Every business owner faces the constant challenge of keeping the company profitable. Marketing campaigns, lead generation, and the like are tactics designed to attract new prospects to fill your client roster.
But getting the right introductions from trusted third-party sources is a much more powerful and sustainable way to land sales than savvy marketing techniques alone. With a few strategic referral requests from select individuals in your network, you can grow your business exponentially.
Let’s say you work with 10 clients. Each one provides you with enough referrals that you gain 10 new clients in a given year. Those first referrals generate 40 new clients, which lead to 160 new second-level clients and 640 third-level clients.
Businesses live and die on steady revenue streams and cash flows, so knowing when and how to solicit referrals will make all the difference in your company’s sustainability.
The Art of Asking for Referrals
You should always be tactful when asking for a favor, especially when you’re addressing a paying customer. But you also need to build a solid foundation of trust, position the request as mutually beneficial, and ask at an appropriate time.
When it comes to referrals, I like to think of the Aladdin principle: If you don’t ask, you don’t get. But, of course, asking the same person too often can backfire.
To navigate these sticky referral requests, start with these six steps:
1. Prep clients from the start.Let the client know that referrals are the lifeblood of your business up-front. Make it clear that you intend to ask him for one in the future, and explain why: You want others to benefit from your service in the same way he does. This will make him more alert when a suitable referral for you comes his way.
2. Reinforce the triple-win effect. Sure, referrals keep you in business, but they also boost the referrer’s credibility and give the person receiving the recommendation a valuable new resource: you. When you consistently point out the value to everyone involved (your referral source included), it creates a triple-win effect.
3. Ask for introductions. Once a project is underway and the client is pleased with your work, ask if he knows anyone who might be interested in the value you deliver. If he does, ask for introductions to those contacts. Make sure you’re getting introduced to the right people, though. If the contact isn’t a decision maker, it’ll likely be a waste of time.
4. Make it easy. Satisfied clients are usually eager to connect you with prospects, but they have other priorities, too. Suggest a recommended time frame for making an email introduction, or ask if you can use the client’s name when reaching out to a prospect you both know. This takes the burden off of the client.
5. Follow up at the end of the project. Suggest a few candidates your client knows who might also find value in your services, and ask if he’d be willing to introduce you.
6. Show your gratitude. Thank your referrers for their help, and keep them updated on how the new relationship is going. The referral system is built on strong relationships and shared value.
If you delight clients with your service, they’ll be happy to recommend you to others, especially when they stand to benefit in the process. Remind them how referrals have enhanced their own career development to reinforce the pay-it-forward mindset and inspire them to help you out.
When you put this referral system in place, you can steadily grow your client list with minimal effort and stress. As long as you manage expectations, make well-timed and consistent requests, maintain high-value relationships, and follow up, you can create an army of advocates spreading the word for you, which could be a real game changer in your overall success.
by Kelli Richards
Here are three reasons why referrals are so valuable:
Customers who refer are more likely to stay with you and as a result, spend more, adding to their lifetime value
Referrals are more likely to become customers. Why? Because they have been recommended to you by someone they trust and who in turn, trusts you.
Referrals who become clients are likely in turn to generate referrals because they understand the process.
What’s the best way to generate referrals?
You have to earn them! You have to treat your customers as friends. The result is that they will want to introduce you to people they know who in turn can do business with you.
It’s back to that Trust thing again isn’t it? By showing you care about them and about their lives, your level of trusts increase. Remember the three things Warren Buffet is reputed to think about before he does business with someone…
Do I like the?Do I respect them?
Can I trust them?
By taking the time to develop relationships, trust increases, as does the likelihood of referrals.
By delivering a high standard of service in an appropriate professional environment or fashion, you are demonstrating your professional competence. The combination of this and your capacity to develop relationship will in turn earn you the right to ask for referrals.
I guarantee that if you did nothing else but began asking your customers for referrals on a regular basis you would instantly see an increase in referrals coming into your business.
The best time to ask for a referral is when a customer gives you a compliment or expresses any kind of gratitude towards you or your business. Tell them that your purpose in asking is to build your business. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
In fact, a client who really likes you will actually feel honored that you have asked for their help.
