This blog post was originally published on Judy Heminsley’s website Work From Home Wisdom (thanks Judy!)

If you’re a small business owner there will come a time when you feel you should be “doing some PR”. But how do you know if PR will be of benefit to your business? Whether you go down the DIY route or hire a professional to do it for you, you’d better be sure any time and money spent will be worth it.

I’ve devised a mini test of essential questions to ask yourself before you make your decision…

Are you looking for a cost-efficient and effective way of promoting your business?

Microsoft magnate Bill Gates once said, “If I was down to the last dollar of my marketing budget, I’d spent it on PR”. But what’s so great about PR? Because landing editorial in a magazine or newspaper is the Holy Grail of third-party endorsement: a validation of your ‘greatness’ that an advert (clearly created by yourself) can never achieve. This isn’t to say advertising or other marketing tactics aren’t worth doing (it’s all about the marketing mix – paid-for opportunities complementing PR) but if you want to avoid the hefty costs of advertising, PR gives you ‘more bang for your buck’ (although, as with hiring any professional, do be prepared to pay for experience).

Do you have a clear idea of ‘who’ you want to promote your business to?

In my career I’ve read so many briefs that carry the rather woolly objective to “secure media coverage” as if “the media” is one homogenous entity. Securing media coverage is about reaching out to your potential customers – so what media do they consume? Do they listen to your local radio breakfast show and read the local newspaper? Do they prefer the Guardian over The Sun? Do they read lifestyle magazines or particular trade publications? Thinking about specific opportunities will help you create your media target list.

Do you have a clear idea of what you want to say?

It’s all very well building yourself a media profile to promote your business, but do you actually have something to say? Passive information about who you are and what you do won’t get you column inches – you need to be saying and doing. What you say and do supports your brand and maintains your reputation. Make sure it represents what’s important to you and your business.

Does it pass the ‘So what?’ test?

As in, ‘You’re selling a new product? So, what?’ It may sound a little harsh but journalists need stories and they use this litmus test to find the news. You may think that your first year in business is a great piece of news, or that a new client is something to shout about, but why does it matter to anyone else? If you can craft the story into something compelling, topical and (above all) relevant to readers/listeners, you’re passing the ‘so, what?’ test.

Are you a control freak?

Yes? Then you’d better get ready to relinquish some control over how your ‘story’ is told. Journalists don’t take kindly to being told exactly what to write (you’re not buying an advert) – they’re here to report the facts that are of interest to their readers. What you tell them – through your press release or interview – highlights your key messages but the end result is out of your hands. Be brave, don’t succumb to any Malcolm Tucker-style PR power trips, and you’re in the PR game…

Are you in it for the long haul?

There are no quick fixes with PR. Sometimes a story will take off and generate acres of column inches; sometimes weeks of hard work will come to nothing if a bigger story bumps you off the pages. Whatever the outcome you need to sustain your PR activity to help maintain the media relationships you’ve started to build. It’s always hardest at the beginning but as momentum takes hold, PR could end up being the best investment you ever made…