When I speak to entrepreneurs and small business owners about PR, they immediately say to me, I don’t have the budget for that.

After I smile, I respond by saying, there are ways to use PR without breaking your budget but you need to be prepared well before sending out your first press release.

When considering how your company is leveraging public relations, I suggest the following:

Know what Public Relations is.

Public Relations is the relationship your organization has with the outside world. That includes everyone—friends, relatives, customers, future prospects, competitors, and employees (if you have any). While the relationship you create with the public can have a profound effect on your business, all these people will not immediately make a purchasing decision or change their minds by seeing something only once. It takes a consistent and recurring message. Think of this as leaving a path of breadcrumbs everywhere you go.

PR is different from advertising.

PR informs the public about news and events and does not sell. You provide tidbits of information that you hope editors or journalists will see and use for their stories. Establish your objectives and goals so you know what you want to achieve.

Understanding what you hope to accomplish is a necessary first step.

Determine how best to position yourself.

This includes knowing how you want your audience to perceive you and how you wish to distinguish yourself from your competitors—which could be your quality, cost, or expertise.

Does the public view you in the same way you view yourself?

Organize and prioritize your messages.

Include the most significant facts about your company and how these facts bear out your positioning. Knowing your desired position says why consumers should choose your company over companies that offer similar services.

Ask yourself if your message is newsworthy.

The media will only write about something that is part of a larger topic with broad appeal. The editor only cares about his/her readers not your customers. If you are aligned, then you have a better change of being included in a story.

Remember that newspapers and magazines have to report important news stories, which often move planned stories aside. These parameters are crucial in creating your marketing and PR plan.

Publicize a newsworthy story linked to your business early enough so the media can react within their timeframe. Asking media professionals what their deadline is makes good sense. Asking when your story will run does not.

Decide whether you want to be proactive or reactive.

It means knowing how you will you get the word out and how you will reach the media. You may choose one or both approaches. Press releases and services such as Profnet or Help A Reporter Out are different ways to reach the media.

Even if you are not planning on hiring a PR professional full time, I always recommend hiring someone to help you create a sound strategy is often the best advice.

Understanding PR is not easy and takes time but if you understand the landscape, you are on the right path.