Don’t be afraid to tell your clients whom they should be thinking of as referrals (i.e. people under a lot of stress, people who are health conscious, people in pain) – be specific. You get what you ask for!
OK, so now you’ve gained sufficient trust and respect to ask for referrals, what do you do when you start getting them?
Simple. Make a fuss of them by means of reward and recognition. Just as with children and dogs, rewarding good behavior makes certain that the behavior is rewarded!
Do it publicly, too. Create a Referral Recognition wall in your reception area. Put the names of people you’ve rewarded up there. Run a referral incentive program that rewards more for more referrals.
Remember we’re talking about the cost of client acquisition and retention here. Far better to pay for the client after they’ve spent than to gamble on attracting them!
With a Reward for Referral program, your costs are a fixed item for every new client, too, making budgeting far easier.
by James Yuille
Being a successful entrepreneur means you have to wear a lot of hats, especially when your company is just starting out and you don’t have enough employees to cover all the areas you need.
Learning the new skills necessary to start a new business can be expensive, but fortunately the initiative for free, high-quality, educational resources online has only continued to grow in the past few years. Below are some of the resources available to learn more about marketing, entrepreneurship, business management and more.
2. HubSpot Academy
The free certification program offers courses on inbound marketing, including website optimization, landing pages and lead nurturing. These skills are a must for business owners as they try to grow their business and online presence.
Related: 21 Resources to Make You a Better Entrepreneur
If you want to learn search-engine optimization to make sure your website is as visible as possible, check out this treasure trove of resources from SEO leader, Moz. Besides having the free Moz Academy, there are also webinars (live and recorded), and beginner’s guides to SEO, social media and link building.
The most successful entrepreneurs know how to manage their money both on a business and personal side. In addition to having extremely affordable finance classes, LearnVest also offers some of its classes for free, such as “Building Better Money Habits” and “How to Budget.”
5. Niche consultant courses
The Internet has made for a coaching boom, which is extremely helpful to entrepreneurs who want to learn how to start or better a business in a specific niche. Some great coaches and organizations that routinely have free courses and ebooks on building a business include Natalie MacNeil and MyOwnBusiness. Try searching “niche keyword” + “business course” to find one most applicable to you.
This free site currently has over 300 courses on a variety of topics, including “Financial Analysis and Decision Making” and “Entrepreneurship 101: Who is your customer?” These courses not only cover business in general, but can also you help learn more skills that are applicable to your industry, such as big data or environmental conservation.
7. Khan Academy
This free learning resource was created to give everyone access to education in math, science, art, technology and more. There are over 100,000 interactive exercises to put your education to practical use. Even though many of the courses are geared toward high school students, there are several courses that would be good for anyone to have a refresher on, such as taxes and accounting.
8. MIT Open Courseware
These are actual courses taught at MIT and offered for free on the site for viewing and reading at your discretion. The school put together an entrepreneurship page that lists available courses that are beneficial to new business owners. Courses include “Early State Capital” and “The Software Business.”
9. Kutztown University of Pennsylvania
This university has almost 100 free on-demand college courses that are extremely applicable to entrepreneurs, including ones that cover business planning, operations and management and small-business tax.
Related: Listen and Learn From These 9 Emerging Entrepreneurial Podcasters
Much like MIT’s Open Courseware, this site has 114 educational partners that provide free courses to almost 10 million users. One benefit to Coursera is that there are very specific courses that fit perfectly into particular niches, such as “Data Management for Clinical Research” from Vanderbilt University and “Innovation for Entrepreneurs: From Idea to Marketplace” from the University of Maryland. Its wide network of partners allows for a greater selection.
This site isn’t an educational platform on its own, but rather collects and shares free resources from around the web. Its list of 150 free online business courses is a great resource because it offers classes from iTunes U and other lessons on video and audio. The site also has lists of free audiobooks, certificate courses and other online courses.
It’s probably unsurprising to most users that YouTube is one of the world’s largest search engines, as there are literally videos on just about anything you can imagine. From TED talks to recorded presentations on building a business, it’s a great free resource on just about any topic.
This platform offers free online courses from some of the most well-known names on the internet today, including Google, Microsoft, and Macmillan. With over 4 million users and over 600 courses already, it covers topics such as economic literacy, personal development and business/enterprise skills.
