Grown and sold two internet marketing companies over 15+ years. Offering online marketing expertise as well as second stage coaching for entrepreneurs, particularly on the topic of the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) - the operating system we used to run our business.
See also: https://www.theresumator.com/. It has a free 14 day trial and is $99 thereafter. That may not sound "free", though we spent a whole heckuva lot more than $99/month paying people to push paper around in the job application process early on. This is one slick program for managing the entire job application process, much like the enterprise class tools, and without the enterprise class price.
Good observations - there are many options out there with pros and cons to each depending on your type of business. Having helped hundreds of companies through that process, here are a few general rules of thumb:
* If you've got content TRULY unique to an industry, AND you've got the wherewithal to support getting in front of the right people (advertising dollars, elbow grease, etc.), launching a standalone publication can be a viable route.
* Given that I'm typically working with time and/or budget constrained companies, finding a way to work within existing systems is often more practical. Example: Starting an industry forum in LinkedIn (if you happen to be in a niche that doesn't have one already).
* Generally, a blog that is part of a company website (blog.company.com or company.com/blog) is a good route to go. That way blog traffic contributes to the overall traffic to your website, creating the sort of "Google Juice" that helps to improve your ranking in search engines over time.
The application that you use to build the blog/publication is really a separate question. The two most common platforms are WordPress and HubSpot. If your goal is ultimately lead generation, then there's no question in my mind that it's worth it for you to take a really close look at HubSpot. HubSpot is a much more comprehensive tool for managing a lead generation process. It's best in class, hands down - nothing else comes close.
Hope that helps you in the right general direction. Happy to answer any further questions you have about the pros/cons of WordPress vs. HubSpot and how to generate leads online, just give me a call. Good luck!
Steve Blank wrote quite eloquently about how he handled juggling multiple startups and a family here: http://steveblank.com/2009/06/18/epitaph-for-an-entrepreneur/. Though he explicitly claims it's not advice, I can safely say I wish I would have known a sage like him when I was juggling a startup in one hand and a baby in the other!
Kudos to Tom - he's on the right track. Indeed, Yelp is likely to have low conversions, as is AdWords. AdWords is incredibly competitive for the kinds of services you're talking about, unless perhaps, you offer web design services for a very specific niche and/or you geo-target the ad and happen to be in an area with fewer competing agencies.
I like Tom's idea to focus on marketplaces where designers compete for jobs. More and more jobs are sourced that way, so it's a great place to be seen by potential buyers who are likely pretty far down the buying funnel. Those sites didn't exist when I started doing web design eons ago, so if Tom has experience with those he'd be a great guy for you to talk to.
A couple of things to keep in mind regardless of whom you speak with:
* The great thing about online advertising is that you can test your ideas at very low cost and find out if a particular network will work for you. The trick is knowing whether it's the network that's the issue, or your construction of the ads. A little professional advice will go a long way here in helping you get on the right track.
* Finding a "hook" the draws prospects in is critical to all companies, but ESPECIALLY important in a very competitive industry like yours. How are you different from other web designers - what makes you unique? Spending some time nailing this down before you start advertising will greatly improve your odds of success.
P.S. If you haven't already claimed your Google Places Page (often one of the most prominent areas of the search results page on Google), do that first. Improving the experience of prospects who already know to search for your business name is the oft-overlooked low hanging fruit of increasing leads to your business.
I'm biased toward Dan's answer, being one of the SEO's in the Clarity network. ;-) However, I'm not currently taking SEO projects, so I can speak freely here from nearly 20 years of experience in the field.
The answer to your question has many layers, and can easily head you in the direction of a snake-oil salesman without some additional clarity.
As one example: Why SEO? Often the term SEO is used by "buyers" to mean something much broader than the "seller"/technicians view of "search engine optimization", creating an opportunity for things to go sideways from the very beginning. For instance, business owners frequently came to us seeking better visibility in search engines with an end goal of attracting more businesses - though it was fairly common to field requests for the technique du jour (SEO, PPC, Social Media) vs. the end goal. The thing is, the most cost-effective route to achieve the end goal might may not be the technique du jour. Propose the end goal, and let the experts map out a way for you to get there with the best ROI.
Jami's answer suggesting you ask for referrals is a good one. Candidly, I'd put more emphasis on referrals and results they've gotten for clients than personal SEO. Find someone who has created the value you want for others. Too many "games" go on for positioning of industry terms, which just creates another opportunity to wind up buying snake oil.
Another option is to attend search engine marketing events like SES or SMX. The type of person or company who invests in their professional education at events like these is a good start at finding some reputable help.
Happy to chat through what channels are likely to generate the best ROI for your business - feel free to give me a call. Good luck!
Having watched companies build great distribution networks before creating demand, and having watched great products get iterated on to death before ever getting in front of a customer (and then finding out xyz feature isn't important, or critical abc feature is missing), I would say the right answer for YOU will emerge through a customer discovery process. I have yet to see a simpler, faster process for iterating on what your customers want and how to serve them best than Steve Blank's Business Model Canvas: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6t0t-CXPpyM.