Gaining Referrals

Few experienced solo and small office professionals need to be reminded about the importance of referrals for maintaining a constant, if not increasing, flow of clients. For starters, referrals are relatively inexpensive. Requiring little in the way of time or money. More importantly, referrals bring a level of trust and enthusiasm. Someone that the potential new client knows has convinced them that the company’s products or services are worthwhile, so much of the barrier to a relationship is already reduced. In fact, in many cases the client may be begging to get started for whatever is being sold. While a potential sale may only close 10% of the time through traditional channels, it is not uncommon for referrals to close well over 50% of the time, if not higher.

None of that, however, goes to answer the question of how to get referrals. Some may be inclined to think that because referrals have to come from a client that they are nothing to be counted upon in the standard revenue stream. In fact, the opposite is very much the truth. With a few simple adjustments, any company can take the good work it is already producing for its clients and magnify it across the market.

While it may go without saying, the most important step in building the number of referrals that a company receives is to do good work. No one wants someone to come to their restaurant and spread that the food is just alright. Perhaps worse, no one wants a customer who is going to suggest that service is lacking. To achieve a large number of referrals, the company must offer something that causes people to want to talk about it.

Equally important, a company should have a process in place to encourage its clients to offer referrals. Depending on the nature of the company and the products offered, that could take on a variety of different forms.

At the most basic level, getting referrals is about asking for them. After a client has received a number of deliverables that are at a high enough standard, ask them to send potential prospects to the company. Feel free to incentivize this for the existing clients. For example, TV providers often offer existing clients a small bill credit for each new customer that signs a contract for service. The existing client gets a lower bill while the company gets a new client, meaning that everyone wins.

While it certainly helps for the referral program to be systematized like the cable TV referrals, it is not a firm requirement. An accountant working with a firm could simply ask the managing partner if he or she knows anyone else who would be able to use their services and if the client would be willing to put the two in touch.

Taken to the extreme, this could include affiliate programs, which offer a percentage of the new client’s fees as a reward for the referrer. However, this require some amount of caution. For a referral to be truly effective, it is essential that the potential new client understand that the referral is made with their best interests at heart, not the promise of monetary gain. After all, which would be more trustworthy, a website offering an affiliate link to a product, or a social media post from a friend to the same product in question? Chances are that it is the social media post.

Speaking of social media, it can create meaningful ways to achieve referrals, especially for those companies that market directly to consumers. A number of fast food places use this to their advantage, creating hashtags that allow their current customers to post about their experiences with the company’s product. Few people ever click on a sponsored hashtag to see how complete strangers enjoy a cup of coffee. However, it does offer a way for the customer to feel that they are helping the company – though it lacks the formality of a letter of introduction, it is a referral all the same.

Clearly, there are a number of ways to ask for referrals overtly, whether it is simply approaching the project manager or appealing to the masses via social media. However, not every company or professional will feel comfortable giving referrals. For many, there could be corporate regulations that stand in the way. For others, it may be something as simple as not wanting to endorse one vendor’s work as being better than the others. In these cases, it may be worthwhile to take a slightly different approach. Press releases which announce the completion of a project or milestone highlight the fact that two or more organizations have collaborated, and do not inherently create a referral. That said, many of the advantages are there, especially the ability to refer back to a bond and the inherent trust present.

Luckily, most companies are easy going when it comes to gaining referrals, as they see it as an opportunity to pay it forward. Speaking of which, giving referrals should be an essential portion of any plan to get referrals. By supporting a client’s business through referrals, there is not only an opportunity to help out a colleague, but also to see their practice grow. An accountant who refers people to a lawyer will see the lawyer do more billing, which means more finances to be tracked, which in turn means more work for the accountant.

Of course, referrals should be given freely when there is no promise for such direct financial return. In doing so, a relationship mentality is built between the firm and the client. This in turn serves two purposes. The client sees the firm as more of a partner than a vendor, making them more willing to pay higher prices, if necessary. Additionally, because the client views the firm in such a good light, it will see the firm’s continued success as linked to its own.

This idea of a partnership for the purpose of gaining referrals and encouraging other businesses is very much the reason behind a number of professional groups, as companies often have something to offer those who are not their regular clients. Even networking in a less formal setting can enable someone to refer a potential client as a friend rather than just as another ad off of the Internet. At their best, these professional groups become hives of referral swapping, with each member dedicated not only to his or her own success, but that of the other members of the group.

