I talk to business owners every day. “How do you market your business?” I ask. “Word-of-mouth is the most cost effective form of marketing,” they say. And I agree.
So I ask them what their strategy is for developing referrals. That’s when they start to squirm. Usually they talk about a networking event they attended, or the value of good customer service, or maybe a rewards program for customer referrals. Some are even pretty disciplined about attending a weekly networking group. But rarely do they seem confident about their strategy.
Strategy can be hard because of the many possibilities—so many ways to connect with people. You can get friends on Facebook. You can acquire Twitter followers. You can link with colleagues on LinkedIn. Feels like so much progress. But then what?
Making thousands of acquaintances doesn’t always pay the bills, especially if a referral to your kind of business requires a high degree of trust. Trust takes time. You have to earn it. And you need lots of touches, lots of little risks that pay off, lots of relational dimensions.
Stretched Too Thin
How many close relationships can a person’s network have? After about 100 or so, it gets difficult to maintain a relationship of any strength. (I have trouble even remembering that many names.) So let’s see if we can turn this truth into an effective marketing strategy.
Take a look at your database of networking contacts. Include clients, friends, consultants, coaches, and family. Pick your Top 50 and put them in a list. (Use your intuition here.) This is the core of your network. This is where you will focus your energy.[You may want to experiment with this number. Some business thrive on a few strong relationships. Others make a living from many connections where the strength of each one is not so important. Knowing your business really helps make this decision. A pizza shop may benefit from a large loose network, but an attorney, accountant or psychologist may benefit more from a small concentrated core.]
The Work of Networking
Now that you have your Focus 50, your job is to:
Find out what’s going on in their world and what problems they are facing right now.
Help them by offering your expertise, referring someone in your network, or suggesting a resource that can solve their business problems.
Educate them on what’s going on in your business, who receives the most value from your expertise, and what challenges you are experiencing. Invite them to follow you online and subscribe to your newsletter.
Let them know that you work by referrals. Ask who they know that might be a good fit for you.
Warmly thank them for supporting you and your business. Find a creative way to let them know they really matter to you.
The key is that you are helping them. When they experience you as a good resource, they do your marketing for you.
Eliminate and Concentrate
The strategy works because you concentrate your time and energy on the relationships that matter most. At the end of 2012 you could have 50 people who see you as a valuable person to help them grow in 2013.