One of the most important things we can do for ourselves as small business owners is get our names and our company names a little press coverage. The question is, how do we connect with real journalists and bloggers to make that process easier? Well, HARO is one way.

HARO, or Help A Reporter Out, was founded in 2008 by fellow entrepreneur Peter Shankman. It’s one of the most talked about media services out there, and it has been nominated for a 2012 Small Business Influencer Award in the Apps category.

How HARO Works

Help a Reporter Out works by bringing together journalists and big name bloggers with small business owners and industry experts. According to the Small Business Influencer blurb about HARO, it connects people like you and me to over 100,000 news sources. It’s a great way to help build brand awareness and be recognized as an expert in your niche, if you know how to use it.

There other advantages too, not the least of which is that smaller and mid-sized businesses are able to compete with the big guns when it comes to getting recognition in the press. When a journalist writes about you, it will usually get you a free backlink — and a backlink from a site like the New York Times or CNN can be invaluable to your business.

HARO Best Practices

Use your blog to back up your pitches. If you respond to a reporter’s query, you’d better have something out there to show you’re all that you say you are. Write consistently and thoughtfully about important and timely topics to help establish your authority. Otherwise, your pitch is likely to be ignored.

Always respond to a query yourself. If you have someone like a publicist respond to pitches for you, you are adding an extra layer between you and the reporter. That’s not a good thing. The goal is to make it as easy as possible for a writer to get the expert commentary he needs to publish the story.

Keep your pitches relevant and succinct. Remember that bloggers and journalists sometimes sift through hundreds of pitches from people calling themselves experts. Cut out the fluff and never ever use the pitch to promote your products. Reporters will rate your pitch, so you don’t want build a bad reputation for yourself. A link to your latest e-book is only relevant if it helps you establish your expertise as it relates to the query.

Subscribe to HARO updates, and resist the temptation to pitch queries just because you want to land a quote on a popular website. Be patient and wait to respond when you truly are THE expert on the topic. With the free subscription option, you’ll get a few emails every day containing new requests for expert sources. Read them all.

If you’d like even more tips, get them straight from Shankman himself by watching his video How to Answer a HARO Journalist Query.

Have you ever connected with a HARO reporter? Tell us about your experience in the comments.