You have a business. You offer something of value. You want your business to grow. So the natural thing to do is run ads. Right?

Well, not necessarily. The reality is that many businesses simply are not in a position to run ads to their offers. We talk to a lot of business owners who are eager to see growth, but nearly half of them simply are not where they should be to start an ad campaign.

If you are considering running ads on Facebook, Google, or elsewhere, make sure that at least one of the following points is true about your business.

Scenario 1: You are able to invest in testing.

When we manage ad campaigns, we never just jump in and start dumping massive amounts of cash into things we haven’t proven. We always start small and build from there. We do this not because we don’t understand advertising, but because we understand that every offer is unique, so you never truly know how the market will respond until you actually test it and see. One of the advantages of PPC advertising is that you don’t have to front-load your campaign and spend lots of money right from the beginning. You can see what works and grow incrementally. That is what we do.

That said, one thing to remember about testing is that, much of the time, your test will show that your campaign just isn’t getting the market reception you may be looking for. It could be that you have the wrong ad messaging and creative. It could also be that the market simply doesn’t want what you’re offer, which means that you need to either adapt the offer or walk away. If you aren’t willing and able to invest some money in this initial testing phase, you aren’t ready to advertise.

Scenario 2: You are building a list for later.

People will often say that email marketing is the most cost-effective type of digital marketing, with a cost-benefit ratio many times better than other types of digital marketing. However, that is an oversimplification and not exactly accurate.

Thanks to the CAN-SPAM Act, consumer expectations, and various industry trends, it’s neither legal nor advisable to simply buy a list of thousands of email addresses and start sending them marketing messages. This approach may have been effective at one point, but today, the effectiveness will be dismal, and you may even get yourself in trouble with the law or sued. Email marketing is still very effective, but only if you build your list in a legal and ethical manner…and the reality is that building a list costs money.

One of the best ways to build a list is to create some free offer — usually a digital product — and run ads focusing on your target market, offering them this free thing. When they sign up for that free ebook or class or whatever, that puts them on your list, and you can market to them. Once you have built up your list in this way, a little later, you can carry out a launch campaign utilizing that list. That can be a very effective marketing technique, but you need to realize that it constitutes a significant up-front investment, and it will take some time to get a return on that.

Scenario 3: You’re launching your business or offer.

It may be that you already have a list. If that’s the case, you have the foundation you need for a launch.

You can use your list to conduct a beta launch, testing your offer to see if there is a market response and get some feedback on how to improve it. With that beta launch done, you can then proceed to a full launch, which will involve both outreach to your list and ad campaigns.

Successfully navigating the paid traffic of a launch campaign requires quantitative acuity. You have to know your numbers: you have to know how much you will be spending per lead and the ratio at which those leads will turn into buyers. If you know all of that, you can make accurate projections for your campaign, and you can know how much you will need to spend in order to get the results you are looking for.

Scenario 4: You’re turning a successful launch into an evergreen campaign.

When we do launch campaigns, we usually build them around a focus on some event, such as a webinar or seminar. Once the event is over and the launch is done, a business can just repeat the launch under somewhat different parameters every couple of months or create an evergreen campaign. This takes the content of the webinar or seminar and puts it into a funnel, to be used indefinitely in the future.

Scenario 5: You’re scaling what’s already working.

If you’re already running ads and they’re working, naturally, the next step is to scale.

Scaling isn’t as simple as it may appear. You can’t just 10X your ad spend and assume that this will 10X your sales. It may, and again it may not: there are many factors that you need to consider, not the least of which being the fact that the audience you’re currently targeting simply may not be that large. That said, though, scaling what is already working is a relatively safe thing to do. Just do it gradually and continue watching the numbers.

Where does this put your business?

Every business is different, and real-world conditions can’t always easily be categorized into a few buckets. That said, for virtually all businesses, if they don’t fall under one of these categories, they should not be running ads. Too often, business owners see advertisement expenses as things they’re just simply supposed to pay for if they have extra money lying around. That is totally wrong. Either an advertising expense is an investment for which you have a clear path to a payoff or it should not be an advertising expense. So if your business’s situation is not described by any of these five scenarios, and if you want to grow, the thing to do at this point is maneuver your business — or change your mindset — so that you do fit within one of these scenarios.