Sometimes you just have to prospect. While it’s true than networking, referrals, and other relationship-oriented marketing strategies are superior ways to build a professional services business in the long run, the problem can lie in that word “long.” It takes time to build a network and generate referrals. If you’re new in business or your pipeline has gone dry, you may not feel as if you can wait for those budding relationships to mature.

The dictionary defines the verb “prospect,” as “to search or explore (a region), as for gold.” When you prospect for clients, you are exploring your region – whether you define that as your town or your market niche – to locate the gold that may be buried right under your nose. It’s a good bet that there are prospective clients all around you. You just need to identify them and get in touch.

Launching a prospecting campaign can produce several useful results beyond the obvious one that it may result in landing new clients. Prospecting will get you into action immediately. If you’re writing letters and making calls, you’re going to feel proactive and productive instead of disheartened and stuck. The information you discover and contacts you make will suggest many new possibilities for marketing your business. And in making these approaches, you’ll gain valuable experience in what works and what doesn’t to pitch your business.

Here are 25 ways to start building a prospect list and accelerate your marketing today.

In Your Office

1. Use advertising directories. Look up companies by category in the Yellow Pages and other directories, such as your local Chamber of Commerce or Better Business Bureau.

2. Review membership directories. You can find both consumer and business prospects in the membership directory of any group you belong to. Don’t forget your alumni association.

3. License a compiled list. Services like AccuLeads or Zapdata can provide you with targeted lists for direct mail or telemarketing.

4. Explore “top company” lists. Publications like Forbes, Fortune, and your local Business Journal regularly publish lists of the top companies in many industries.

5. Read the press. Notice who is being quoted as an authority in your community or market niche. Compliment them on their ideas when you make contact.

6. Publish a print newsletter. Producing a complimentary newsletter gives you a persuasive reason to ask people for their contact information in any environment.

7. Launch a survey. Create a survey for your target market and offer to share the results with everyone who completes and returns it with their contact info.

8. Compose a white paper. Researching a white paper on best practices in your field will give you an excuse to seek out prospects, interview them, and ask them to refer you to others.

9. Write for periodicals. Write letters to the editor, guest editorials, or articles aimed at your niche. Include in your signature or bio slug a mention of your newsletter, survey, white paper, etc. to encourage readers to make contact.

10. Add everyone who contacts you. Don’t forget to add to your list people who call or write YOU. Even those who are selling their own wares can be valuable prospects.

On the Web

11. Use the search engines. Search for companies in your target market and geographical area, e.g. “Portland hospital” or “Atlanta restaurant.”

12. Explore online directories. Use Google Directory or Yahoo! Directory to find organizations listed by category.

13. Subscribe to business directories. Dun and Bradstreet, Hoover’s, Standard and Poor’s, and Thomas Register all offer online editions with some services complimentary and more for a fee.

14. Offer a free bonus. To entice people who visit your site to subscribe or register, offer an ebook, audio download, ecourse, or other exclusive content in return for their name and email.

15. Publish an ezine or blog. People who like what you have to say will forward it to others. Those people will come to your site or contact you to subscribe.

16. Publish articles online. Submit your articles to sites or ezines your prospects read. Your bio slug should offer readers a gift if they visit your site.

17. Post to message boards. Answer questions people ask on message boards aimed at your market niche. Include in your signature a mention of your complimentary bonus, ezine, or blog.

18. Ask for people to opt in. Provide a way for people to subscribe or register on every page of your website and suggest that they do so in the signature of every email you send.

Out in the World

19. Find lists at the library. Libraries subscribe to business and membership directories you can’t afford and librarians will help you find the kind of prospects you’re looking for.

20. Attend networking meetings. Focus on collecting business cards, not just handing them out. Pick up any flyers or brochures you see displayed; those people may be prospects, too.

21. Join a leads group. Meet regularly with a group of other business owners to share contacts, leads, and referrals. If you can’t find a group you like, start one.

22. Canvass on foot. Visit office buildings or industrial parks, and collect information about the tenants. Pick up literature you see displayed or ask the receptionist for it.

23. Sponsor a contest. Ask people to enter a drawing for some valuable prizes or a competition where you will acknowledge the winners and publicize the results.

24. Exchange lists with a colleague. Trade contacts with someone who shares your market but isn’t a competitor. Or jointly sponsor a campaign using each other’s lists to promote you both.

25. Offer rewards for referrals. Affiliate programs, referral fees, and discounts on future services can all be incentives for people to pass along leads.

Is making cold calls from a compiled list of prospects the best way to get clients? Usually, no. But you’ll notice that many of the ideas above incorporate relationship-building tactics into your prospecting. Prospecting will get you out of your own head and into the habit of talking to people, and that will naturally lead to getting to know them better. Every relationship has to start somewhere.

Copyright © 2007, C.J. Hayden. All rights reserved.

This article was first published in the June 2007 issue of AORCP Newz-Bytes, and has not been reprinted elsewhere. If you would like to reprint it in your publication, please contact me for details and permission.