The Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado launched an online method to connect businesses with customers in need of items or services.

It’s called E-Quote or Request-a-Bid. The BBB started the service in November and has been testing it for the past seven months.

This is the way it works: Consumers log onto the Better Business Bureau website, put in their ZIP code and contact information, and write a description of the service they need. If needed, they can upload a photo to make sure the businesses fully understand the requested service.

The E-Quote system is similar to the method used by internet home-improvement firm HomeAdvisor, except BBB business leads are free for its members,  said Jonathan Liebert, president and CEO of the local BBB.

“Businesses love it,” he said.

It’s become a preferred way of getting business leads, said Cari Matthews, office manager at Legacy Gutters.

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“Customers are looking for quality service,” she said. “They’re not going to try to nickel-and-dime us.”

It’s also free, which is an additional bonus, she said. HomeAdvisor business leads can cost between $8 and $50 each, she said.

Legacy Gutters once paid for a HomeAdvisor lead from someone claiming to be Bilbo Baggins, the fictional title character in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

“I had to fight to get a credit on that,” Matthews said.

By contrast, BBB leads come from “people who are serious,” she said. “They actually want something of quality.”

HomeAdvisor President Craig Smith said his firm offers superior technology that allows businesses to schedule appointment times with clients over the internet. In addition, businesses have control over the schedule — if they are too busy to take new clients, they’ll turn the service off, he said.

“That would be a key point of differentiation — that technology and sophistication we bring to the marketplace,” Smith said.

Also, because BBB members pay a fee to belong to the BBB, leads are not free, he said.

But smaller businesses enjoy the additional membership benefit. Paul Montoya runs M&T Landscaping with his wife Selina. BBB leads have provided M&T Landscaping with 50 to 60 percent of their business.

“We started this company in 2006 with nothing, and now we’re booked 100 percent,” he said. The company makes around $100,000 in annual sales.

HomeAdvisor, which is also a BBB-accredited business, is not only competing with the BBB — it’s partnering with the nonprofit organization to BBB member businesses market their accreditation. Businesses listed with HomeAdvisor can have their BBB logo on their website. From there, customers can click on the BBB logo and see reviews posted by clients on the business’ BBB site.

“This is a great partnership,” Smith said, adding that link is one of the background screening tools HomeAdvisor uses to vet its businesses before recommending them to clients.