By Joanna Fletcher
Building your contact and customer list is crucial for business development. It can be tempting to simply use existing lists that are free and available to everyone when you are first starting out. Whether this is going to be effective for your business will depend on your product and your target market. The following pros and cons should help you decide.
Pros of Building a Database from Public Sources
Easy: Using public sources means just that—the information is public, and therefore free to anyone who is willing to search through it. Most companies are beginning to realize how valuable their lists are and are now selling them, but you can still get free personal and business information from documents of public record like bankruptcy, mortgage and DBA (Doing Business As) filings. The phone book and Yellow Pages are also good sources, and don't forget their online equivalents. Try looking up cell phone listings or finding emails through Web sites like LinkedIn.
Demographically targeted: People are on public lists because of some defining characteristics. A business advertising in the Yellow Pages does so because their customers use the Yellow Pages. This tells you something about their business that allows you to target your message to a problem they may need to solve. Identify which public list is most likely to include your target market.
Spam: Although you can target some populations using the above ideas, when you send out unsolicited email or mailings, you have the same status as grocery coupon flyers or a spam email. Many of those people you have carefully selected will simply throw your marketing into the recycle bin, physical or electronic.
Legal issues: Be sure to protect yourself from potential legal difficulty by only using truly public sources. Buying a list from one of the many online companies who offer targeted public information may seem like an easy solution, but this third party may have collected their information nefariously. Many people do not read the fine print when they fill out forms and can begin legal action without realizing that they did in fact give permission for their information to be released.
Time: Building your list from public sources requires a lot of time and effort. You need to find the information, which may only be available in paper form. Digitizing, sorting and cleaning up data takes a lot of time with little expectation of return. As a small business owner, your time is your most valuable asset, and you may spend it better when you build that list through personal connections, one name at a time.
About the Author
Joanna Fletcher is a netizen who has lived, worked, and played in virtual space for most of her life. Her entrepreneurial flair is topped only by her tolerance for failure.