Building a successful business can be lonely work. But even if you are a solopreneur, you are never alone.
I’ve read posts on social media asking, “Who out there is alone and hustling?” and “Who is conquering the business world by themselves?” One stated, “Business success is an individual mountain to climb.”
It’s not. Building your business is a team sport whether you have a team you have hired or not.
Take the leap into business with referrals
In February 2020, I took the official leap and started another business of my own. I had more than 20 years of experience as a marketing and strategy expert. I worked at a variety of companies from software to green energy to video games. My most recent role was the global head of Intuit’s ProAdvisor Program and Education Strategy.
I re-entered the entrepreneurial world with a huge desire to help high-achieving women cultivate their speaking skills. I saw many incredible powerhouses afraid to step into the spotlight due to their fears. My corporate speaking knowledge and professional theater director experience lent itself to unique strategies. I could help my clients find their authentic presentation voice and impact their career trajectory.
I took three months off to brainstorm my business plan, launching my business with a whisper—a whisper because I didn’t update my website. I didn’t announce what I was doing with a huge multi-media approach. I created a strategy around relationship marketing, building out my referral community to drive awareness, and connecting with the people I could serve.
My background enabled me to have a strong foundation for growth strategies and community-building expertise. What it didn’t prepare me for was the gut-punch of COVID. (Shakes fists at the sky)
Within the first month of business, my clients started canceling their live events. I was training their keynote speakers and designing the main stage look, feel, and line-up. These canceled contracts felt like a loss of security.
My outstanding referral community stepped in with other companies who were transitioning to virtual events. They connected me with women who needed to conquer investor presentations, executive board member presentations, political speeches, virtual all-hands meetings, and press interviews. A variety of pinpointed conversations within my community revealed the great need to be filled.
Four months later and mid-pandemic, I had met the financial goals that I set for a 12-month period.
This same strategy can work for you in these challenging times. Social media and personal relationships can be the team you rely on to drive you forward. The referral community may be the single most important group to nourish in your business.
What secrets build a successful referral community?
Your referral community is built out of groups, organizations, companies, and individuals who are targeting the same ideal audience as you. You build this community for mutual success, to help brainstorm strategies, and to collaborate on sales and marketing efforts.
Engaging with this community is essential to your success and your brand. These four secrets can help you build out your own referral community.
1. Identify your ideal customers
Your first step in developing your referral community is defining who your audience is. Without a very focused client base, you won’t know who to partner with. The more you pinpoint your ideal client the better off you are in finding the best partners.
Focus means having tunnel vision. New glasses help you focus so that you can see each leaf on a branch with immense clarity. Use this same level of focus to get clear on what your ideal customer looks like.
What industry or profession your customers are in? What role do they play in their profession? What are their common personality and professional traits? What are their biggest concerns? What social media do they use? Where do they get their information to help their business grow? Are they in an urban setting, rural, or mixed?
All of these questions inform your discussions with your peers who are working to attract a similar audience. Once you determine your ideal audience, you will find those you can partner with and reach out to in building your community.
2. Connect with your ideal community
When you are on a community-building mission, you want to create a list of the organizations, businesses, and people who already reach your customer set. What types of businesses already serve this group? Who does it well? Who is making noise and creating outstanding awareness? Who can you help with your skillset to give added value to the relationship?
How do you create this list?
I started reaching out to companies that served female executives, entrepreneurs, and speakers. I created a Google sheet to track who they were, the right person to connect with, and their contact information.
Say that your ideal audience is wineries. Begin searching for all businesses that are winery-related:
- Vendors who create their swag for online and onsite stores
- Design studios who craft their labels
- Alcohol distributors and shipping companies
- Website developers, influencers, and social media experts who target wineries
- Food and beverage magazines and wine clubs
Brainstorm all of the companies that this type of business has to interact with. Who do they network with to expand their business? What professions, companies, and organizations serve your ideal client already?
After your list is created, start researching who to contact. Then reach out to your friends, family, colleagues, and current clients to see if they know anyone on your list. Ask them if they would be willing to do a warm introduction. You can even draft the letter to make it easy for them.
This list will be the foundation of your referral community. You may not partner with everyone on your list. But the larger your list is, the more opportunity you have to connect with your ideal client.
3. Engage in the dating process
There is a saying in partnerships: Make sure you date them before you marry them. You don’t decide during your first conversation that it’s the perfect fit and dive in. Give yourself a few meetings to ensure you both have a similar mindset to success, approach, and personality. Anyone can be charming on the first date.
I recently met with a new potential peer who serves the same community as I do. He was witty and fun and seemed to have strong knowledge about what he was teaching. It was a quick half-hour meeting to introduce ourselves.
Ten minutes after we got off our wonderful chat he sent me an affiliate link to refer my current clients to him. Uhh, we just met.
All I knew was he had a great personality. I had not seen his work. I had not seen the course he was offering or his refund policy. I didn’t even know how old his program was or if what it entailed would be beneficial. We had a 30-minute coffee chat, and he was asking for access to my clients that I hold dear.
I am open to learning more and digging in with him. It just takes more than 30 minutes for me to feel secure in sending referrals.
When you think about building your referral funnel, consider what it would take for you to refer your clients with complete confidence.
My path to referral comes with a lot of vetting. I want to ensure that the people I work with are going to treat my clients, friends, and colleagues with excellence. I want to dig into the product. I want my referred clients to learn a new skill, belief, or trait that they need to grow and flourish in life.
As you move into the referral relationship, take your time getting to know their product and services inside and out. Ask as many questions as you need to feel confident that this will be an outstanding partnership. Book multiple meetings. Learn about them. Develop the relationship. Brainstorm different ideas about how you can bring business to them through your current channels.
Once they check all of your boxes, you have to be a strong referral partner. Move forward with your first referral to them. It’s a demonstration of trust.
Before I refer, one of my favorite questions I ask a potential partner is, “How can I help you succeed?” This small question will give you insight into what their current struggles are. It will help you know if they need a client or someone else who can help them with their business.
Referrals don’t always have to be clients. They can be other connections to help them grow their business.
4. Nurture your referral relationships
Building relationships and nurturing them takes time, but it is 100% worth the effort.
The incredible thing about building up mutual referral funnels with partners is there is little-to-no marketing dollars to invest here. It requires time, but time invested in partnerships that help each other mutually succeed. You can build a huge portion of your marketing efforts around establishing a referral funnel and investing in the relationship.
I have one partner who helps people write non-fiction books. I went through her process and fell in love with it. She is outstanding. The program is fantastic, and it’s so easy to follow her system. Most of her authors need help in creating presentations to market their book. We have partnered and created a funnel. I know incredible people who should be writing their life stories, and she has outstanding authors who need help building their speaking skills. It became an easy win-win.
Once you have built your go-to referral community, determine a cadence of meeting.This is one of the simplest strategies to execute. It focuses on relationship building, serving others, and helping each other’s clients succeed beyond measure.
Remember that you are never alone. Finding your referral community and creating a cadence can lead you towards your most outstanding success.
I wish you incredible success as you hone in on your ideal customer in 2021. I am cheering loudly for you. I know you are going to uncover the next path to growth in your business.
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