The Saylor Foundation offers tuition-free courses and also works with accredited colleges and universities to offer affordable credentials. Its course offerings are similar to what you’d see when working toward a bachelor’s degree.
Even though it’s not an official course, podcasts are an amazing (and easily digestible) way to become a better entrepreneur. Podcasts can be listened to via streaming on your computer (if that certain podcast offers it) or via iTunes for iOS and apps such as Podcast Republic for Android. Podcasts such as Entrepreneur of Fire already garner thousands of listeners every episode and are a great way to learn the most up-to-date information and strategies possible. Another good list of entrepreneur podcasts include Think Entrepreneurship’s.
Whether you learn best by audio, video or text, this list of 15 learning resources for entrepreneurs can help you learn more about building a business, accounting and getting customers.
By Sujan Patel
If you see strange things in logos, your eyes don’t deceive you. Companies play tricks on us all the time. Can you point out FedEx’s award-hogging hidden arrow? How about Hershey’s sweet sideways “kiss”? Ever notice Gillette’s razor-sharp covert blade?
The use of subliminal imagery is old hat for big brands. When it comes to logos, the most common form is the manipulation of negative space to reinforce core brand themes and key products and services. The hope, though often refuted by psychologists, is that hidden visuals will keep brands forefront in our mind’s eye, all the way to the checkout.
Now, time for some eye spy fun. Set your eyes on the 40 crafty logos in infographic from U.K.-based gift card maker Oomph below to — pun incoming — “see” how skilled you are at detecting hidden imagery. If at first you don’t succeed, refer to the cheat sheet below each logo. We had to a few times.
By Kim Lachance Shandrow
“Success is not so much what we have as it is what we are.” –Jim Rohn
There’s no one secret to success, but it doesn’t happen by accident, either. Successful people work hard at themselves and their business. Importantly, they learn to stop hindering their efforts by avoiding these seven things:
1. Dwelling on regrets
Sure, it’s important to understand your mistakes and failures and learn from them. Dwelling on them, however, is a sure way to make yourself unable to move forward.
Stop looking back, and file those lessons you’ve learned. You’ll need them on your path to success.
2. Envying successful people
Look up to people who are successful in your space, whether in work or in life. Keep jealousy and envy in check.
Here’s what you should do: Emulate them. Analyze what they’ve done right and how you can use their teachings to propel you to success of your own. But beware the negativity that festers inside if you allow yourself to get envious–there’s a reason they call envy the green-eyed monster.
3. Surrounding themselves with turkeys
There’s an old saying a friend in college shared with me: You can’t soar like an eagle if you’re surrounded by a bunch of turkeys.
Avoid negative people, complainers, and those who suck the life out of you by taking without giving. It’s hard to move forward with your plans when you’re constantly bombarded by the negativity of people around you. Instead, surround yourself with successful, positive people.
4. Second-guessing themselves incessantly
It’s good to have a plan and to revisit it from time to time to ensure you’re on track. However, second-guessing and questioning every decision you make will keep you firmly in first gear, spinning your wheels.
Trust in your own experience and abilities. Remember all those lessons you learned and filed away? They’re driving your every decision, whether you realize it or not. Don’t become so paralyzed with overthinking and analysis that you can’t act on what you need to do to experience success.
5. Becoming complacent
It’s one thing to experience happiness and be content with yourself–that’s a really good thing. But don’t let yourself get so comfortable that you’re not hungry for change.
If you didn’t need to change anything, you would already be wildly successful. What you’re doing today can always be improved on and expanded.
Keep your hunger sharp and your drive strong. You can always afford to learn something new.
6. Talking the talk without taking the next steps
Again, having a plan is great, and it’s important that you have a clear vision of how it’s going to play out. If you find yourself constantly talking about the plan without making any meaningful achievements toward accomplishing it, you’re guilty of not walking your walk.
In business, we often have to talk a big game, but that can’t be all there is to it. Set clear, measurable goals to ensure you’re always moving forward.
7. Equating money with success
As much as we recite the old mantra “Money won’t buy you happiness,” most of us (especially in business) still default to money as the primary measure of success.
