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1,000 Followers for Your Cause in 15 Minutes A Day

I would guess if you’re like me, you’ve believed your whole life that in order to get what you want, you had to work really hard for it.

I still think that’s true, but it’s also a little misleading.

The success Riskology.co has seen so far is less a result of doing tons of hard work and more a result of a small portion of that work that was actually pretty easy.

What I mean to say is that I’ve had to do a lot of work to figure out which work is actually worth doing.

What I’ve found actually works for me – the way that Riskology.co has gathered nearly 2,000 readers in less than 4 months – was done in less than 15 minutes a day answering news reporters’ questions on helpareporter.com (HARO) – a free service that helps journalists find interview subjects for their stories.

This article won’t apply to everyone reading today, and if it doesn’t, stay tuned; I’ll have something for you in the next one, but I’ve noticed that a lot of you here have some kind of unique message you want to spread.

I see it in the comments and in my email all the time. You’re working on really cool stuff and wondering how you can get the word out to the world about it.

If you have any kind of message to send to the world, then this is for you.

Now, HARO can be an amazing tool, but I should also warn you that it can also be a completely fruitless time-suck if you don’t use it properly. Since I learned that the hard way, I thought I’d write this article to help you use it to really boost the support for your cause with minimal effort.

Here are the most important things I’ve learned about using HARO to grow my audience quickly and easily. I hope they help you explode your own secret mission.

1) Pitch outside your niche.

When you sign up for HARO, you get the option to receive queries from specific industries that you’re interested in. That probably seems like the best option, but I wouldn’t do it if I wanted to get maximum exposure.

In order to really make a splash, you need to reach outside of your niche. You might think that no one cares about the super specific thing you’re working on, but if you can find a way to relate what you do to a broader audience, you’ll bring tons of new people into the equation rather than the same small group that would have found you anyway.

I’d estimate that at least 90% of the publicity I’ve received using HARO has been from sources generally unrelated to Riskology.co.

2) Respond as quickly as possible.

Journalists that post queries on HARO get literally hundreds of responses. One of the best tactics you can use to get your response noticed is to just be first. When you see a HARO email in your inbox, browse it first before moving onto others.

If you’re not one of the first good responses to a reporter’s query, it’s unlikely your response will even be read. Luckily, you can use your time zone as an advantage if you want to really strategize.

HARO master emails are sent in the morning, afternoon, and evening on Eastern Time. Depending on where you are, you might be able to get to an email first while lots of people are either still in bed or done with email for the day.

3) Only respond where you’re a good fit, but get creative.

If you try to respond to every query in every email, you’ll spend your entire day doing absolutely nothing useful.

Don’t waste your time trying to fit a square peg in a round hole by responding to queries that you can’t help with, but if you see an opportunity to share your knowledge in a way that doesn’t exactly fit your profile, get creative and find a way to respond that not only helps the reporter, but also gets your name, business, or cause in the spotlight at the same time.

When I was featured on MSN, it was because I responded to a query about living frugally. Even though that’s a big part of my daily life, I couldn’t see at first how responding would help build Riskology.co.

Then I thought, “Well, what if I tell her that the reason I’m frugal is because it gives me a lot better odds at being successful in my new business where I help people take bigger risks to improve their lives?”

If you have something to contribute, spend a minute crafting a response that will highlight what you want it to.

4) Avoid overly simple queries.

There are a lot of “top 5 tips for…” or “best advice in 50 words or less” types of queries that come up on HARO. They’re really easy to answer, but in my experience, a waste of time for a couple of reasons.

1) They’re really easy and generic so everyone answers them, making your response stand out even less

2) Lots of times, every response is published in some giant article that no one reads because it’s thousands of words of garbage.

3) Even if you do get published, no one that reads the article will care much about what you have to say because they only get a line or two from you that’s next to thousands of others saying the same thing.

Responding to these types of queries could be a good temporary strategy if you have a brand new website and you’re trying to build links to it for search engine optimization, but for the most part, they’re a time suck that you won’t get much out of.

5) Target big name publications

The upside of HARO is that anyone can post a query asking for info. The downside of HARO is that anyone can post a query asking for info.

That means that Joe the Plumber’s query asking about your favorite type of consumer drain un-clogger for his blog will be posted right next to an Associated Press query asking a similar question. The difference being that one might get you 5 visitors and the other will probably net tens or even hundreds of thousands over time.

I respond to both because I like to help out the little guys (I’m one of them after all), but I don’t have any illusions that my mention in Joe the Plumber’s blog is going to travel very far. That’s why the bulk of my energy goes to targeting the big players like MSN, ABC, CBS, Associated Press, and other heavy hitters.

Many of you reading this right now are here because you saw my interview with Liz Weston on MSN Money.

Also, by and large, I ignore queries from anonymous sources. If the reporter isn’t willing to reveal where they plan to use the information I give them, I’m not very interested in giving it to them.

On top of these overarching strategies, it’s worth using a few smaller tactics when writing a pitch to increase your odds of getting mentioned even more.

6) Change the subject line

Besides being one of the first to respond, using a unique subject line in your email can go a long way toward getting your response opened and actually looked at.

I’ve done my own testing and found that when I write my own relevant subject line, I’m far more likely to get a response than when I just copy and paste the title of the query.

I assume this is because the hundreds of other people that respond take the easiest route and copy/paste. Spending five seconds to differentiate yourself from the herd is worth it.

7) Address the journalist by name

I don’t actually have any proof that this works, but I know that reporters seem to appreciate it when I make my responses feel like they’re coming from a friend.

When I first started using HARO, I would write nothing more than the response to the reporter’s question, and hit “send.” Usually there was no response or a short, curt one.

Then, when I started making them more friendly by addressing the journalist by name and ending with a “Thanks” or “Hope that helps” – basically just making my replies more conversational – I didn’t necessarily get more responses, but the ones I did get were far more positive.

HARO is a busy system, but it’s only people on either end of it. Be kind and you might just get it in return.

8) Be thorough, but very concise

Be kind and conversational in your replies, but remember that journalists are always busy, on tight deadlines, and dealing with hundreds of responses just like yours.

Your life story, the names of all your grandchildren, and the reason why you picked your college major are not necessary or even desired in a reply.

A good query response should be just as long as it takes to let the reporter know that you’re a great fit for their angle on a story and not a word more. If you can convey that information quickly, don’t worry, they’ll be in touch to get more details.

“Just the facts, ma’am.”

9) Always leave a phone number

Whenever you reply to a HARO query, don’t forget to leave a phone number that you can be reached at. This isn’t mandatory, but it drastically increases your chances of being used as the source for a story.

Reports are always on tight deadlines, and if they use you for a story they’re most likely going to want to talk to you on the phone anyway. I’ve even gotten calls for interviews in cases where my email wasn’t responded to. I had to pretend like I knew who the reporter was and what he was talking about because I had no idea!

If you’re a great source, but you can’t be reached in time to publish the story, you’re out and whoever’s second best is in.

And I don’t try to fool myself – sometimes I’m second best and my pitch won because I was easy to get a hold of. That’s fine. I’ll take it.

So how about you over there? Do you have any questions about how to use HARO to get more people interested in your cause? Ask away in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer.

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Image by Haags Uitburo