Business owners and entrepreneurs who want to raise their profile in news stories should check out Help a Reporter Out (HARO). Each day is a new chance to help a reporter by being a story source -- and tell people about your company or expertise in the process.

HARO is a service in which reporters solicit for sources for their stories, and these queries are dispatched to those who sign up to receive them. PR folks like me register for daily HARO emails so we can see what journalists are working on and if any clients could be subject matter experts for their stories. Queries are grouped by subject: biotech and healthcare, business and finance, education, general, high tech, lifestyle and fitness, public policy and government, and travel. HARO emails queries out several times a day. 

You don't have to be a public relations professional to sign up for these free alerts. And you don't ever have to respond to a query to make receiving them worthwhile. You could peruse topics that journalist are writing about to get ideas for what you should be writing about on your company blog or LinkedIn profile.

I have two HARO accounts, one that I use for PR for my clients and the other that I sometimes use when I need specific sources for my freelance writing. There's an art to successfully responding to these queries -- meaning the person you pitch, which could be you, a client or colleague, is quoted in the story. Here's what you need to know about HARO.

1. Respond right away.

Assuming you or your client is a good fit for the story, respond ASAP, even if the deadline is days away. HARO generates a ton of responses, and after a while journalists stop reading them.

2. Respond only if you are a good fit.

Don't waste your time or the journalist's time by pitching someone who doesn't match up with the request. If the reporter says "U.S. sources only" or "no (insert profession here)," they mean it.

3. Clearly identify your subject matter expert.

Make it clear who the subject matter expert is and provide all the necessary details so that the reporter has everything in one place and can easily attribute the information provided. By details, think first and last name, title, company name, company type, company website and physical location. I also like to link to relevant sites like LinkedIn profiles and company websites.

I remember once going back and forth with a source about these details. It was a pain, and I didn't end up using the information, which is too bad, because it was good. Now on my HARO queries, I include "Please don't make me Google." I don't mean to sound harsh, but when there are dozens upon dozens of responses, it's often easier and more efficient to just move on.

4. Provide a response.

Don't just offer an interview and leave the reporter to guess what this pro has to say. Reporters will often quote directly from the HARO response. So you want to give a quotable response. Reporters often don't have time to do a bunch of phone interviews. Too bad perhaps, but oh so true.

Following the response, feel free to add that the source is available to chat by phone or answer further questions by email, assuming these things are true.

5. Write a catchy subject line.

The subject line might be the most important part. You've won half the battle of pitching when a reporter simply opens your email. Skip the generic "Here's a response for your story" for something specific or provocative about the expert or what the expert has to say. For example:

CPA: This One mistake will get you audited by the IRS

This CEO improved company culture by giving up her corner office

Because national outlets attract a lot of responses from big cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, I also like to highlight geographic diversity. For example:

Here's the big myth about divorce, says NC family law attorney

Charlotte career coach on failing the job interview before you open your mouth

6. Respond just once.

Finally, one response per query will do. Don't reply through HARO and then track down the reporter's work email and send it separately there as well, because you've just sent the same email twice, and that's annoying. Don't send any "In case you didn't see this..." emails. 

The fact is sometimes you will strike HARO gold and sometimes you won't. But the next batch of queries is only a day or even a few hours away.

Bonus tip: I don't repond to queries posted by anonymous reporters. That's just a PR no-no. You need to know where your name and company name might be mentioned.