Whether you’re an entrepreneur or an employee, your revenue or salary can drive a lot of your feeling of self-worth–if you let it.
Focus instead on providing a great service, building a better product, inspiring others on your team. There are a million ways to measure success, but focusing on money as a metric is sure to bring a constant feeling that you’re less than worthy. That’s not a place from which to build a successful anything.
By Larry Kim
Admit it: Your presentation skills could use a few improvements.
Not convinced? Some in-person presentations have gone so poorly that participants say they’ve paid bills, shopped online and even fallen asleep in the midst of one, according to a survey of 1,400 customers at PGi, an online conferencing software company.
Here are some quick fixes:
1. Skip the preamble
Opening statements like these are counterproductive:
-Please forgive me
-I’m not very good in front of crowds
-I hate microphones
“Don’t apologize or come up with excuses for your ability (or lack thereof) as a speaker,” says Ryan Blair, author of the book “Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain” and co-founder ViSalus, a health and marketing company. “You’re alerting both your audience and yourself that you intend to fail, or at the best, you plan to be boring.”
2. Share your passion–in the first minute
“Show your audience within the first 60 seconds why they should trust in your dedication to the product and why they should believe in it as much as you do,” says Nick Sutton, a frequent presenter who co-founded Qmee, a rewards-based app.
3. Show, don’t tell
“If your product is visual, show it to them immediately,” says Sutton. “Don’t just talk about it.”
4. Incorporate a whiteboard
Visuals are recalled six times better than words alone, some research has found.
And when it comes to certain metrics–engagement, credibility, quality, recall and persuasive impact–a whiteboard in which graphics appear to be hand-drawn enhances a presentation’s effectiveness more than a traditional PowerPoint or Zen file with stock photography and bullet points. That’s true despite the fact that participants in a series of tests received the same information, based on research conducted by Zakary Tormala, an associate marketing professor at Stanford University, and sponsored by Corporate Visions, a marketing and sales messaging company.
5. Employ clear, simple visuals
Infographics, charts, photos and other visuals “should reinforce and complement your message,” says Todd Nienkerk, digital strategist and partner at Four Kitchens, a web design firm. “They should help you tell your story.”
“In some cases, your presentation will be based on the visuals themselves, especially if you’re dealing with screenshots, graphs, and data,” he adds. “These should be clear and simple, and you should use your spoken words to explain them–not text on the screen.”
6. Check your timer
Presentations that run 16 to 30 minutes are the ideal length, according to respondents to PGI’s survey. Fewer people prefer 1 to 15 minutes, or 31 to 45 minutes, and anything longer that seems to get tuned out by the majority of people.
7. Avoid these words
Um and uh, too much slang and certain buzzwords will make you seem like an immature speaker. “Most speakers should show a level of sophistication,” says Cherie Kerr, founder of ExecuProv, a presentation and communication skills training company. “Image is everything and you could blow a good impression, if not careful.”
8. Don’t fake eye contact
Look directly at the audience. “Don’t stare at the wall while presenting your PowerPoint,” says Kerr. “Once you turn away from the audience you have cut your connection with them. You then have to reconnect.”
Know what’s on the screen–without reading verbatim. “Not only will much of your audience find this annoying, it’s a good indication that you haven’t prepared properly–that you don’t know your material,” says Blair. “The key is for them to connect with you through your material.”
10. …but leave room for spontaneity
“Be trained and confident enough to go with the flow, whatever that may be,” says Kerr.
“Perhaps you have a heckler, perhaps the audience is tired, adversarial; they need to be convinced of an idea before being inspired to act on it,” adds Kerr. “Your job is to be able to keep your presentation fresh and interesting; your job is to entertain.”
Why is it we click with some people and not others? What if we could actually click with everyone we meet? What would it take?
Try these simple steps to instantly connect with anyone–and to build stronger relationships with the people who are already in your life:
Take a genuine interest.
Everyone–everyone–has something unique to offer. Find out what makes people who they are. Hear their story. Ask questions. Dig deep and connect.
Build on common ground.
At its most basic level, any relationship is built on some kind of common ground. When you meet someone, try to find something that connects you to similar backgrounds, values experiences. When you detect a pattern, a “Yeah, me too!” moment, connection is instantaneous.