No matter how a company comes about its referrals, there are a few tips that are necessary to make the most of them. First and foremost, it is vital to thank those who offer referrals, no matter what the final outcome may be. The fastest way to lose a source of referrals is to take it for granted – after all, referrals do not come from employees, but instead those who are going out of their way to help another company.

Second, high standards must be kept for both new and existing clients. New clients are the most likely to offer new referrals, but having a long-time client suddenly drop a product or service, or worse yet, explain to others their disgruntlement can be especially damaging.

Finally, the worst time to go finding referrals is when they are needed most for the survival of the business. If a company is in such dire straits, it is best to look at the circumstances that caused the downturn in business. If it was a loss of quality, as is often the case, potential remedies should be examined first. If the loss of profits was caused by something else, then those causes should be identified and mitigated to the best of the firm’s abilities. In the long run, attending to such concerns will help make sure that any new referrals are given the attention needed to become new referees themselves.

Ramping up Your Authority Online – Content Marketing

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Content Marketing TipsContent Marketing is somewhat of a buzzword today. Despite the fact that it is essentially the backbone of the Internet as we know it. Without content that has populated the early days of the web, in the form of content, we would not have what is freely available today.

Using content offers you the ability to increase your perceived authority online. Regardless of whether you are a solo blogger, entrepreneur or top level executive.

As Steve Olenski quite rightly points out:

But this is where content marketing comes in. It lets you go beyond simply promoting your products or services. Instead, you provide targeted content that your audience actually wants to read and share.

Unfortunately, I’m still seeing many e-commerce businesses that think content marketing simply means having a blog. And while a blog is a great start, content marketing mastery requires much more than a handful of blog posts.

Source: http://marketingland.com/master-content-marketing-e-commerce-company-183585

Before embarking on a content marketing journey, it is crucial that you understand what content should be created. Equally important is your targetted reader, which is ultimately described as your “ideal prospect/client”

A resource provided by Moz.com, located here, provides excellent ideas into various types of content. We recommended watching the video on that page too. In short and as provided by Moz, the following provide an overview of the types of content:

  • Blogs
  • Data
  • Pictures
  • Video
  • Interactive Content

Source: https://moz.com/academy/content-creation

Content Marketing Challenges

Of course there are challenges that are associated to content marketing. The Content Marketing Institute (an excellent resource: http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/) posted this video on Youtube which we have embedded below for your benefit:

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Becoming a Thought Leader Using Education-Based Marketing

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By providing your target audience with education materials that highlight your skills and industry knowledge, you can quickly establish a reputation for yourself as an industry leader for you particular niche. Depending on the particular target market that you want to serve, this type of practice marketing campaign is probably far easier to get off the ground than you might think. After all, the heart of every successful education-based marketing campaign is simply the desire to help your readers become as informed and knowledgeable as possible.

Identify an Education Gap in Your Niche and Fill It

Unless you are working in a very narrow niche without many direct competitors, the chances are that there already plenty of practice marketing websites out there covering the basics of your profession. The last thing that you want to do is jump on a bandwagon that is already full. Take some time to find a topic or service that virtually no one is covering but everybody is curious about. Once you’ve found the right opportunity, do everything you can to promote yourself as the leading authority on the topic by getting the word out there about what you have to say.

Share Your Opinion

As an thought leader for your niche, you want to provide your audience with more than just objective information that they could find elsewhere with a little effort. By taking a side on the important issues of the day for your professional services niche, potential clients and colleagues alike will come to rely on you for an informed opinion to guide them in their decision making process.

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Traditional SEO vs Education Based Marketing

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If you are like most professional service practitioners, your primary concerns are providing your existing clients with the service they need while continuing to grow your practice. Although we all know that online marketing has become a major component of any successful practice marketing campaign, most of us feel more than a little overwhelmed when it comes to getting our sites to rank well with the major search engines. From link building and keyword research to structuring internal links and code enhancement, traditional search engine optimization (SEO) is an bottomless rabbit hole that can quickly turn into a full time job.

