How to begin an outdoor billboard business

Landscape with empty billboard in the middle image by Dragomir Uzunov from

The outdoor billboard business, sometimes referred to as the outdoor advertising business, has its origins in the United States during the 1830s. At that time, merchants painted signs on fences and boards and posted them along roads to let travellers know about their products and services. The earliest billboards were reportedly leased around 1867, and in 1900 a standard for commercial billboard structures was created.

Since that time, mergers have reduced the number of outdoor advertising firms. In 1965, the Highway Beautification Act limited the placement of billboards and required states to establish size, spacing, and lighting standards. In recent years, billboards have become powered and animated by computer graphics packages, and digital billboards with ever-changing messages have become more common (see References 1).

Choose your geographic market. Before you target a specific market, learn about the culture and business climate of that area. For example, you may find that the market has experienced a loss of jobs and income recently. If businesses are struggling to pay their operating expenses, selling them a billboard may be a challenge.

On the other hand, perhaps you're looking at an area that has experienced rapid growth in the past couple of years, with new businesses opening every month and many current businesses expanding. In that climate, owners may be willing to spend more advertising dollars to broaden their territory and attract new customers.

Structure your billboard business. Since you may be operating across county or state boundaries, you may encounter different billboard regulations. Get some professional advice before you get started. Meet with a Certified Public Accountant familiar with clients who operate billboard businesses in multiple areas.

Next, meet with a commercial insurance agent who can recommend the best business coverage for you and your employees. Contact the city or county clerk's office for each area in which you plan to conduct business. Obtain a business license and any other permits you will need.

Look at current market players. Before you attempt to establish a presence in any given market, look at the billboard companies already operating in that area. The Outdoor Billboard directory provides a list of billboard companies, and is grouped by state. Within each state, specific cities are listed alphabetically; companies are then listed within that city. For each company, a brief profile and contact information are included. Make some anonymous calls to billboard companies in your area, and inquire about typical billboard contract rates (see Resources).

Identify billboards for sale. The Outdoor Billboard website also lists available standard billboards, mobile billboards, billboard and land combinations, and entire billboard plants for sale. Listings are separated by state, and direct contact information is included for each property (see Resources).

Find billboard land for sale or lease. Check out the Billboard Spots website for nationwide listings of land that can accommodate billboards, or upon which billboards are already installed. In many cases, the listing includes information on billboard zoning and permit requirements (see Resources).

For more local options, take a drive throughout your targeted operating market. Jot down locations that would be ideal for billboard installation. Next, visit your local zoning and permit offices to inquire about the availability of those properties.

Recruit some billboard customers. Make a list of local or regional billboard prospects. Using the rate information you have collected, create a rate structure that presents your company favourably in the market. Consider additional opening discounts to get some billboard clients on the books.

Get your billboards printed. In many cases, billboards are printed on heavy vinyl, with virtually unlimited ink and graphics options. Billboard printing companies can honour most billboard size requests, and can print from many types of graphics files. With this digital printing capability, clients can obtain excellent print quality and good pricing from companies throughout the United States (see References 2).

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