Small Business Signage Guide

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Small Business Signage Guide

How to Advertise Your Small Business With Signs

A comprehensive guide to help small business owners reach more new customers with business signage.


When it comes to getting the word out about your small business, resources can be pretty limited. Most small businesses work with relatively small marketing budgets, and few people have time to advertise and operate their business.

It’s for this primary reason that business owners are always on the lookout for easy, hands-off methods of advertising that bring significant ROI. Ask your local marketing guru and they might tell you such methods don’t exist. But they’re wrong!

On-premises signage is a one-time investment that can boost your business significantly. Use this comprehensive guide and learn how to utilize small business signage to its full potential.

 Be Seen and “Hang Your Shingle”

“Pay for the sign once and it works for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for years!” ~US Small Business Administration

For a small business, half the battle of success is raising customer awareness, and signage is the best way to grab potential customers’ attention.

The practice of placing a sign outside a place of business can be traced all the way back to Colonial America, when business owners would nail a crude, handmade sign, or “hang up a shingle,” to their home to alert passersby of their trade.

Obviously, the tradition is still around and going strong. Every successful business, and any business that hopes to be, uses some form of on-premises signage.

Why Signs Matter

“Signs are the most effective, yet least expensive, form of advertising for the small business.” ~US Small Business Administration

You don’t have to look very far to find proof of the effectiveness of on-premises signage. Several studies have documented its power.

In a survey of over 160 businesses throughout the United States, researchers found that businesses that invest in quality signage tend to be more successful than those that don’t. And, according to the International Sign Association, on-premises signage is responsible for attracting nearly half of any given business’s customers.

If you’re ready to start advertising your business with a spiffy new sign, follow these steps to get started.

Local Laws and Zoning

15 minutes of research now can save you hours of headaches later!

The first step toward having a sign of your own is to find out what type of sign you’re actually allowed to have.

Every locality has its own unique rules and regulations regarding business signage, which is why it’s crucial to look up the ordinances relevant to your business before erecting a sign. Plus, certain business developments and local neighborhoods have other guidelines you must follow in addition to regional laws.

Before you start researching sign types and materials, take the time to investigate your local laws and regulations. The best way to start this process is to visit your local government’s website or do a few Google searches including your city’s name along with keywords like “sign,” “zoning,” “laws,” “ordinances,” and so on. You can also call your local government and business or neighborhood association directly to get immediate guidance.

Types Of Signs

Choosing Your Sign – Types and Materials

Once you’ve scoped out your local laws, zonings, and regulations, you’ll want to start looking into the different sign types and materials.

Primary Signage: Freestanding or Building Mounted

The first category of signage is your primary signage…the main sign, or signs, that will feature your business name or brand.  At a high level, you are choosing between building-mounted signage or freestanding signage. But sometimes you can use both.

Freestanding Primary Signage Options

If your business sits by itself on its own piece of real estate, then you may want to consider  using a freestanding sign. Freestanding signs typically sit closer to the road frontage, meaning they have the potential to really grab customers’ attention.

Pole Mounted Signs

pole-signsPole mounted signs are probably the most expensive option, and also the option that will involve the most arduous local zoning process. However, the payoff may be worth it, as pole mounted signs can be seen from much further away than other types of freestanding signs. Since your choices on pole mounted signs are driven by available space, zoning, and cost, we won’t cover options for these signs in depth. Contact your local sign company to get the scoop on pole mounted signs.


monumentUsually framed in brick or stucco, monument signs are just what they sound like – a monument of sorts that sits at ground level. While you won’t have a lot of options in the type of framing material, the sign itself can be made using many different materials, including cheaper options like painted metal or costly yet attractive options like carved stone.

Post & Panel

A more affordable alternative to monument signs, post and panel signs offer the benefits of size and eye-catching design without the added bulk. Two pillars, made of aluminum, wood, or composite, hold your sign (Metal, painted wood, or heavy vinyl are good material options) above the ground.

Building Mounted Primary Signage Options

Building mounted primary signage is generally less expensive than freestanding signage, and there are a number of options to choose from.

Painted Wood

pwoodenBusiness owners in search of something a little more attention-grabbing yet still budget-friendly will find a convenient solution in painted plywood. Sign companies can turn a simple piece of plywood into a gorgeous sign for very little money, sometimes less than $100. The only downside to these signs is that they are still somewhat susceptible to weather damage and general wear.

Carved Signs

carvedA painted, wooden, carved sign can also be carved to make a unique, eye-catching sign.

These types of signs can be painted or stained, and they offer a lot of opportunity for customization.


Metal Framed Signs

panfaceMetal framed signs with a plastic face are the most popular and least expensive type of permanent primary signage. A flat faced sign, where the front is just a flat piece of polycarbonate sheet saves a bit of money. For a little more, though, you can opt for a more attention getting “pan faced” sign that bulges out and presents a more three dimensional look.

With either type of metal framed sign, the plastic face can take on a variety of bold colors. Either one can also be built for flat wall mounting, or made double-sided for mounting on a pole or projection. The pan-face signs offer more options, such as embossing the printed letters.

Channel Letters

clettersThis type of sign is commonly seen at strip malls and larger standalone businesses. Channel letters are more expensive than a normal metal framed sign, as each individual letter has its own housing.  The letters are fixed to a channel that’s painted the same color as your building, allowing the letters to have a “floating” appearance that is attractive and easy to read.