“Smile and the whole world smiles with you.” Sure, it’s a cliche, but for good reason. A smile generates enthusiasm and interest; it communicates friendliness and goodwill; it shows you to be accessible and approachable. Smile when you speak to someone, as you walk into a room, and when you pick up the phone.
Notice how people introduce themselves and let that be your guide in addressing them. Remembering a person’s name is important, and using it occasionally in conversation creates connection and helps you remember.
Encourage people to talk.
The key to locking into any relationship is to invite someone to talk, and then listen. Most people are just waiting for the other person to finish so they can say their part. Listen and show interest, even if it means stretching your attention span.
Learn from everyone you meet.
Keep the focus on the other person. As a bonus, this prevents your being dragged into gossip. Stay focused on his or her interests; find something this person can teach you that will be useful or interesting to know.
Show up with enthusiasm.
People who live with passion find it easier to connect with others. Knowing what you really care about and why lets you tap into your own enthusiasm. Upbeat people are inherently likable, and those who radiate enthusiasm tend to click with others.
Make others feel important.
Use your words and attitude to create a spotlight. Let the person you’re speaking with know he or she is important, and important to you, by the way you talk. Let the sound of your voice be energized. Ask for input. Ask for advice. Ask for help. Ask for insight. Ask for experience. All of these invitations tell the person, “I find you important.”
Look for the good.
Be generous with others; look for points of agreement and places where you can affirm or reinforce what they’re saying. Speak patiently and with care, and those around you will feel heard and appreciated.
Treat others as you want to be treated.
As often as we’ve heard this, it’s still easy to forget to do it from time to time. Don’t overthink or complicate it: The power is in the simplicity.
Connecting with others does not take much. It is truly simple. Just be mindful, thoughtful, and genuinely interested.
Offer an honest compliment or your authentic appreciation. There’s always something to appreciate about almost anyone.
Maybe it’s nothing more than being genuine, as simple as being a leader–or a person–who cares, because when you care, you’ll instantly click with everyone you meet.
By: Lolly Daskal
If you ask 10 entrepreneurs to tell you the key to business success, you’re likely to get 10 different answers. I’m sure one would say product innovation, and while that’s definitely a significant factor, it’s not the right answer. And, yes, there is a right answer.
The key to business success is winning and keeping customers. And the key to winning and keeping customers is, and has always been, relationships. The world’s greatest business experts – Peter Drucker, Mark McCormack, Regis McKenna and others – have all said the same thing in one way or another.
Unfortunately, you, my friends, have all been sold a bill of goods. You’ve been told that spending your time building your personal brand, growing your social media network, improving your productivity, identifying and enhancing your strengths, and engaging your employees, among other things, will make you successful. They won’t.
No matter what you do for a living or aspire to become, none of those fads du jour will have a material impact on how things turn out for you or your business. But building real relationships with real people in the real world will. Not convinced? Here’s why relationships are the key to business success:
Your most important asset is your network – not your virtual network, your real one. Every successful executive and entrepreneur will tell you, their most important asset is their network, and they don’t mean social network. They mean people they actually know and work with in real time because they’re the ones that actually get things done. One real relationship in the real world is worth more than 10,000 social media links, likes or followers.
Sales transactions are between two real human beings. Even with ecommerce, most sales transactions are still between two human beings. Think about it. Every significant B2C and B2B transaction involves a buyer and a seller, not to mention all the channel development and pre- and post-sales support. And the best product doesn’t necessarily win. Buyer behavior is mostly subjective and relationships are a big factor. In a service business, they’re the biggest factor, hands down.
When opportunity knocks, it’s always a person knocking … and answering. As much as we like to fantasize about opportunities just falling in our laps, the truth is, that never happens. Of the thousands of career and business opportunities I’ve been involved with over the past 30 years, every single one involved a real relationship. Every job, every piece of advice, every business deal, every vendor relationship – there’s that word – every single one.
So what does all this mean? It means there’s a good chance you’re wasting precious time, even years of peak earning potential, focusing on the wrong things to build your career and grow your business. I learned that lesson the hard way.
