Do your employees let the world know where they work? Probably not. And yet, they encounter people everyday that might be candidates for your products and services. Not only are they candidates, they're highly attractive prospects if — and I stress the word, if — they know that your employee works for a company who's services they might need.

Business is built on relationships and we all prefer to do business with someone we know, such as our friends, neighbors, club members, and church members.

Here's an easy way to get your employees to let the world know about their employer and to stimulate the construction of your mailing list. Like most good ideas, it's really quite simple: Create a contest for the collection of business cards.

Announce a prize (e.g., cash, ballgame tickets, gift certificate to a nice restaurant, tools) to the employee that collects the most business cards over the course of the next month. Tell your employees that it's up to them to ask all of their friends, neighbors, and acquaintances that they are in a business card contest. Furthermore, you will accept someone's hand written home address on the back of a business card if the friend writes it and it's accompanied by a signature (just to keep someone from whipping out the white pages and starting from A).

Here's what happens: With the contest as an excuse, your employees are free to ask for business cards in situations where they might have been reluctant or inhibited before. For example, your employees might ask that everyone attending their adult Sunday School class bring a business card next week.

When they go out to eat, they might ask for the restaurant manager's card. If they belong in any clubs or teams, they might ask for cards there. If they pick up or drop off their kids at day care, they can ask for cards. They might get their spouses to collect cards at work. They might enlist their kids to go door-to-door in their neighborhood collecting cards. Of course, you will help by suggesting they ask in some of these places.

When someone hands you a business card, it's a natural reaction to hand them one back. Since you've made sure that everyone in your company has this most basic of business tools, they will be able to comply. That by itself will build awareness and stimulate business.

Remember, business is built on relationships and we all prefer to do business with people we know, rather than strangers. The contest will ensure employee's friends and acquaintances are aware of the business they're in.

If any have a need for your company's services, it raises the odds you will get the call. It makes it more likely they will ask your employee about the services. When someone asks one of them for the name of a company in your line of work, they will think of your company because so-and-so works there.

Some of your employees will jump all over the contest. Others will not. By adding a weekly incentive, announcing, and posting the results, you increase the likelihood that everyone will participate. Most people are naturally competitive. No one likes to be in last place. This will spur even the most reluctant to make a minimal effort.

When the contest ends, you will have three types of cards. First will be cards of people's business address that are not in a position to buy from you at work. Mail them a thank you note for helping your employee. Include a magnet and a business reply bounce back card. On the card, ask for their home address and provide check off boxes for information on your company services, a $5 or $10 gift certificate, and the option to be added to your company mail list, or not.

Next are people that might be in a position to buy your company's services at their place of business. Send them the same mailing with a couple of key differences. Mail two magnets (one for home or business). Change the options on the bounce back card to include information on your commercial services (mailed to their place of business) and the option of being added to your commercial and/or residential mailing list.

The final group will be people who offered their home contact information. Again, thank them. Include a magnet. Include a bounce back card.

The business card contest accomplishes three things. First, it builds your mailing list with people that are predisposed toward your company since they know one of your employees. Second, it builds word of mouth about your company to the same group of predisposed people. Third, it helps put your employees in a mindset that they should tell people where they work and that they should collect contact information on people whenever they can.

Not bad for a fun, inexpensive promotion.

Matt Michel is president of the Service Roundtable (www.ServiceRoundtable.com), an organization dedicated to helping contractors prosper. Matt is also the publisher of Comanche Marketing, a free marketing e-zine. Subscriptions are available at www.ComancheMarketing.com. You can contact him directly at matt.michel@serviceroundtable.com. Or send your comments to Contracting Business at letters@contractingbusiness.com.