Secondary Signage

Once you have your primary signage in place, secondary signage can be leveraged to draw more attention to your business.  While the primary signage is typically used to communicate your business name or brand, secondary signage is more often used to communicate messages like sales or product information.

Painted Windows

paintedwindowsHaving a professional paint a sign directly on your front windows is often the lowest cost option for secondary signage. The upfront cost of hiring a professional to paint your window(s) isn’t a terribly large investment, and if your windows are large enough, you’ll have a lot of options on design and messaging.

Temporary Banners

bannersMany businesses, especially those with lower budgets or rotating services, opt to use a temporary banner instead of a traditional sign. These banners can be made of a special fabric, vinyl, or plastic. They’re cost effective, typically available at less than $10 per square foot, and highly customizable.


neon-windowWith a high potential for customization and a strong visual appeal, neon is an important category of signage that stands apart from the rest. Neon lights are incredibly eye-catching, and it’s especially well suited to displaying whether your business is open or closed. Of course, custom neon signs can be made to accommodate nearly any application.


ledWith variations for both indoor and outdoor use, LED signage is a versatile option for any small business owner. What makes them especially useful is the fact that their content can be changed at your discretion – for special sales, product promotion, or whatever you’d like! Plus, they come in a variety of colors and styles, so there’s plenty of room for customization.

Design & Implementation


“Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” ~ Chinese Proverb

Even after the sun goes down and you close your doors for the day your sign should still be visible to passersby through the night. In fact, researchers from the University of Cincinnati School of Business found lack of proper illumination to be the #3 reason why signs aren’t seen by customers.

Most signs can be illuminated with a spotlight or backlight, and neon signs remain visible at all times.

Lighting might be an area where you’re tempted to go cheap and save a few bucks, but it’s actually one of the most important places to buy for quality. Don’t skimp.

Sign Content: What Should it Say?

How to make your sign bring more new customers through the door

Choosing the best type of sign for your business isn’t the last step in your sign seeking process. Next, you’ll have to figure out what your sign should actually say. Here’s a crash course in writing content for small business signage.

Be Succinct

The most important part of writing sign content is to be succinct. You’re already limited by size, and you have only a few words to win over potential customers. Use them wisely.

This is a good rule of thumb: if someone who’s never heard of your business or its services were to drive by and read your sign, they should be able to determine what your business does in just a single glance.

The Unique Sales Proposition (USP)

If space permits, you may be able to add a subtitle to your sign somewhere below your business name or main heading. This is a huge advantage, but it can easily be squandered by poorly written content.

Use your subtitle to convey the core message of your business, your unique sales proposition or USP. Marketers use this term frequently to describe the special, differentiating offer that each business provides to potential customers. What makes you different? Why should someone visit your store instead of the other guy’s?

Put some hard thought into your USP and then start writing. The message should be compelling but not too promotional.

Visual Design

Do you know the #1 reason why signs aren’t seen by customers?

One of the final decisions you’ll make in the sign procurement process regards the design and aesthetics of your sign. Although you most likely won’t be able to design the sign yourself, you will have the ability to give your preferences to the company in charge of designing your sign.

Here are the five most important things to consider when designing your sign:

  1. Use large text that can be read from far away. According to industry research, excessively small text is the #1 reason why signs aren’t seen by customers.
  2. Do your best to use unique colors and design features that will set your sign apart from those surrounding it.
  3. Pay attention to the colors you choose for the text and background. The text should contrast with the background for ease of reading.
  4. Avoid unnecessary frills and graphics. These simply distract customers.
  5. Steer clear of fancy fonts and typefaces. More often than not, they decrease readability.


Location, location, location!

Content, design, and sign type are important, but they are all for naught if your sign doesn’t get seen. Placement is the final, and arguably most important, aspect of effective signage thta you should be aware of. Furthermore, the same study that found lack of lighting to be the #3 reason why signs aren’t seen also found that poor sign placement is the #2 reason why signs aren’t seen.

When choosing a spot to place your sign, be sure it will be visible from all major sources of customer traffic – sidewalks, roads, and so forth. Never place your sign below eye level, and pay close attention to how it looks from all angles.

Finding a Sign Company

Once you have finished the legwork of researching zoning limitations, picking a sign type, writing the content, and picking a place outside your business, you’ll be ready to order and install your sign. Depending on what type of sign you choose, you can order online or buy locally. Either way, you should do a little research before you pick a sign company; never choose blindly.

Here a few things to consider before you pull the trigger and employ a company:

  1. Ask other business owners where they got their signs and how pleased they were with the company’s service. Most business owners will be happy to guide you with their experience.
  2. What type of insurance does each company have? What happens in the event of an installation accident?
  3. Are there any hidden fees for installation or post-installation adjustments?
  4. Will you receive any kind of warrantee on the work?
  5. Which companies offer design services and which ones don’t? Do their prices reflect this?

Maintain and Do Business!

Once your new sign is installed, you shouldn’t need to worry about repair or maintenance for a while. However, it’s important to note that you should always keep your sign in good aesthetic shape with care and maintenance when necessary. As unfair as it may seem, customers tend to view worn out signage as an indicator of a sub-par business, so it’s crucial to keep your sign in tip-top shape.

Once you’ve got the perfect sign for your business, keep on working to add to your customer base and build your business. We wish you the best of luck!

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