In today’s world, to stay ahead of your competition you practically need a Ouija Board. Successfully navigating a business takes a delicate mix of reading signs, being sensitive to the cultural zeitgeist, and good intuition. It seems an impossible task until you realize there’s a single source that can act as your map, compass and oracle, all wrapped into one. That source? Your market.

As I type this, giants like General Motors and Blockbuster Video are stumbling because they were too slow to hear and respond to consumers. They seem to have lost their way. Nimble companies like Honda and NetFlix are on-track, looming large in the giants proverbial rear-view mirrors, where objects may be closer than they appear.

NetFlix in particular is a great example of responsive customer interaction. Through their website they draw us in with a very interactive experience, inviting us to be movie critics, suggesting titles and offering options for content delivery. All of this creates a community and fosters positive brand associations. On the corporate side, this community works to generate data on what customers are looking for, and what they’re not happy with (think “no late fees”). By acting on customer feedback, NetFlix earned $55 million through the first half of this year while Blockbuster lost $15 million and today announced its closing stores.

But those are the big guys. As a small business owner, how can you apply these same ideas to help steer your business to success?

Open the lines of communication: Use today’s social networking technology to interact with your customers. Blogs with comments enabled, Twitter and Facebook Fan Pages are all common avenues of conversation.

Get Found: Now your social network needs to get found and free PR is the way to get the word out. Free publicity sites like connect news reporters and other media with experts and sources – meaning YOU! Journalists sign up for free and send out queries on stories they are covering. Sources with expertise in diverse areas (you), also sign up for free to receive the media queries. During the interview, you simply let people know how to find you – which should be easy now that you have your social network in place.

Tracy Adler, creator of, has seen Internet sales triple for her colorful, portion-controlled snack ware products for kids since using

“Thanks to PitchRate, I’ve landed several media interviews, including the Associated Press,” she says.

I’d like to take a little of my own advice and ask you: How is PR currently playing into your business model?

Click Here to take a short survey