Ten years into my engineering management career, I thought I had everything going for me. I was young, I was smart, and I worked hard, but it was all about the job, the product. And you know what? I wasn’t really going anywhere. Until one day, some guy changed my life by talking me into making the transition to sales and marketing.
It took a while to learn the skills that would ultimately make me a senior executive in the high-tech industry and then, a successful management consultant, but I can attribute everything good that happened to me over the next 20 years to that fateful day and the relationships I’ve built since.
Which reminds me of a time, long ago. I was working at home and had just gotten off the phone and looked up to find my wife standing in the doorway. She looked at me in a sort of circumspect way and said, “Aren’t you supposed to be working?”
“I am working,” I replied.
“No you’re not,” she said, “You’re just BS-ing.”
I said, “That’s right. That’s my job.”
Back then, she didn’t get it, but now she does. It’s just like watching grass grow. You can’t see anything happening but one day you wake up to a beautiful lawn. Building relationships and a successful business career is just like that. Call it a leap of faith or delayed gratification if you want. All I know is, it works.
by: Steve Tobak
There is no shortage of advice for visionaries, entrepreneurs and managers who want to start something. And there’s plenty of conventional wisdom to help you know when it is time to call it quits and move on.
But where are the resources for the times when you might really need the help — when that startup or project bogs down and you’re stuck in the middle?
The grueling middle ground crops up when what was new and exciting starts to feel stale, when the annoying habits of collaborators begin to outshine their potential contributions and when good ideas to get things done stop flowing. These cloudy days cause a person to question the value of the pursuit and the chance at success.
Whether you’re completely stalled out or just limping toward the finish line with no purpose and pace, here are six strategies to help you jump-start your progress.
1. Elevate the honesty.
Sometimes a new level of truth telling is the medicine you need. In your own internal considerations and in dialogue with others, sharpen the language used and identify the types of observations that might be hard to hear but needed.
Always separate the person from the problem to avoid unnecessary bruises and gain the courage for healthy confrontation from Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull‘s warning: “Lack of candor leads to dysfunctional environments.”
2. Drop something heavy.
The motivational drain from a nagging, unfinished task can spread like wildfire to other areas. If you’re carrying around dead weight that’s not essential, set it aside or drop it altogether. This will clear out the bottleneck and free your capacity for handling other vital pursuits.
You can always return to this activity when you regain momentum, but the freedom from the initial release can be the bump in energy you need to get going again.
3. Return to the core.
Think about this: Why did you take on the initiative in the first place? If you don’t have a compelling answer to this question, then it’s no wonder you’re all turned around.
Returning to the fundamental cause or inspiration can shake off rust and complacency. So before you abandon an effort, revisit the essential reasons and rally yourself around them to get going again.
4. Seek outside perspectives.
A fresh perspective can reveal some missing insight. To leverage these useful vantage points, sometimes you have to go outside your circle.
While it’s counterintuitive, competitors often make the best thought partners. If you can bring diverse stakeholders together and ask the right questions, then finding the answers can be easy. With a new perspective you can create what regarded Wharton professor Katherine Milkman has called the fresh-start effect — a virtual clean slate that eliminates what got you stuck in the first place.
5. Shuffle the deck.
When you are stuck in the middle, sometimes you just need to change things up. Whether rotating team members, making subtle shifts in roles or adjusting the flow of how work gets done, fix the mix to escape the funk. The inertia of what isn’t working will carry on until you disrupt that status quo. So a quick shuffle of the deck can be the jump-start you need.
6. Tap champions.
When you’re stuck in the middle, look for support from people who have been where you’re going. You can gain traction through listening to their stories and insights about the very same things that hold you back. To tap into the wisdom of your champions, reach out and boldly ask for what you need. Once you connect, absorb their experience to make them your own so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
What you’re doing right now might have been right for yesterday, but if you’re stuck in the middle, then you need to do something different today. You do not have to implement all six of these strategies to get moving. Just pick one and it can jump-start your progress.
Once you start moving, the critical momentum shift actually lies with something internal. Changing your inner outlook from “stuck in the middle” to simply “not there yet” fortifies what innovative researcher and psychologist Carol Dweck has described as the growth mindset, which is the key ingredient for channeling persistent effort into achievement.
by: Jesse Sostrin