“I’ve done everything I can think of to get clients,” a desperate self-employed professional writes. “I printed a brochure. I have a Web site. I’ve placed ads. But no one is calling me. What am I doing wrong?”

This unhappy business owner has made a common mistake. He seems to believe that investing money in placing ads and creating marketing materials will somehow produce clients without the direct involvement of the business owner. Perhaps professionals who make this mistake are trying to follow a big-business model. They hide behind a company name, expensive marketing literature and a Web site. They spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on ads, directory listings and trade show booths. Far too many self-employed professionals don’t even disclose their own name in their marketing.

But people don’t like to buy professional and personal services from an anonymous company; they’d much rather buy them from individual people they have learned to know, like and trust. The more personal – or the more expensive – the service you offer is, the more likely this is to be true.

You don’t earn people’s trust by sending them a brochure. Here are the five things that work best for most professionals to get clients:

1. meeting people in person – at events or by appointment

2. talking to people on the phone

3. sending personal letters and e-mails

4. following up personally over time

5. speaking to groups at meetings and conferences.

And here are the five things self-employed professionals most often try that don’t necessarily work:

1. placing ads in the Yellow Pages or local newspaper

2. distributing flyers around their community

3. mailing mass-produced letters or brochures to strangers

4. sending their newsletter to people who haven’t asked for it

5. posting their brochure on the Internet and calling that a Web site.

The main difference between these two lists is that the first list requires you to talk to people. On the second list are anonymous activities that allow you to hide out and never meet the people you are in business to serve.

If you want people to become your clients, they need to get to know you, learn to like you, and believe they can trust you. And for that, they really do need to meet you.

It is understandable why so many business owners gravitate to the least effective marketing tactics – they are so much easier. To buy an ad, all you have to do is put up the money. To send a letter, all you need is an address and a stamp. It’s much more challenging to go out and meet strangers, or to call people on the phone and ask for their business.

But the reality is that this is what it takes. Even if you have the world’s best Web site, it’s a rare client who finds their way to it, reads it, and decides then and there to work with you. The same is true for a brochure. Both of these marketing tools are simply that – tools. Just like a pair of pliers, they need a person holding them in order for them to work. What clients want is to get a sense of who you are as a person. They want to see your face or hear your voice, to get to know you over time. If you don’t have enough confidence in your business to speak to people in person about it, how will they ever have enough confidence in you to hire you?

What you’ll discover if you begin to meet clients in person, talk to them on the phone, and ask directly for their business, is that it gets easier the more you do it. It will build your confidence in yourself – and the confidence your prospective clients have in you – at the same time. If you’re in the business of serving people, your best marketing tool is your own voice. So put it to work and start talking to them.