Posted April 10, 2010 8:00 am by with 14 comments

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Friends It struck me the other day that I worry about other people’s marketing efforts way more than my own! In fact, I don’t worry about my marketing efforts at all. Because I don’t do marketing for myself. That’s right I don’t do any marketing for my business. A few of my SEO colleagues like to tease me about how badly my site is optimized. I have never bought a paid ad for my business. I do not offer any type of affiliate promotions. But despite my own marketing inaction I am always busy with work. Seriously, I usually have 2 or 3 clients waiting in line for me to get to their projects, and most of them are willing to pay top dollar.

So how have I been able to grow a solid service with zero marketing efforts? Friends. No not that cheesy 90s sitcom. I am talking about real friends in the industry I work in. Almost 100% of my clients come to me from referrals from friends or other clients! I guess you could say that my only marketing strategy is relationship building.

I love relationship building! Not only is relationship building an amazing way to build and expand your business its also extremely fun! Seriously can you think of any better way to make money than hanging out with amazing people?

How to build a strong referral network through relationship building:

  • Make friends with as many folks as possible in your market.
  • Out of these new friends identify the ones that you get along with most and are well connected to others.
  • Cultivate these relationships by being a friend, supporting these folks when needed and engaging them authentically.
  • After you have won their trust make sure they know what you “do” and engage them with “work talk”.
  • Sit back and wait.

Soon you should start to receive referrals. Here’s when it’s crunch time. You have to deliver solid products and services on these referrals. If you fail to deliver on referral projects your whole network will suffer. Because instead of being the “cool guy or gal” that someone just met at the last conference, you turn into “the guy or gal that can’t deliver”. And then all your relationship building efforts are ruined!

How to get started?

Well you can start using social media sites like twitter or facebook to start meeting amazing, well-connected people. But if you want to take those relationships to the next level you need to take it offline and meet them face to face. One of the best ways to meet folks face to face is to go to industry conferences and trade shows. About a year ago I went to an amazing conference called Internet Marketing Spring Break. While there I met some of the most influential folks in the world of internet marketing. I also got to hang out with folks that I had gotten to know on twitter. After making these connections and building a relationship and trust with them I started receiving referrals left and right.

This year the same conference has a new name but promises to be just as amazing! One reason that I love this conference so much is that it has a limited capacity, only 100 attendees.

Whether you are able to attend or not, remember relationship building is the key to building a strong referral network! So get out there and meet some new people, cultivate the relationships you already have and start growing your business with referrals today!

  • Excellent approach to common sense marketing. However, I will quibble with the last bullet: sit back and wait. I think this is where most referral marketing falls down. Great companies and great individuals want to gain referrals based on their relationships and their great work. But it doesn’t usually work that way. Instead, their customers need to be prompted and motivated to provide referrals. Sit back and wait works for a few people, but the majority need to be more proactive to get the best results.

    • Lateef, you are right! In fact when I think back on my experience there hasn’t been much of a down time….I think its also important to follow up and engage after first meeting. That helps as well.

  • Like you I have a referral based service business. While I don’t spend money on Advertising, I do on marketing. You see I consider the organization dues and conference expenses part of my marketing funds.

    And from time to time, I send postcards or email updates to my network, to stay on their radar screen. To stay on their radar. The occasional call, link to interesting article or better yet a referral to them keeps the conversation and business opportunities going both ways.

    • That’s so true Lorraine! I like to give out my twitter screen name for people to follow me. I spend a lot of time on twitter and partly use it to keep myself at the forefront of everyone’s thoughts.

  • When we think of “referral” based businesses, we tend to think of the old school “is there anyone else that you think might want to benefit from my services” routine. I know that’s something I relied on back in the days when I was a financial planner.

    I think Joe’s describing the new age of referral business–having real friends in the industry. I can tell you that I don’t actively work on building any referrals–so in a sense, I do sit back and wait–however, I never stop seeking out new friends, helping them, meeting with them, and delighting their customers. That’s what gets me the referrals. 😉

    • “…delighting their customers”

      Yeah that’s half the battle there. You have to deliver a top quality product in order to keep the referrals rolling in. That’s why I try to go the extra mile to take care of the little things that other programmers forget about.

  • [edited]

    I’m the most onconventional marketer you would ever lay eyes on – so im really just trying to be me. i like urban wear hats and sneakers etc etc and so i wear them. I have 4 suits that have not been unzipped for years and i refuse to wear them. so i put this with my website – im actually thinking of trashing the entire thing and starting from scratch as i just think that it does nto represesnt me at all….

    But that all will come after i finish working on everyone elses stuff 😉

    Great blog – [edited]

  • Ashley VanHouten

    Very interesting blog you have. I have been learning about social media and how it can help marketing efforts. We read a book that was really powerful, you should read it. It’s Gary Vanerchuck’s Crush It! I think it reinforces your brand and established goals.

  • This makes one BIG assumption. That you are your business.

    What if you are like me and want to build a business that does not need you to be the cornerstone of it working. If you leave it falls apart. Much harder, but possible. For this you would have to use marketing

    .-= Mukul Verma´s last blog ..Toronto Internet Marketing Meetup Group =-.

    • Show me a business that isn’t created from the owner being the cornerstone to its success and I will buy you a beer, And, then replicate that business, because I need a vacation!

  • nice approach to marketing..liked this post very much……

  • i’m promoting other peoples products, while i have learnt so much in the last 2 months about the industry i am promoting, i am not yet up to the standard that some of the people in my industry are at, so for me i have to do different forms of online marketing. I am taking a few courses and hope to be there soon. Wish me luck 🙂
    .-= Chris.T´s last blog ..Internet search engine optimization =-.

  • Ruby

    And what do you do when your friends start expecting freebies and price breaks and barter arrangements? Each and every week of my life one of my friends, or a referral from a friend, asks me to work for them for free. Working with friends is the best way to kill a friendship…

    • “Working with friends is the best way to kill a friendship…”

      Exactly! You have to just politely explain that you don’t do free work for anyone and if they still push you then they aren’t friends worth having.