Twenty years ago, small-business owners had to rely primarily on free publicity, direct-mail or paid advertising to reach their target markets. Today, the variety of the web makes it so much easier to find your ideal audience -- and reach them for next to nothing.
When you find them, don't pitch an offer. Build the relationship first. Share helpful content like articles and videos that address their main problems and concerns. Position yourself as the go-to expert. Give them time to know, like and trust you.
But where do you start to look? Here are six not-so-obvious places to find ideal customers.
1. Meetup groups
Meetup.com is the world's largest network of local groups. Its more than 18 million members join groups online and interact with members offline at events known as Meetups. You'll find everything from neighborhood Bulldog lovers to Baby Boomers who teach each other how to use Facebook.
Many Meetup groups welcome speakers. If I have a speaking engagement out of town, I'll frequently contact a Meetup group in that community and offer to present a program. Go to MeetUp.com and use the search box to find groups where you live.
2. Discussion groups, forums and message boards
Social media might be hogging the spotlight, but discussion groups and forums are still wildly popular places for people in super-narrow niches. They join for two main reasons: to ask questions and to meet other people who share their passion and interests. Alexa's excellent database for message boards includes a wide variety of discussions, from Small Business Administration topics to mechanics' tips.
3. The Society of Professional Journalists Freelancer Directory
Your target audience should include journalists who cover your topic and write directly to your target market. The Society of Professional Journalists' Freelancer Directory has listings for more than 2,000 freelancers. You can email many of them directly from the website. But the smarter strategy would be to do a Google search for the name of a freelancer you want to pitch. Look for the writer's blog. It's probably filled with valuable clues about topics and other items that the writer feels are important.
4. Blog Talk Radio
The world's largest online talk radio and podcast hosting platform has shows in 20 categories, many on super-narrow topics like dying with dignity, memory retention, dealing with difficult toddlers, and the importance of drinking clean water. Some audiences are tiny. Other shows have thousands of raving fans.
Event organizers use this software platform to sell tickets and registrations for their events, from tech conferences to bird watching classes. You can use the search box to find events near you so you can meet people face to face. It also tips you off to groups that hire speakers.
Flaunt your expertise on this giant question-and-answer site, for free. Create a profile, specify topics you're interested in, and Quora will notify you when people submit questions you might want to answer. Quora is heavy on techie experts. Thousands of journalists also hang out here, mostly to ask questions about topics they're covering.
Do you have a favorite place where you look for people in your target market? If so, add it my list.