolutely killing it through Facebook ads, so you can consider adding paid ads to your strategy.

Why you should buy Facebook ads

Is paid advertising the missing piece of your Facebook strategy puzzle?

The trick to spending smart money on Facebook ads

Most new businesses and marketers shy away from spending money on advertising, which makes sense since cash isn’t easy to come by when you’re starting a business. This is also generally a smart move because the most effective advertising nowadays isn’t PR or billboards. Instead, it’s community building and tactics like guest blogging that help you gain word-of-mouth traction. And unless you outsource those tasks to a content marketing firm, they cost you only time and expertise.

But it is worth spending money on Facebook ads, if you follow one important rule:

Spend in a way that makes money, so you earn back more than you spent.

This sounds obvious, as making money, and having revenue outpace expenses, is pretty much the goal of any business. Even if you’re altruistically motivated, you have to make money to keep doing your best work.

But spending on Facebook with vague goals of raising awareness about your brand or bringing more likes to your Facebook page — two mistakes businesses tend to make — probably won’t do you much good. The brands that are killing it through Facebook ads are buying advertising with specific revenue-generating goals in mind and closely tracking the results.

Examples of smart Facebook ad buys

Take self-published author Mark Dawson, who earns six figures by self-publishing on Amazon. He told a Forbes reporter he spends $370 a day on Facebook ads. In a Reddit forum about that story, a reader commented that it was ridiculous to spend that much on Facebook.

But here’s the golden nugget: Dawson said he earns twice as much as he spends when people who see his ads purchase his books.

If you earn twice as much as you spend, of course it’s worth spending a lot to get those buys! Knowing that, I wonder why Dawson doesn’t put more money into Facebook ads.

He’s doing exactly what you have to do to make Facebook ads worth it: identifying a specific goal (book buys), optimizing his ads so they support that goal, and tracking how much he earns from the channel.

While I can’t share specific details about how clients of my content marketing company are spending on Facebook, I can tell you that several of them are following this exact strategy. Some use Facebook ads to encourage purchases of a product, while others rely on ads to drive traffic to content-driven websites, where they monetize through clicks and affiliate purchases.

Regardless of the end goal, they’ve all figured out how to track how much they earn from Facebook ads. Because when you closely track social media metrics, you can make smart decisions about where and how to spend, rather than relying on your gut, which might say to not spend at all.

How my team is experimenting with Facebook ads

We’re trying this out for our own brands, too. While I consider my team to be experts in content creation, not ad optimization, we’re slowly adding this skill to our toolbox because of its increasing importance.

Here are a few of the ads we’ve run and how we track whether it’s worth spending:

The Write Life bundle sale. Our bundle for writers, which was available for three days in March, sold for $99. While that high price point naturally meant fewer people who saw a Facebook ad would buy compared to a sale for a low-price product, it also gave us a lot of leeway, because just one buy through our ad made it worth spending up to $99. In other words, we could spend $99 on an ad, get several hundred clicks, and if just one person converted to a buy, it was worth spending because we earned our money back.

Because of those odds — and because we felt we had a strong offer that people would want — we spent several hundred dollars on Facebook ads during the sale. I would’ve liked to spend a lot more, but the sale only ran for three days, so we didn’t have much time to test which ad variation was the most effective, or prove the ads would convert. So we considered this an experiment, and we did end up earning more than we spent. With that in mind, we’ll pour more money into this next year.

Blog posts on The Write Life. Some of our blog posts on The Write Life include affiliate links, which means we earn each time a reader purchases through our site. (Here’s a guide to monetizing your website through affiliate ads.) In the case of some affiliates, we earn every time a reader signs up for a free trial; Freshbooks, for example, pays $8 for each signup, as does CreateSpace. We use Facebook ads to send traffic to blog posts that include links to these tools, like this one on how to create your first freelancer invoice.

Of course, only a small percentage of people who see the ad on Facebook will click through to the post, and only a small percentage of those readers will click an affiliate ad and sign up for the service. So we track how many sign-ups we get and how much we earn from that compared with each ad spend to see if we can make money on the whole.

My social media ebooks. Because readers who purchase my guide on how to start a part-time social media business (sells for $24) often go on to purchase my guide on how to create a social media strategy (sells for $59), I’m always looking for ways to add people who are interested in social media consulting to that sales funnel. One way I attract new potential buyers is by offering a free social media strategy checklist; that shows people who aren’t familiar with my work that I offer valuable information, and it also allows me to collect their email address and send them follow-up emails that showcase content I’ve written around social media consulting.

My team is just starting a Facebook ads campaign that targets people interested in social media and encourages them to sign up for that freebie. The key here will be tracking not only the click-through rate of the ad, but using a conversion pixel to track actual sign-ups (since some people who click over to the freebie won’t actually sign up to download it).

We’ll also need to figure out what percentage of people who sign up for that freebie go on to purchase one or both of my social media ebooks, so we can place a value on those email subscribers. This is something I don’t know how to do yet, but it’s important if I want to earn more money from this blog, so we will figure it out along the way.

The tech and logistics behind running Facebook ads

As you can see, you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on Facebook ads like the big brands to make this strategy worth it for you. Experiment with spends as small as $10 or $20, and see if you can come up with a way to earn back more than you spend.

Of course, whether your ads get clicked depends largely on your message and design. That’s why it’s worth putting time into learning what people like to click on; for example, Claire Pelletreau says ads that feature people’s faces work well. If you have an eye for design, use a free tool like Canva to create a sleek ad, or hire a professional designer to create one for you.

It’s also worth taking the time to A/B test both your designs and your messages using a small ad spend to determine which one results in the most conversions. Once you figure that out, you can put the bulk of your budget into the most-effective ad.

