Good press attention can do wonders for your small business: it can drive traffic to your website, boost your profit margins, and build credibility in your field. However, getting media coverage isn’t an easy feat – especially if you have don’t have the budget to hire a PR expert.

By using a few strategic tactics, it is possible to get publicity for your business – regardless of your marketing experience or budget. Here are some tips from The Guardian to help you get started:

Decide who you want to reach

Press coverage may be free, but your time isn’t, so be clear about why you want media exposure and how it will help your business. You might want to generate new leads, attract investment, recruit new talent – or something else entirely. The reason isn’t important. What matters is that you have one.

Find out what they read, watch and listen to

Once you’re clear on your objective, think about who you want to reach and find out what they read, watch and listen to.

It pays to be specific; if your aim is to ‘get more clients’, you’ll struggle to identify suitable publications or programmes. A more specific target audience like ‘working mums with jobs in the financial sector’ will make it much easier to decide which publications or programmes you should be targeting.

If you’re wondering how to find out what the people you want to reach read, watch and listen to … just ask. Creating an online survey or questionnaire using a tool like Survey Monkey can take minutes and a small sample of people (between 10 and 50 is ideal) who fit your target audience can provide you with enough information to create a shortlist of target publications.

Leave your ego at the door

You may like the idea of coverage in the Sunday Times, but if your ideal customer reads the Sun, you could be wasting your time.

And don’t assume national coverage is better than being featured in the regional or trade press. If you’re looking to target people in a specific area or industry, placing a story in a local newspaper or industry title might be far more effective than a double page spread in the Daily Express.

Gather contact details for relevant journalists and editors

Many publications list contact details for journalists and email addresses are sometimes included. If they’re not, you can usually work out the email format by looking at addresses that are listed (advertising sales contacts usually are).

Radio and TV producers and researchers can be harder to track down, but social networks like Twitter and LinkedIn can be useful.

If it doubt, just ring up and ask. And don’t take it personally if people are a bit short on the phone, as newsrooms are busy places.

Steer clear of generic email addresses, (e.g. news@ or features@) as in many cases these are not checked regularly. Make it your mission to get the name and email address of the person who will make the decision about whether to use your story or not.

Target your publications and programmes – and carry out research to do so

Most journalists receive hundreds of press releases and email pitches each week. Few have time to read them all (in fact, many get deleted, unopened) so the closer your idea is to their ideal story, the more likely you’ll be to get their attention.

Most press releases and email pitches fail because the sender hasn’t bothered to read the publication they are pitching to (or watch in the case of radio and TV). Start by researching the kind of stories that have been covered – ideally over a number of weeks or months – and you’ll have a much better chance of success.

When you’re gathering contacts for your target publications, it’s a good idea to find out about lead times (the period of time between an editor or producer commissioning an article and it being published or broadcast) which are generally longer than you think. Consumer magazines can work up to six months ahead, for example, and call a newspaper at 3pm with an idea for the following day and (unless you’ve got the scoop of the century) you’ll have missed your chance.

Write an email pitch or press release

Local newspapers are often short-staffed, so a well-written press release, with all the relevant information may be printed with very few changes. There are plenty of examples of press releases on the web. If you’re not confident in your writing skills, consider outsourcing the job to a freelance writer. Most freelancers have websites. Look for someone with a background in journalism as they will also be able to give you feedback on whether your story will grab journalists’ attention (and, if not, suggest tweaks that will make it more newsworthy).

If you’re pitching to an industry, consumer or national publication, a few paragraphs outlining your idea in an email is often enough. An email header that includes the phrase ‘story idea’ and a compelling one-liner that describes your story is more likely to get a journalist’s attention.

It’s fine to pitch ideas over the phone too. Just avoid obviously busy times (like deadline day on a newspaper or just before the news bulletin on a radio programme) and have an email pitch or press release to send if you’re asked – most journalists will.

And don’t write ‘on spec’ articles, as these rarely get published.

Be prepared to follow up

If a journalist is interested in your story, they will generally get back to you within a day or so. But in a busy newsroom, stories can get missed, so don’t be afraid to chase up pitches or press releases by phone or email. If you’ve chased a few times and you’re not getting anywhere, it’s probably safe to assume the journalist is not interested and offer it elsewhere.

It’s fine to offer the same story to different programmes or publications – as long as you’re upfront about what you’re doing. Bear in mind that there can be rivalry between different publications – and even on different sections of the same newspaper, magazine or programme. While it’s tempting to go after as much press coverage as possible, if a journalist who wants to cover your story sees it somewhere else, particularly before theirs is due to run, they won’t be very happy with you. And it’s never worth risking long-term relationships for short-term gains.

Be realistic in your expectations

I’ll be brutally honest. Securing press coverage – particularly at a national level – isn’t easy. Building a media profile can take months or even years, so don’t be disappointed if you’re not an overnight success. Some journalists will ignore your press releases and pitches completely. Others will knock back your ideas over and over again. But if you’re persistent, consistent, willing to learn from your mistakes (and you will make them), you will get results.

It’s a time consuming process, but getting press coverage can help you achieve phenomenal growth.

For more business advice, head to Theguardian.com.

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