Q: I just started my own home inspection service. Unfortunately, I missed the advertising deadline in my local phone book. My target audience is home buyers who want to find out what shape their house-to-be is really in. What marketing strategy can I use? What can I do to attract customers?

A: The best way to build your home inspection service is with a two-pronged approach: advertising in "search corridor" media-the ones your prospects read when they've made a decision to buy a home-and targeting top referral sources.

Referrals are a terrific way to drum up new business quickly. The key is to set up an ongoing marketing program to build referrals from related business professionals, such as real estate sales associates and mortgage brokers, who come into direct contact with your prospective customers and often make recommendations concerning home inspection companies.

Follow these four steps to build your own program:

1. Initiate contact. Identify the best referral prospects in your market area and contact them by phone to arrange meetings with specific individuals and to make presentations to groups.

2. Stay "top of mind." Set up a computer database using contact management software to track your referral marketing program over time. Contact the prospects in your database in person or by telephone, fax or mail at least every four to six weeks. Advertising specialties that feature your company name and logo-from mugs to calendars-are another good way to remind sales associates and brokers of your business.

3. Provide specialized marketing tools. Produce a handout that's printed with your company logo and contact information your referral sources can use with homebuyers, such as a "10-Point Home Buyers Checklist." Make sure the content is helpful yet clearly specifies at what point prospective home buyers should bring in an expert-you.

4. Build trust. Follow-up is essential to building a foundation of trust that will lead to ongoing referral business. Keep all your referral sources in the loop with direct feedback. Create a basic thank-you letter you can personalize and send to follow up with every referral you receive.