The main goal here — figuring out how much you earn from each Facebook ad — sounds simple, but the logistical piece of implementing that tracking can actually be rather technical. Depending on the tools you use to run your business, it will probably require tweaks on MailChimp, Google Analytics and Facebook’s Ad Manager. You can run basic ads right from your Facebook page by using the “boost” button on updates, but the Ads Manager allows you to be much more strategic, targeting more specific audiences and tracking more metrics.

Learning new skills like this is one of the best parts about running your own business. It can be time-consuming and frustrating, and it might require finding someone who’s an expert in the topic to hold your hand for a while (Clarity.fm is a good place to identify and connect with those experts). But in the end, you’ll walk away not only with a new system that helps you increase your bottom line; you’ll also have new knowledge and experience to boot, skills you can use to continue to grow your own business or help others make similar strides.

Are you experimenting with Facebook ads? What’s working for you?

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14 Replies to “The Case for Buying Facebook Ads, Even If You’re a Small Brand”

  • Sarah says:

    Hi Alexis! Thank you so much for writing this blog post! I have done some paid ads but only to encourage more likes….which sometimes it works well and sometimes it doesn’t…

    I am going to try doing this right away! 🙂 Thank you again!

    • Alexis Grant says:

      Great to hear, Sarah! That’s kind of the old way of thinking about it — buying likes — so glad this is helping you see it in a different way. Let me know if it’s more effective =)

  • Zach Clarke says:

    Hey Alexis! Thanks a lot for the great advice for creating effective FB Ad campaigns, as I had previously used FB Ads to run a few campaigns for my own freelance digital marketing agency (i.e. Renaissance Digital Marketing). One of which was at the beginning, shortly after creating my FB page to increase FB likes, which worked ok for getting for FB Likes, but with a FB following of just 460 fans right now. My reach for each post is only about 7-8 fans without getting any shares, which seems to double the reach per post share. So I will likely have to run a really high quality CPC FB Ads campaign soon to try and get more page likes and drive targeted traffic to my company website and then track it using a conversion pixel on some of my main website pages. I am thinking of either using a new HD promo video to drive targeted business owners to my website to sign up to receive a Free Social Media Audit for their business or just creating a image-based ad with an offer to receive a Free Social Media or SEO Audit of their businesses website. Alternatively I may try both and see what works best. It just seems like its hard to generate leads for B2B companies on Facebook.

  • Joe Kovacs says:

    We need more posts like this, Alexis, that basically shake marketers by the shoulders and say, get over it, dude, you will need to shell out the bucks if you want eyeballs on your Facebook posts so stop complaining about it. I heard a lot of grumbling and muttered four-letter words back in 2014 about just this phenomenon, but you rightly point to the importance of ROI in your marketing investments. If, in fact, your ads generate more revenue than the spend, then why in god’s name would you NOT want to spend the bucks, even if you are a small business? Thanks for the level of detail; this was a compelling, insightful read. Joe

  • Kevin Kermes says:

    Awesome post! Bottom line: until you are buying customers, you don’t have a real business. To some, that may sound harsh. But, as you outlined, you have to be clear on who you serve and how they’re better off engaging with your content and programs. If you have that, spending $1 to make $2 is something you owe to your audience.

  • Alison Beere says:

    Hi Alexis,

    I just found your blog through Kevin Duncan’s 101 quotes post “” and I am delighted I did 😀

    This post is so on point for me, because just this week I ventured into Facebook ads for the first time. It was to promote a live cartooning course that I am running in my neighbourhood here in Cape Town. I budgeted the cost of a single participant for a single lesson, knowing that just one sign up would have me breaking even.

    I got that sign up, plus four new subscribers to mu local email list, who were a bonus. And I learned an enormous amount about making sure my ad was congruent with my landing page, split-testing and offering value.

    All in all it was worth the ‘school fees’ I paid to FB for the privilege.

    This week I am going to do it again. But tighten up the ad copy and narrow the geographical targeting even more.

    Thanks again for your post…

    • Alexis Grant says:

      That’s so great, Alison! Glad it’s working for you — Any tips the rest of us might benefit from?

      • Alison Beere says:

        Hi Alexis,

        Yes, lots of tips!

        Firstly, going straight for the sale will have relatively low results, so make sure you take that into account in your budget.

        Balance the advertising budget against the revenue a sale can generate.

        Aim for a win-win by offering value in return for their email address on whatever page you send them to, rather than just asking for a sale. That way you can get them to sign up to your list so that you can stay in touch, and perhaps they will buy next time.

        When you decide on your wording, remember to think “What’s compelling about this that someone will click through and stay?

        Make sure that the place you link to delivers exactly what your advert wording said it would.

        Make sure the page you link to makes it clear what you want them to do when they land there.

        That’s all for now 🙂

  • Brian Robben says:

    I also don’t get why marketers get upset about paying for Facebook ads. It’s the largest social network in the world with amazing data to reach the exact audience you need, so why would they make it free. Anyway, great write up and I’m going to continue to experiment with FB abs.

  • Hi Alexis,
    Thanks for a well written article a lot of excellent information.

    I recently ran a series of Facebook ads for my startup. I chose 3 of my blogs and 1 website promotion ads. I realise the posts/blogs are a round-about way of generating business for my management software. After reading your article it reaffirms my thinking that that practice may not be a good idea for me right now.

    However, I was surprised the website promotion ad did so poorly. It received approximately 14 website clicks over 7 days, but noticed a 90% bounce rate?!?

    The landing page was optimized for the audience I was target marketing. I can’t help but think I missed something.

    For business management software companies, is website promotion a bad idea with Facebook? Do you have any advice for me?

    Thanks again for an informative article. It’s really got me thinking.

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