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By Ilise Benun, Marketing Mentor

There are so many possible marketing tools – web sites, brochures, email, cold calls, networking and more – that sometimes it’s overwhelming to decide which to use and in what order. Should you do a mass mailing? Should you take out an ad in the local paper (or a brand new magazine)? Should you put up a website, even though most of your business is local?

Well, here, in a nutshell, are the 3 most effective and cost-efficient marketing tools and tactics that everyone – realtors, contractors, plumbers, interior designers, small business owners and anyone else marketing themselves and their services – should be using:

1. EXPAND YOUR UNIVERSE WITH NETWORKING. There are tons of networking events to attend, too many actually. Too many ways to meet people you’ll never see again. Too many opportunities to collect a stack of business cards you’ll never look at again. But networking isn’t a contest to see how many people you can meet. And it’s certainly not about schmoozing. Networking is simply the process of getting to know people over time and nurturing those relationships, because you never know who will need what when. So make it your goal to find one or two groups where your prospects gather, get involved and let them get to know you over time. Extend your hand and introduce yourself. Contribute to your community. Join the board of your local library or volunteer to organize a bake sale at a local school. Be visible.

2. KEEP IN TOUCH REGULARY. The only way to stay in touch with everyone who’s expressed interest in your work is with a regular marketing vehicle – what I call “a loop” — something you do like clockwork, quarterly or even monthly, so you don’t have to reinvent the marketing wheel each time.

Sending out a simple email newsletter is the easiest and least expensive loop around. (Don’t worry. This isn’t about spam.) Email is one of the best (and least expensive) ways to keep in touch with-and keep your name in front of-those with whom you have (or would like to have) a working relationship. This includes past, current and possibly future customers, as well as vendors and colleagues, even friends and family. These people want to hear from you.

An email marketing campaign accomplishes many things at once. It’s the ideal medium to showcase your work, share your knowledge and build credibility, while also spreading the word about your services and distinguishing you from others just like you. Email newsletters also drive traffic to your Web site in a much more reliable and controllable way than search engines. And best of all, email serves as a prompt for your recipients. When they get a message from you, it encourages them to respond.

But if you don’t want to do email marketing, there are other loops. For example, you can send a monthly direct mail newsletter or postcard to everyone on your list. Peleg Top of Top Design (www.topdesign.com) has been sending out a monthly calendar for 10 years. Here’s why he keeps doing it: “Sending monthly calendars has proven to be one of the best self promotion efforts we’ve ever done. It keeps us in front of clients and prospects on a regular basis in a very subtle way. By now people expect to get them and always call when their mail is late… Definitely the best return on my marketing efforts.”

Whatever loop you choose, just make sure you use it regularly, so everyone in your network can relax in the knowledge that you’ll stay in touch with them. Without a loop, you have to start from scratch with each new marketing effort, which is a lot of work, so chances are lower that you’ll do it.

3. LAUNCH A WEBSITE. In 2006 it’s just plain unprofessional to say, “I don’t have a web site.” It’s almost like saying you don’t have an answering machine, or voicemail. There’s really no excuse. At the very least, you should have a one-page site with a blurb about your work and contact information. Later, you can develop a more complex site — with examples of your work, descriptions of the various services you offer and glowing testimonials from clients. You can also create a resource-rich site that positions you as an authority in your field and draws traffic. Either way, having a web site establishes you as a legitimate business. Even customers looking for local services go to the Web to check them out before they pick up the phone.

[Editor’s Note: Ilise Benun, author of “Self Promotion Online” and “Designing Websites For Every Audience,” is the founder of Marketing Mentor, a 6-month program through which the self-employed learn how to promote their talents and services. She also gives self-promotion workshops in the U.S. and abroad. Sign up for her free email tips at www.marketing-mentor.com.]

THIS WEEK’S FEATURED TRAVEL PUBLICATION

Horse & Country Canada, a bimonthly magazine covering equestrian topics, publishes travel pieces that will appeal to the readership (horse lovers and people enamored with country living). Articles typically run 1,200 to 1,700 words. The publication prefers queries sent by mail. Send your queries to Equine Publications, Inc., 422 Kitley Line 3, Toledo ON K03 1Y0 to the attention of “Editor.”

[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]

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