Wednesday, August 7, 2013


"Hey, this stuff really works," said a recent email I received from a coaching client. "Why did I wait so long to do it?" He had been struggling with the most basic issue of marketing: how do you attract potential clients? Like many newcomers to business, his first ideas were all about advertising. He wanted to run ads online, post flyers, send mailings, and buy listings in online professional directories. He had a website, but no one was visiting.

When I suggested that the best way for him to attract clients in his specialty was not ads, but referrals, he was intrigued, but resistant. That would mean reaching out to influential people and having conversations with them about his work. He had a million questions and concerns. What if they didn't want to talk to him? What if they thought he wasn't good enough? What if they already knew plenty of other people to refer to? What if it didn't work?

Because developing a referral network seemed so far out of his comfort zone, he tried for some time to get clients in other ways: passing out his business card at random events, buying a couple of directory listings, designing a flyer, and mostly just hoping that somehow clients would find him. His results from these activities? Zero. He did manage to get two clients... both of who were referred to him by people he knew!

Finally, he agreed to try a referral-building approach. I helped him identify what categories of people would be good referral sources for him, then we strategized about how to best identify individuals who fit those categories. (I'm not mentioning my client's categories here to preserve his anonymity, but you can read more about this approach and see some examples in my article Wanted: 100 Referral Partners.)

My client thought he should look up people online who held the sort of positions his categories indicated, then contact them cold. No wonder this approach seemed so hard to him! I suggested that a much easier and more effective way was to either contact people in these categories who he already knew, or ask people he knew to introduce him to people like this.

Ah, but this entailed some risk. He would have to expose himself to the possibility of rejection from people he personally knew. What if they refused to help? Or didn't respond? Or asked him "who do you think you are?" It seemed safer somehow to contact strangers.

So we agreed he would begin by making ONE cold contact with a stranger, just to try out his approach. Together, we drafted an email, a phone script, and a letter that briefly summarized what he did and how his services might be helpful. He called a possible referral source he had found online, left his message on her voice mail, and the same day, sent her his prepared email.

She emailed him back immediately. "I'm not sure your services are a fit for my clients," she said. "But if you can tell me how they are, I'd be happy to speak with you." Wow, it seemed as if people might really be interested in talking to him. Perhaps this approach had some merit.

Encouraged by this first experience, he then contacted someone he already knew. She wrote back, "It's great to hear this is what you are doing now. Could you come speak to our group about it?" Whoa! He had been wondering for months how he would ever get to speak to audiences of potential clients. Now one email -- that didn't even ask about speaking -- had produced an invitation.

He reached out to another contact. The response: "Hey, this is a great list of resources you have on your website. I'm going to send a message about it to my professional network." Another out-of-the-blue offer that was far beyond what he was hoping for.

After exactly one week of using this approach, my client had two offers of speaking engagements, the names of a dozen new potential referral sources to contact, a message sent -- by someone else -- to 700 potential referral sources recommending his website as a resource, and three meetings set up with people who could potentially refer to him.

"I can't believe how simple this was," my client told me. "Or how complicated I was trying to make it."

What simple stuff have you been avoiding in your marketing? Where have you been making things harder than they really need to be? What is one simple step you could take today toward employing a marketing approach you may have been resisting?

The simple stuff DOES work, but only when you do it.

Copyright © 2013, C.J. Hayden

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