First, you sound like you've been trying to grow your business for some time without the results you're looking for and this has resulted in you becoming a bit unmotivated to trying the same things with a different perspective and by using different methods.
The good old days of "build it and they will come" are far gone.
You've mentioned that you've been in business for 20 years and have no contact list. There are many forms of businesses, I personally run a business to business operation, and our main objective is to provide value through our services. Unfortunately, there are a lot of businesses that are similar to ours, and we must find ways to continually differentiate ourselves.
With this being said, solutions come from problems, and adding value comes from providing solutions, regardless of what the solution is, monetary, emotional, beneficial, etc...
If you are having problems identifying these problems and creating solutions, a good starting point would be internal. I would start by realizing it was a mistake for you not to collect your previous client's information, and begin to collect it now and set up the infrastructure needed to continually market yourself.
Identify what you've done right and what you've done wrong, identify what changes or other perspectives you can try within those same segments. As you know, you can ride a bike 1 time and fall, but if you continually make adjustments, you'll eventually get the results you're looking for.
Our business makes close to 6-7 figures annually from organic traffic from Search Engine Optimization and we are in a very competitive industry.
Every company puts money into their ads, and has the same struggles, some companies simply have more money to throw into it. The majority of ads are only there to build contact lists, not to make a sale. This is called your Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) and from that point forward, it is your responsibility to educate the customer and work the deal.
Once you convert the customer to a paid customer, you'll find out what their Life Time Value (LTV) is, and you'll be able to determine your potential profits in the future by subtracting LTV - CAC. There is more to it than that in the long run, but ultimately, you want to keep your CAC as low as possible while your LTV is high. The closer your CAC is to your LTV, the more risk you'll have.
In our case, our LTV is around $50,000, however, our CAC can be upwards of $5,000, with an average click cost of $12.00. This means that 1000 clicks cost us around $12,000.
No one will know you exist if you're not in their face continually. Visa and Master card both succeeded because they were in your face everywhere you went. This is called Omnipresence and it creates brand recognition.
Fortunately for us, we can now use retargeting, to continually stay in the face of specific audiences. On average people do not make a sale until the 7-8th time they have encountered your brand.
Think to yourself, how can I structure a conversation to make 8 emails, with a specific strategy that includes, educating, benefits, and solutions, where your sales pitch comes at the end of your sequence, not at the start.
Amazon's brand recognition was not something that was created overnight, and it took $100,000,000's and the right strategy to get the recognition they have today. Sometimes you have to give up a pawn to get the king. In their case money was the pawn, so make the sacrifices needed, and remember, if you put cheap in, you'll get cheap out.
Do more outbound sales, plenty of huge companies still rely on cold calling.
If you're not getting the result you need, change your targeted niche, change your approach, change your strategy, find what works, don't repeat what doesn't work.
If your ads are burning too much money, optimize them. Create a marketing budget and sacrifice else were to ensure that budget stays.
Execute with the right strategy, have a healthy and positive mindset, be someone that people want to be around, and give it 10 more years.
If one ad isn't performing well, stop it, and make a new one. If your SEO isn't bringing you enough traffic, create more pages, and optimize your existing pages.
Business is about research and development. You will waste money until you make money. You have to deal with it, this is why it's called an investment. Investments have no guarantee, but if you believe in them, you'll pour your heart, blood, and sweat into making sure the business succeeds. You'll treat it like your child, and you'll make sacrifices to ensure that it grows.
Don't give up, keep trying new things, understand the risks, problems, and continually make adjustments. It's a lot harder as a lean startup, but there are plenty of people who've made it with the right strategies.
If you feel like it's you, change your attitude, and try smarter, stay consistent, and move forward. We all have an equal chance to succeed,
Remember, all entrepreneurs have been there, and business is not easy, so congratulations to you for making it the last 20 years.
Good luck and prosperity