Thankfully, there’s one SEO element that remains more important than any other and requires zero technical training: content. By making education-based marketing the center of your online practice marketing campaign, you can position yourself as an industry thought leader and attract new potential clients while watching your site rise up the search engine results pages.

In a nutshell, education-based marketing is based on the concept of sharing your specific industry knowledge and experience freely with your target market in order to attract potential clients to your practice. For example, a dental practice that specializes in cosmetic dentistry might offer a significant amount of educational content in the form of articles, photos and videos that document the methods and benefits of their top procedures. Combined with a little local search marketing, our fictional dental practice would attract considerably more business than their competitors based simply on the educational content they provide potential clients.

Education-based marketing works well in today’s practice marketing environment because it establishes your practice as being experienced and knowledgeable with a sincere interest in the best interests of your clients. Heavy handed marketing strategies like snappy advertisements or sales driven web content simply don’t work when your addressing a market that is over-saturated in marketing gimmicks. Providing your target market with the answers they need does.

In many professional service industries, there has been a tradition of holding one’s cards close to one’s chest in terms of the knowledge and training that puts a practice ahead of its competitors. Today, that trend has completely reversed, and the most successful businesses in many niches are those that generously share their industry knowledge as freely as possible. By educating potential clients and providing them with answers to their questions ahead of time, you will position your practice to be as the first name that comes to mind when they are ready to invest in your services.

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The Basics of Local Search Marketing

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Unless you are marketing your professional service to a global or nationwide audience, the chances are that your online presence has always been focused on attracting clients within a particular geographic region. The purpose of local search marketing is simply to refine your existing campaign so that potential clients see your business at the top of the list when they are searching for professionals in their area. In order to stay ahead of the competition and earn top placement in local search results for your profession, there are two local search marketing techniques that you need to put into place:

  • Optimize your online presence for relevant local search queries
  • Promote your site effectively on the local listing centers of the three major search engines

Despite the fact that most professional service firms are well aware of the fact that they are relying on local clients for the majority of their business, all too many firms do not know how to properly incorporate local SEO strategies into their marketing campaign. No matter what type of service you happen to offer, the truth of the matter is that most people prefer to do business with professionals that they can meet with face to face. As a result, most potential clients will begin searching for practices in their area that offer the services that they need once they have done the necessary research to know what it is that they want. The key to effective local search marketing is knowing how to make yourself visible at the moment that your neighbors are ready to act.

When it comes to your actual website, there are a few simple techniques that we will discuss in further detail in the second module of today’s lesson. The first step is isolating the perfect keyword phrases that will let you stand out from your local competitors in the eyes of the major search engines. While it takes a little bit of experience in researching keywords to know how to spot the right opportunities, incorporating the right long tail keywords into your site’s content and meta data will always pay off in the long run. At the same time, building a solid network of links from local sources is a time proven method of increasing your site’s authority and improving your placement in local search results.

The other side of local search marketing is learning how to create, manage and promote your practice’s listing with the major search engines. Google, Bing and Yahoo each have their own approach to listing businesses and services in their local search results, and there are a few ways to make your listing stand out by understanding what each search engine is looking for. Each of the big three search engines offer opportunities for businesses to list themselves for free, and even spending an hour or two ensuring that your listing is accurate and up to date can increase local traffic to your site. At the same time, there also opportunities for promoting your site through taking advantage of pay-per-click or flat fee advertisements that can be very effective if you know how to use them properly.

As search engines continue to make the transition towards more personalized search results, knowing how to put the right local search strategies into place for your professional service practice are becoming more important than ever. Traditional SEO practices and high quality content may continue to be at the forefront of your online marketing efforts, but local content marketing is now an essential component of ensuring that your practice’s message is reaching the right potential clients at the right time.

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The Value of Gratitude in Practice Marketing and Referrals

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With all of the attention that we give towards referral generation as practice marketing professionals, it’s easy to forgive that it’s sometimes the little things like a simple thank you that matter most. Putting aside the marketing idea of the month for a moment, let’s take a moment to discuss the role that gratitude plays in the generation of high quality referrals from the most important contacts in your professional network.Yes, it’s true that most professionals love to give referrals to the services and businesses that have gone the extra mile in meeting their goals.

