Over the years, I’ve heard countless small business owners utter the phrase, “We get most of our business from referrals.” or “We don’t do any advertising…our customers come to us.” As a marketing and advertising consultant, businesses who rely on referral marketing alone make me cringe a little (okay, a lot).
I understand the logic behind their perspective. They are some of the lucky few who have remained (relatively) successful by leveraging their existing relationships with partners and colleagues. But if you stop and think about it, that referral business had to come from somewhere in the beginning. Perhaps you were out networking or belonged to a trade organization where you represented your business. That’s a form of marketing. Maybe you gave one of your clients a business card, which they saved in their files to call you later. That’s marketing. If you connected with a customer on LinkedIn, and one of that customer’s connections saw the name on their screen, and eventually hired you, that’s marketing. Marketing is about building customer relationships, but there still must be a way for that customer to become aware of your existence and products or services, and that is through some sort of marketing.
For those business owners who are fans of the referral marketing only method of business growth, we may not be suitable business partners. I prefer that the clients I work with see the value of a variety of methods of marketing to build brand awareness, generate new inquiries or earn repeat business.
What are some other ways that businesses can generate leads and awareness, aside from referral marketing?
- Stay top of mind through social media: Social media marketing is a great way to engage with current customers or prospects, and showcase your company’s expertise.
- Update your contacts through email marketing: Send out a weekly or monthly e-newsletter to remind customers of your product or service offering, promote a special, or stay in touch.
- Direct mail can work too: With the massive amount of email businesses receive each day, switching to snail mail might be an effective marketing tactic to generate new business.
- Targeted advertising to the right audience: Placing ads in trade publications or local/regional newspapers or magazines may be a cost-effective way to promote yourself. Or consider digital ads like Facebook ads or LinkedIn ads to narrow your target based on specific criteria and reach new markets.
- Improve your website: Since your website is a virtual business card and brochure, use it to provide insight into your customer brand, to further qualify customers, or build content that can boost your search engine visibility.
- Blog for business: Share industry knowledge and position yourself as an expert using your blog, and gain the added benefit of SEO.
- Joint marketing efforts: If you and a colleague sell to the same audience, join forces for twice the impact.
- Trade shows and events: Host your own workshop or event, or exhibit or speak at someone else’s event to gain visibility and expand your reach.
I’m not knocking word of mouth marketing / referral marketing as a great way to gain new clients and grow your business. I’m just saying that there are many other ways to expand, and if you’re not using some of the above in your marketing arsenal, you are definitely leaving business on the table.