I've had many discussions about various methods of business advertising/promotion over the years. The truth is, there is no one magic bullet that will guarantee a steady stream of paying customers. There are plenty of companies that promise leads and advertisements, but can not guarantee a conversion rate. That's the most important part. I would take one guaranteed sale in exchange for a million leads on any day. Over the years I have tried many methods of promotions both online and off, with varying degrees of success and failure.
Search Engine Advertising
This hasn't worked especially well for me. Paid online adverts have not converted especially well. It did drive some good traffic to my site, but mostly "hit it and quit it" traffic (I assume from competitors). These services can get pricey, especially if they are allowed to run outside of your business area. The bottom line was my conversion ratio: a dismal 1000 to 1. At anywhere between 0.05 and and a 1.00 a click, that's a lot of wasted money.
Many companies will sell you lead bundles. The problem with this is many of these are generated by offering something for free in exchange for contact information. The vast majority of these "leads" are not interested in anything other than the free trinket. Converting these types of leads can be exercise in futility. If you decide to use one of these firms, ask how the leads are generated and demand references.
Door-To-Door Hanger Advertising
Believe it or not this method of advertising can provide a good return on investment.
Still works very well. It's one of the best forms of advertising around. It gets your name in front of a diverse group of readers, and when they call they are looking for what you are offering.
"Word Of Mouth"
The "golden egg" of any and all efforts.
Online or off these directories will deliver targeted, convertible leads 90% of the time. This is money well spent.
This website influences serious buyers everyday. It's free for businesses to list and can be profitable for real world companies with good ratings. Running a special on this site will bring in customers.
Why not? It's a free link on a major website. You never know what might fall in your lap.
Publish A Blog
I have found Blogspot to be a great place to publish a blog. It's a free, full featured blogging platform that can be used to showcase your expertise or share ideas with others.
Join A Business Organization
Network with other business people and get to know the movers and shakers. Chambers of Commerce provide access to well established business people in almost every US community. Even something as simple as joining the Better Business Bureau can boost business.
Think Outside Of The Box
Put yourself out there. Tell people, hand out cards, never miss an opportunity to throw your name in the mix. A free seminar in your area of expertise guarantees a captive audience and allows you shine. Give out useful freebies to targeted clients with your contact information. Refrigerator magnets are effective. Keep an eye open for places to leave a card. I once picked up a large fencing job from a card I left in a laundromat while washing work clothes. Ads in small, free publications (like the ones found at donut shops, coffee shops, hotels, etc.) can be a cost effective lead generator as well. If approached by other businesses, don't dismiss them as potential rivals or assume they are wasting your time. You may find common ground that can turn a chance meeting into a valuable relationship.