What’s the best way to gain a new customer? Many smart business people will say through a referral. Referral business is great business because you have been pre-qualified, vetted by the person referring you. Referral business is not guaranteed business but it does allow you to skip several steps in the courtship process.
Here is a big secret of the Internet and social media: The Internet is the biggest referral network ever. Everyone on the net is a potential referral. In fact, what is a retweet on Twitter? It is a referral. Someone is rebroadcasting your message to all of their friends, a tacit approval. The same goes for a Like on Facebook. We are connected 24/7 to our network of friends online and are continually sharing things with them. Traditionally referrals are a word of mouth action and what is the Internet but the largest word of mouth mechanism in existence.
Some people like to poo poo LinkedIn as a place where desperate people look for jobs. I think it’s more than that. Among other things, LinkedIn was created to be a professional referral network and used the right way, I think it still is a good place for that. Don’t underestimate LinkedIn. It’s still the only social network that has not lost it’s focus on business and business professionals.
Another very powerful referral network is Yelp. Yelp provides a guide to local businesses, but more important, ratings and reviews by it’s users. I have found the reviews to be surprisingly well written and honest. I also have worked with clients in the past that have seen very good results from their Yelp listings. If you are not already asking your customers to review you on Yelp, you are missing out on a great opportunity. Also, remember Yelp is integrated into the iPhone and it’s Siri assistant.
Possibly the most powerful referral network is Angie’s List. For around $5/mo you get access to a list of local businesses across a wide variety of categories. The ratings and reviews are even more detailed than Yelp and Angie’s List gives awards to businesses with consistently high ratings for the year. For a long time I resisted Angie’s List because of the cost, but I have been a member for a few years now and I can tell you it’s worth it. Especially for finding plumbers and specialty contractors, it’s far better than Yelp. The money and aggravation I have saved in finding good people right out of the gate has been well worth the cost.
Something to keep in mind when creating content. You are not only trying to sell. You are making an impression on everyone else, who may turn into a nice referral later.