The year may be about to change, but some things about business do not: New clientele will continue to be the engine of business, and leads are what will keep that engine running.

Just like an automobile engine, your company's engine requires regular tune ups. Going too many miles without a peek at your processes, referral sources, and marketing tactics leads to wear and tear.

Unfortunately, protecting your company's revenue engine isn't as simple as getting an oil change. Pop the hood and take these five steps to increase your lead volume and quality:

1. Own your keywords.

When you're looking for a service, where do you start? Google, if you're like most people. Owning your keywords is the best way to bring more traffic to your site.

Start with keyword research. Create a customer profile, and list all of the potential terms that that person might use to find you. Test the profile against search trends to develop a targeted list of keywords that will drive relevant traffic.

Focus at first on just one or two terms. Broaden your efforts as your domain authority increases, which is best done through link building. Either create the content yourself, or enlist a PR agency to expedite the process.

One way to get in the game immediately? Pay-per-click placements. Beware, though, that PPC requires testing to get right and can be expensive. Again, an agency can streamline the process, but be sure any partner running an Adwords campaign on your behalf has visibility into your organic search strategy. Nourishing organic results can lead to lower PPC costs. 

2. Leverage word-of-mouth marketing.

What do users see when they Google your company? A flood of positive reviews? A mix of positive and negative feedback? No reviews whatsoever?

More than nine in 10 consumers read online reviews, and nearly as many trust those reviews as much as a friend's recommendation. Don't be afraid to ask satisfied clients to write a testimonial for you. Send small thank-you gifts to those who do.

Don't let your product or service quality slip, either. If you're selling something valuable and building relationships as you should, customers will naturally spread the word about you.

Especially if you're in a B2B space, reach out to relevant connectors. Seek matchmakers in your industry. Be sure you invest in these people as you would a top prospect. Positive interactions foster opportunities that often result in new clients.

3. Join industry directories. 

Consumers don't spend much time paging through phone books these days, but they do still search online directories. 

Check for listings in your industry. In my world of marketing and media, for example, Agency Match connects brands with vetted specialized agencies. The platform contains editorialized profiles and is capped at 1,000 agencies. Others, like Clutch, focus on quantity in order to give  users a wider range of choices. 

Although you might assume being in more directories is better, realize that every relationship is an investment. Find a few that seem likely to deliver leads, and after a few months, compare their performance. Look, too, for value-added opportunities, such as publishing rights on the directory's blog. 

4. Supercharge your email outreach.

Chances are, you send out a monthly newsletter. Think back to your latest ones: Did you develop them out of habit, or with intention?

Leads can tell when your email marketing content is half-baked. Successful outreach requires not just a strong list, but engaging copy.

If you don't have a lead list yet, purchase or create your own by using data sources like industry directories and LinkedIn. By yourself or with the help of a salesperson, aim to grow your list by 100 qualified leads per day.

After building out your list, develop an email drip campaign. This is a sequence of 4-7 emails, each with its own objective within the greater campaign. If you aren't a strong writer, hire an agency or copywriter. Test multiple concepts for each message in order to pick one that performs. The more you test and tweak, the better your results will be. 

5. Retarget, retarget, retarget.

Visitors your site, subscribers to your email newsletter, LinkedIn connections, you name it: Virtually any group can be set up as an audience on Facebook's ad platform.

Retargeting helps you stay top of mind with prospects by showing them your ads on Facebook and other platforms. Trustworthy, value-driven content is key: Aim to intrigue, inspire, or otherwise get attention in order to increase the likelihood that they reach out.

If you work with an agency, be sure to provide them not just targeting data for your primary audience, but for every group your company serves. Psychographics like aspirations and political persuasions are just as important to share as demographics like age, gender, and location.

Like it or not, business development takes constant attention. Keep your eye on your lead tank, fill it frequently, and ask an expert if you notice any sputters. As any mechanic will tell you, putting problems off only makes them more expensive to fix. 

Published on: Jan 5, 2020
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.