However, the truth of the matter is that showing a little appreciation for the people who are actively promoting your business can go a long way to greasing the wheels of your referral engine.Even a token as simple a card or a quick phone call thanking someone for giving out a referral for your business will encourage your contacts to be on the look out for other opportunities to spread the word. Many organizations go a step further by actively encouraging their network to provide them with referrals by rewarding them thank you dinners, reciprocal referrals and other tokens of appreciation.

However you choose to show your colleagues how much their support means to you, don’t make the mistake of letting opportunities to boost your referral engine slip through the cracks due to oversight. Keep an organized record of which of your contacts are actively providing you with referrals and be sure that you are following up with them with a kind comment. These records can also be a great way of tracking opportunities for improving your referral engine, such as a very promising contact that has not generated the opportunities for growth that you may have expected.

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Education-Based Marketing Ideas for the Real World

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When most practice marketing professionals talk about education-based marketing these days, they are usually referring to online marketing campaigns for professional service practices focused on content in the form of websites, blogs, video, podcasts and more.

The fact of the matter, however, is that this form of practice marketing has been with us far longer than modern modes of communication. Before the advent of the digital age, professionals had to rely on real world forms of marketing in order to educate potential clients about how their services can improve their lives through items like promotional products, books and live seminars.

Today, a growing number of marketing professionals have been rediscovering the value of education-based marketing campaigns set in a real world environment. Take a look at these examples of how modern practitioners are taking advantage of old school marketing techniques and ask yourself whether any of these ideas could work for your company.

  • Memorable Promotional Products for Private Practices: From personalized toothbrushes promoting your dental practice to stress balls from life coaches, simple and affordable promotional products are still used in practice marketing for good reason: they work.
  • Free Educational Seminars Based on Your Professional Services: As much of an impact as online communication has had on how we learn and make new business connections, the truth of the matter is that nothing can approach the impact of a live presentation. By offering free seminars to your target market with just-in-time information that will improve the lives of your audience, you’ll be at the top of the list when they need the niche professional services that they know you specialize in.
  • Educational Brochures and Pamphlets: Whether you are promoting a dental practice or an accounting firm, you have knowledge and experience that your potential clients want to have quick, easy access to. By putting a little time and energy into some educational brochures and pamphlets for your practice marketing niche, you’ll establish yourself as an important resource and thought leader amongst your most important potential clients.

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Avoiding the Social Media Marketing Time Suck

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social media marketingThe results are in. As an increasing number of professional services practices examine their social media conversion rates, they’re finding that this form of practice marketing delivers where it matters most and creates new business opportunities. They’re also finding something else: they’re spending way too much time on it.

The dreaded social media time suck has given comedy writers more fodder than a wet, hot, American sex scandal and wasted more time than Monday morning meetings. Let’s talk about how you can get what you want out of social media and practice marketing without draining your resources.

    • Commit to a Set Social Media Marketing Schedule: In some ways, social media marketing can turn into a time drain for the same reason email has created a reputation for tying up resources in so many resources. You know the score. Email box gets checked like an OCD patient’s stove top until you break the habit of bringing it up with every second habit. Multiply that across three or four bustling social media platforms, and you’ve got yourself a problem. Draw a line in the sand for your social media marketing campaign by setting a schedule to only update your accounts on certain days and times.

  • Pre-schedule Your Practice Marketing Updates with Third Party Apps: Third party apps like HootSuite, Seesmic and Tweetdeck all have features that allow you set scheduled posts to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for days or even weeks in advance. The learning curve on these apps is really very short, and using a single app for all of your social media marketing campaigns. I prefer to use Tweetdeck, partly just out of habit, but many professionals find that the additional features offered by HootSuite are a better fit for their needs.
  • Focus on Practice Marketing Campaigns that are Actually Effective: As obvious as it might sound to simply drop accounts that are obviously not delivering results, the truth of the matter is that we are creatures of habit and often slow to cut the cord. If you are obviously not getting any traction with a particular account or platform after 30 days, it’s time to either rework your approach or just move onto greener pastures.

With a little bit of focus and self control, it’s easy to keep all of your accounts updated and active without disappearing into a social media black hole. At any rate, please note that PracticeMarketing.org is a proud member of the Power Practice network. For a limited time, we’re allowing a free subscription the networks Success Tools program, which provides practice marketing professionals with a wide variety of short, timely articles and instruments to help you build your business. Take a moment to sign up now in the field provided above.

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