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Russ Allred, business consultant and author at Sunbelt Business Brokers

"Get out your spyglass Watson, the game is afoot." Referring to an archived article, a reader asked where she could get a list of all 20,000 businesses in Bakersfield.

Elementary my dear reader: Visit and rent a list. Among other list-service companies, you can qualify your prospects in the following ways: industry, NAICS/SIC codes, ranges, number of employees, sales volume, and credit rating. These classifications become even more valuable when you consider the cost.

If the list service charges $1 per file and you acquire all 20,000, you'll have to invest $20,000. Aye, there's the rub. You spend all that money and have only a list to show for it. The logical approach is to produce a flier, then buy and stick 20,000 stamps. At 49 cents a stamp, that totals $10,000 more. A typical mail campaign will yield 1 percent to 4 percent replies. They may call, but you still haven't earned any money.

The reader might have acquired the book "Best Practices of High Performance Entrepreneurs" where I explain that marketing is as much about sifting out who does not want to buy as it is about finding who might want to buy.

This is where the plot thickens. The reader intended to use the list to market an Internet-based service. Isn't the Internet supposed to make connections with customers much more efficient? Why not use the new technology, compared to old-fashioned mailings? Nevertheless, in this case a website is a qualifying characteristic of the target customer and may be searchable on the list service that you choose. We can sift out those businesses that don't already have a website, thus reducing your acquisition cost.

These are logical permutations of a typical entrepreneur. A high-performance entrepreneur, however, will consider alternate means of acquiring customers. Perhaps there is a complementary business that already has a list of the target customers. You might partner with that vendor and share costs or use your $30,000 to buy that business and exploit its assets.

If your service truly benefits your target customers, they might already be searching for you. In that case, having a web presence with robust data that will attract the search engine robots will help your clients find you. From the era of Basil Rathbone to Jonny Lee Miller, marketing principles remain the same. Only the tools have changed; it's elementary.

Contributing columnist

Russ Allred

, MBA, is a business consultant and author with Sunbelt Business Brokers & Advisors; the views expressed here are his own.