Imagine having your business name and information, whether it's your special of the month or job-site pictures, showcased in a venue your potential customers visit every day. Facebook is the new word of mouth. It's where a good portion of Americans have an ever-expanding voice though their online presence.

With more than 500 million active users on Facebook, the likelihood of your existing and potential customers logging in on any given day is very high. Businesses small and large are actively reaching clients every day through this "free and always will be" popular social media platform. From national chains to your local bakery, companies are using the effectiveness of Facebook's leverage towards driving customers to their sites and, hopefully, to their door.

I am the owner and sole operator of a plumbing and heating shop, based just north of the Twin Cities in central Minnesota. I don't have to explain the tribulations of starting or running your own business in today's economy. As a trade professional, you're well aware of the challenges. But no matter the allowances in your budget for print and online marketing, social networking (i.e., Facebook, Twitter) can have an immediate impact in getting your name known around town.

I operate my own Facebook business page, Aune-Plumbing-LLC. More than 200 people have chosen to "like" my page. No, nobody has a crush on my company's web page. "Liking" is an option that notifies people whenever I post something on my page. Anything I post on Facebook then appears in their "news feed" when they log-in to Facebook. To keep people coming to my site, I post general advice on HVAC systems and related topics.

Most recently, I posted a note titled "Tips and tricks to conserve water in the home." People appreciate the information and, more than likely, Aune Plumbing & Heating will be a name that comes to mind when they have a need, or a friend asks for a referral. The attention my company has received from Facebook has been worth the little effort put into maintaining my social presence since I created the page. An average of two to three Facebook-generated job leads have come my way each month, at no cost to me.

I'm in my clients'’ living rooms, at their coffee breaks, on their mobile devices, or I'm there when they relax at the end of the day. This type of networking keeps me on the top of their minds and on the tips of their tongues. After all, isn't that the goal of any ad or publicity campaign?

Think you can't do it?
Getting started is easy. Visit www.facebook.com to register as a user if you haven't already. Three minutes and an e-mail address is all it takes. After you're registered, you can create a business page. At this point, you can upload your company logo, business information, photos and anything else you want potential clients to see. With available online tutorials and step-by-step directions, even the most computer-illiterate can be off to a great start.

In addition to your free presence in the form of a business page, Facebook's ad space is a great way to focus attention to targeted demographics. The website’s tracking of ad performance is automatic. It's a bit creepy in some respects, but the Facebook powers-that-be have each user categorized (profiled, if you will). This ensures that the users most likely to respond are the ones viewing your ads. Try that with a billboard or Yellow Pages listing!

Going the extra mile
A great way to spruce up a Facebook profile is to post pictures. Pictures draw attention to your page and keep viewers on your page longer. Pictures of smiling employees can generate a feeling of familiarity. This gives a face to the voice on the other end of the line, making the initial phone call a little friendlier. Jobsite pictures are a great way to show potential clients what your company is capable of, and the "quality that goes in before the name goes on."

When taking pictures, it's important to keep a few things in mind. Technicians should be in clean clothes, trucks should be washed and jobsites should be free of any litter. You don't need to be a photographer or have an expensive camera; just keep in mind that small details go a long way. Wipe dust off mechanical equipment and remove clutter from an area within the picture's frame.

Uploading pictures is simple and fast. Once your company profile page is up and running, just add a photo album. The extra few minutes will make your page that much more compelling.

Keep it fresh, relevant
Seasonal topics that are relevant to what your customers may have on their minds are more likely to draw attention. Fresh updates of current projects or services will retain viewers of your page and hopefully generate new viewers as well. These updates might include where in town you may be working, friendly reminders that the heating/cooling season is upon us or annual services that you can provide. I tend to highlight interesting articles I may think are helpful to my customers, always being mindful of not trying to sell them on something directly. It's up to you to drive this vehicle. Its horsepower will surprise you!

Since its introduction, Facebook has become the fastest growing website in Internet history. Ignore it at your own risk. Your competitors may not. Next time I'll elaborate on Twitter, tweets and how they can really spice up your website, Facebook page and ultimately your market presence!

Eric Aune runs Aune Plumbing LLC, a plumbing, HVAC, radiant and solar contractor in Zimmerman, Minn. Look for him at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Zimmerman-MN/Aune-Plumbing-LLC/71603972392. He can be reached at: eric.aune@gmail.com.