Not so long ago, it was almost impossible to effectively promote your business without some kind of financial outlay.
Before the digital age, the only means of reaching the numbers you required to harvest qualified business leads was via the organisations that owned the customer data: The directories, the media and the list companies.
All of these audience-owners could offer you a ready and willing cache of customers – provided you could afford the not inconsiderable sum required to tap into it.
The exception was the genuine expert. Genuine experts were able to leverage their expertise by creating content compelling enough to have magazines and other media clamouring for their comments.
With as little investment as a few minutes on the phone or tape recorder, your words of wisdom could be conveyed to a willing audience who often paid good money to receive them.
But then along came the internet.
Newsletters on steroids
Even in its earliest incarnation of delivering email (and to really early adopters, bulletin boards) all of a sudden the ordinary business operator could broadcast their message to any number of recipients – or at least as many as your ISP would let you within a single email ‘shot’.
This was like a newsletter on steroids. All of a sudden you could distribute your information to as many people as you could muster, without either the cost of printing or postage.
A revolution was born.
Then along came the World Wide Web and its newfangled websites. This added a significant new channel to your newsletter content.
Provided you had an affordable means of adding it to your website, now you could add that same newsletter content directly to your website.
Quite magically, search engines would find that content and deliver you a whole new audience from around the globe.
Better still you could have interested parties sign up to your eNews at the same time, ensuring you got right into their inbox next time you had something to tell them.
The combined effect of email and website was nothing short of astonishing.
With the same piece of content, distributed to both your email list and to the world via your website, you had a means of reaching the kind of audience numbers only media moguls could achieve in the past.
But it didn’t end there.
Enter social media.
Conversations on steroids
As if the combined effects of email and website weren’t already revolutionary enough, social media took your content into the stratosphere.
It did this in two ways.
First to those who liked or followed your content, it was a means of receiving it in a way even less invasive than email. So yet another channel for your content.
But the introduction of Social Network Groups – online discussion groups of pretty much any topic you care to name, meant access to hundreds of thousands of new recipients that were hitherto impossible to reach without a significant budget.
Now within a few clicks, you could share your expertise with a handpicked audience of thousands – provided of course you could gain admission to them.
Name your ePoison
And it doesn’t need to be blogs like this. It can be podcasts, video, eBooks – whichever medium works best for you.
This effect, now coined (rightly or wrongly) content marketing, means you can access up to hundreds of thousands of prospects without spending a cent.
Of course, few of us have the skills to create regular content and distribute it in this way. However, for those that do, or can hire someone to do it, the ROI is unprecedented.
Given that I have lost a major promotional channel in recent years, I now source up to 80% of my new business via this method with the remainder being referrals or word of mouth.
Admittedly I have some pretty handy publishers to assist this, but there’s no reason you can’t too.
How much are you tapping into this rich vein of free business leads?
In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.