We get that small business owners starting out do not generally have huge budgets for marketing and PR. That’s a given.

Most small businesses have already taken advantage of the multiple free/cheap online tools available to them — Angie’s List, Yelp, Google Places.  Not to mention Facebook and Twitter.  You’re probably working social media like there’s no tomorrow. But you might not be aware of another, more effective free service that can expand your audience, build your brand, and create authority.

HARO (AKA Help A Reporter Out) is a simple, ingenious service that sends out reporters’ requests to thousands of people three times daily. It essentially joins reporters with their sources, and it can be a great asset for your business.

Let’s say for example that you run a plumbing company and maintain a ‘Helpful Plumbing Hints’ blog about easy repairs or common problems. You’re already a step ahead of your competition by creating content on your own website that you can use to market yourself.  But HARO takes it one step further. If you sign up for HARO and a request comes to you regarding “the top ten plumbing issues that homeowners face”, you can easily create a well-written response and send it off.

What’s the advantage here?

When you and/or your company gets mentioned in the news, that puts you in a position of authority — a trusted expert.  And where are people more likely to spend their money?  On Joe Blow with an ad in the Yellow Pages, or with someone reporters and journalists go to for expert advice?  Who are they more likely to trust?

Some tips when it comes to using HARO include:

1.      Be Selective
Don’t reply to requests that have nothing to do with your area of expertise. Reporters can receive upwards of a hundred responses a day and many of them are spam, don’t let yours be one. Choose carefully what you say and don’t pitch to them.

2.      Headlines and The Body
Catch a reporter’s eye with a great headline and then include a well-written response. Don’t add words just for words’ sake, make each of them count. Again, the reporter is busy and doesn’t have time to read fluff.

3.      Your Bio and Contact Information
Write a brief summary of you and your company with links to your website. Be sure to include contact information if they need to follow up.

4.      Don’t Give Up
It may take awhile for one of your responses to get used, but be persistent. If you think they might not like your answers, have a colleague read them to give you feedback. You may be coming off like a sales pitch.

At first, responding to requests might seem like an arduous task and one that you don’t have time for when you are busy running a company. However getting your answers selected can pay dividends by creating a larger audience for you.

Run a small business and use HARO? Have any tips? Start the conversation in the comments.