What if you could buy a list containing the name of every person in your area who was considering buying what you sell during the next two years?

Most contractors tell me that such a list would be worth a fortune and that they'd pay a hundred dollars per name to get it. Think about it: You could periodically contact these people and inch them ever closer to “pulling the trigger” with a systematic set of strategic messages. You could control the sales process and shut out competitors.

LEARN TO ASK The bad news: You can't pick up the phone and buy such a list. The good news: This “future buyers” list is readily available, and it's free. You just have to know how to ask for it.

First, realize that anytime you run an ad, the largest percentage of people who see it are not ready to buy right then. They're gathering information. The last time you bought a new car or TV, did you go from idea to purchase in an instant? Of course not. You thought about it, asked friends, searched the Internet, etc. The transaction for major purchases normally comes after a period of investigation.

So there's your ad, seen by hundreds or even thousands of people who are definitely interested but who won't buy for several months or more. Usually they'll see the ad, mentally note any relevant information, and move on. Your “20% off if you buy now” is meaningless to future buyers.

LOW RISK Try this: In your next ad, include the option that consumers can contact you for a printed report or DVD that will educate them about how to make the best purchasing decision or compare your products or company against other choices in the marketplace. Make sure the offer is low-risk, easy to request, and contains information that helps prospects decide.

Multitudes of future buyers will be contacting you. Some will be ready to buy right away, but more will be “just looking” and thrilled to receive your information. Now you have your own list of people who are thinking about buying what you sell, and it didn't cost you any more than your normal advertising was costing you anyway. —Rich Harshaw, author of Monopolize Your Marketplace, is a marketing expert; www.contractor-marketing.com.