Whether your business is exclusively online, a brick-and-mortar store or a combination, you need publicity. People need to learn about what you offer and why they need your help. Publicity, whether online, print or broadcast, creates visibility that's worth thousands of dollars. How do you get publicity?

  1. Media play. HARO, or Help a Reporter Out, is your first step to getting noticed. And it's free. HelpAReporter.com offers quality leads for people in all industries to get noticed on radio, TV and through published articles. Three times a day, you'll receive an e-mail with 20 to 30 queries from journalists, editors and producers who need sources for their respective media outlets. If your specialty, company or service fits what the query is calling for, you simply e-mail the contact and pitch yourself. The overriding rule for responding is that your response be on target. There are a few other rules, and you should read them before you respond.
  2. Powerful press releases. Press releases seem old school but are still a useful tool for generating publicity, especially when you announce your company's opening, new hires, new product lines or services. Press releases are undergoing a transformation, however. Today they're more often geared toward consumers, not just the media. Consider creating different press releases for different markets.
    What if you can't think of a reason to send a press release? Publicity maven Joan Stewart recommends offering something for free. "Announcing a freebie is an almost guaranteed way to get the media to write about you," she says. "It's also a great way to capture people's e-mail addresses so you can build a community of followers, get sales leads, and sell products and services."
  3. Savvy social networking. LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter have become household names. But they aren't just for finding old high school flames. Social networking sites can be a helpful tool for marketing if you use them to develop relationships. The No. 1 rule in social networking--be social. If you decide to promote your business in the realm of social media, it takes time and energy. You can't show up occasionally and expect results. On the other hand, shameless self promotion 24/7 won't be tolerated, either.
  4. Respond to breaking news. Google provides a free service that functions like a media clipping service. It scrutinizes the web and Google News database, then sends you an e-mail as soon as something you're interested in appears in the search results. The e-mail will include the web site address, so you can go see where and how your topic is mentioned.
    Here's how this could help you. Let's say you help schools and day-care centers create safety plans to prevent noncustodial parental abduction. Create Google alerts for "kidnapping," "abduction," etc.--key terms related to your topic. When events associated with that topic occur, contact newspapers, radio and television stations in that city immediately and let them know you can comment on what's happening. This works for any industry, whether you help businesses outsource retirement planning or you create costumes for ferrets. Click here to set up your Google Alerts.

It doesn't matter how unique your product or how fantastic your service is if nobody knows about it. But good publicity doesn't just happen. Do something every day to publicize your business. Ask industry newsletters and local papers for their editorial calendars or offer to be a guest on local radio shows. Create short videos for YouTube. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.