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Creating a TV ad for your small business can seem a daunting, intimidating and expensive task. Fortunately, with today's easy access to the tools and technology of TV production, producing a TV spot is well within your reach. One caution: Making a TV ad may be relatively easy. Making a good TV ad is much more challenging. Don't get so caught up in the production process that you lose sight of your advertising objective. Awards are nice, but it's not creative unless it sells!

Once you've got your advertising message in mind, the 3 key stages of TV production are:

1) Pre-production Planning, writing, scheduling, location scouting and all the preparation and details before a frame of video is ever shot.
2) Production The actual video shooting of the ad. Depending on your needs and budget, could be anything from one camcorder to a multi-camera Hollywood extravaganza.
3) Post-Production While on the shoot, you may hear the common refrain, "We'll fix it in post." Post is where everything comes together to produce the ad Editing, graphics, music, titles, voice over, special effects and, eventually, a "final cut."

Here are the most effective solutions for getting your own TV ad produced:

Set clear goals

Know and communicate your marketing objective. Determine your budget and develop a plan. What do you hope to achieve with your TV ad? Where and when will it run?

Get-It-Done: The Television Bureau of Advertising (TVB.org) is an excellent resource for first-time TV advertisers. The Association of National Advertisers (ANA.net) is another good starting point.

Determine your target audience

Television is still a mass medium, but you better know your target before you shoot! Who are you trying to reach, and will your message resonate with your intended audience?

Get-It-Done: Advertising Age (AdAge.com) is the industry Bible. More in depth demographic research is available online at their sister publication, American Demographics.

Content is King

Craft your message and determine your content. Consider whether you're producing a 30-second TV spot, a :20, :15, : 10 or some combination. Be sure to refine your script and storyboard a visual representation of each shot in your ad - until you're convinced the commercial is ready to shoot.

Get-It-Done: Need ideas and inspiration? Hop across the pond (online) to "thinkbox," Great Britain's great website for television marketing in the UK.

Plan the shoot

You'll need to decide on the "creative" for your TV ad. Considerations include tone, pacing, mood, style, music,etc. Should it be humorous? Dramatic? Animated? The clearer your vision before the shoot, the better television you'll produce.

Get-It-Done: The TV marketing and ad whiz kids at Promax.org are some of the best "promo producers" in the world. See what ad producers from NBC, Discovery, MTV Fox and others are doing and tap into their collective knowledge.

Fix it in post

Post production is "where the magic happens." Edit the footage from your shoot, adding music, graphics, effects and finishing touches. Find a professional video editor, or take a crack at it yourself with a program like iMovie.

Get-It-Done: Mandy.com lists hundreds of production vendors, as does LA411 and NewYork411, depending on your coastal preference. Procure a Pro is a more broad based B2B directory.

Some final TV Production tidbits include:

If you do decide to go it alone, creative is still key. Creative trumps budget every time. A good idea with lower production is still better than a slick ad that misses the mark.

New software called "Visual Communicator" from Serious Magic allows you to create pro videos with just a webcam and some pre-packaged graphics and effects.

Some local TV stations will provide commercial production services for an additional fee when you buy an ad schedule.

Think about other "venues" for your finished TV ad, such as streaming video on your website.

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