One of the biggest mistakes I come across with small businesses, is the fact that they don’t know who their prospects or customers are. But even worse, they don’t know how to get a hold of their prospector customers when they want to communicate with them. Not collecting prospect or customer contact information is one of the biggest mistakes local advertisers make.Why is it import to collect customer contact information? Well the fact is that most people who visit your website or come into your store are just browsing. Unless you capture their email address or some other contact information to follow up with them, you have no control over how or when they will engage with your business next. However, if you have a mechanism to collect their email address when they visit your website for the first time, then you have far more control over the entire marketing and sales process to come.Capturing an email address can be as simple as providing an opt-in box for someone to join a newsletter. More effective yet, is to provide some incentive for them to join your email list, like a free white paper or video or even a discount coupon toward their first purchase. Providing an opt-in form in a prominent location, or even via a pop-up on your website (tastefully done, of course), can be highly successful in getting that casual website visitor to become a devoted follower and client.But collecting the contact information is only the first part of the equation. It’s what you do with their information after you have it which matters. That is to say you need to make sure that you are actually communicating with them once they provided you with their contact information.One of the best ways to do this is through an email autoresponder. There are plenty of major email marketing companies who offer autoresponder services, enabling you to automate a series of follow-up emails to anyone who provides you with their contact information. The most effective way to use an autoresponder is through a series of informative, value-based messages, which help educate your prospect about your product or service… and how you can change or enhance their life or their business.A follow-up email series is best used as a relationship building tool. Once you’ve established a relationship and have the respect and trust of your prospect, then you can start incorporating the idea of “buying your stuff.” Like so many other scenarios where the Pareto principle comes into play (that’s the 80/20 rule), it’s best to provide 80% value and 20% selling.Remember, one of the most valuable things that you can do to enhance your business is to remind and educate prospects about you and your business. If you have captured your potential client’s email addresses, phone number, and/or physical address, you now have the ability to follow up with them over time. Don’t make the mistake of not capturing leads or not following up.