Networking — More Customers, Less Advertising
Have you ever gone fishing and you just can’t get a bite? It can be so frustrating especially when you’ve got a brand new boat, a top of the line fishing rod, and highly recommended Japanese bait. Sure you’re enjoying the tranquility and the spectacular view, but you came here to fish not to take in the scenery.
Small business can often feel similar to fishing. There is a stereotype of business owners—those who work for hourly wages believe that business owners are rich; they only work whenever they want; and money magically fills up in the cash register. Anyone who has run their own business knows this is not necessarily true. Sometimes you’ve done everything you need to—you bought the nicest building; opened in a great location; and have top of the line products; yet, no one is biting. And, without fish—or customers—you might as well pack up, go home, and buy your fish from the grocery store.
The way to find those alluring “fish” is through marketing. I know, I know…most entrepreneurs hate that word. When you mention marketing to a business owner there are usually two immediate questions: “How do I market?” And, “How much is it going to cost me?” Then, after business owners have tread into marketing waters they ask the next question, “Is it really working?” By the time you ask that question, you have probably spent too much time and too much money on your marketing efforts.
Every business needs a marketing plan. With that said, you may not have the money, the time, or even the know-how to do that. I want to show you how you can start marketing without spending a lot of money.
In the business, it is called “Referral Marketing.” This is an effective process in which customers are captured through building relationships with existing clients or other business owners. It takes a little work and it’s not as easy as buying a full page ad in the local paper, but it certainly costs a lot less. And, I believe actually works better because it is a long-term development with lasting results. As a caveat, I want to clarify that not all advertising is ineffective. In fact, if you study your market and create an educated plan, it can be a vital part of building your business.
Referral marketing “systems” are techniques and tools that you can easily integrate into your business (and/or website) that generate a steady flow of targeted prospects who are already fans of your product or service. Her are some of my favorite techniques and tools:
1. Use social media. Facebook, Blogging, Twitter, YouTube, and so many more online avenues can be used to increase your customer base. And, best of all, these are Free! Facebook is my favorite right now. You can use it to build a fan base and create your own pool of “fish.” Whenever you want to promote a special, a product, or service you have immediate advertising space to reach hundreds of potential customers. This is a great referral tool as your “fans” can refer you on a viral level.
2. Talk to your customers. This is so overlooked and you have a rich goldmine of opportunities right in front of you. Let them know you need more clients. Most people assume you have all the business you need. (Remember that earlier mentioned paradigm of the business owners—your rich!) Here’s a sample conversation you may have:
Hi, Mr. Smith. I am so excited you chose us as your source for _________. We are trying build our business and we would love to give your friends and family the same great service you have received. It would help us tremendously, if you would take time to recommend our service to people you know who would enjoy personal service.
Obviously, you would have to tailor the conversation to your business. It may not work exactly like the above example. Just remember the important points: 1) Ask; 2) Tell them how it can benefit the people they are recommending; and 3) Be specific about what you need.
3. Join a like-minded group. There are so many local groups you can join to help get your business name out there. In St. George there are groups like BNI, Chamber of Commerce, and Rotary. There are also many local promotions put on through the City. (Visit their website for upcoming events.) You cannot underestimate the flow of referrals you may receive from participating in groups outside of your business box.
4. Hand out your business cards. Yeah, that’s what they’re for. In fact, I recommend to people to pass out a card every time they open their wallet. You’re customers are every where; you just need to let them know where you are. And, if you don’t like the way your card looks, I can refer you to a great designer.
5. Have a take-away available. Maybe you have customers that come in every week for your gourmet sandwiches, but they don’t know you also bake brownies. Have something they can take away. Make your own fliers and hand those out through the drive thru. Get creative with take-aways for the customers that will be coming into your business.
6. Refer or recommend businesses to your customers, friends, and family? Wait, did I just say send other people to another business? Yes…I mean, I wouldn’t send them to the competition. But, it is a well-known statistic that business owners who recommend and refer other businesses actually get referrals back. Wow! Talk about great karma. Try it, you may be surprised.
There is a reason people say that word-of-mouth is the best advertising. It’s because people trust this method more than anything in print, on the internet, or television. They trust it more than a fancy, not to mention expensive, billboard. They find out from friends and family who they recommend because they have a relationship with these people already. They feel safe, like they have an “in”, and that if it worked for their associates it will work for them too. Whether you may realize it or not, your business has been increased because of referrals—or decreased in the aspect of negative referrals. Referrals are imperative to any successful business.
Unless you really are making more money than you can stand, Referral Marketing is a great way to increase your customer base without spending a lot of money. It’s the way to capture more fish in your net. There are so many more ways to implement referral marketing into your business than I even have time to discuss. Each method should be uniquely catered to each business and its needs. Referrals are essential to building your business. Don’t get caught up in the newest trends in marketing. Good, old-fashioned basics word-of-mouth can do the job