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5 ways to leverage your network to reach prospective clients & generate word-of-mouth

Business

5 ways to leverage your network to reach prospective clients & generate word-of-mouth

31 May 2022 · 4 min read

When you’re first starting your business, everything’s a risk. You’re asking new clients, hires, and vendors to take a chance on you. It’s easier for people to take this leap of faith when they have a history with you, or you come highly recommended by someone they trust.

During this tenuous period, all those relationships you’ve nurtured over the years can pay off, whether they help you find your first clients, offer constructive feedback on your value proposition, connect you to your first employee, or provide mentorship.

In this post, we’ll share five ways to maximize the value of your existing network, including spreading the word about your business, generating referrals, and finding the best people to work with. We’ll also go over how to pull it all together with an online presence that boosts your credibility.

1. Find your first client

Whether or not your company’s first client is someone you already know, tapping your existing network may lead you to them. Tell everyone — your friends, family, former colleagues, alumni association — that you just started your business, the services you’re offering, and the type of client you’re targeting. Do they know anyone who might be a good fit? If not, would they be willing to share about your business on LinkedIn or Facebook?

Stacey Danheiser, a B12 customer and the founder/CMO of SHAKE Marketing Group, found her first clients by going through her résumé. She contacted former employers, letting them know she started her own marketing firm and wanted them to be among her initial clientele, and they agreed.

Another B12 customer, Julliana Reyes, a co-founder and attorney at Bailey Reyes Law Firm, took the same approach. She mined her networks, letting people know that she’d just started a firm. Her established relationships resulted in three clients from her previous corporate firm switching their business to Bailey Reyes.

Acquiring your first client is a major milestone, and once you have one, others will come!

2. Get referrals

82% of small businesses say referrals are their main source of new business. It makes sense, when you’re small or just starting, you probably won’t have the marketing budget or time to invest in ads and hours of cold emailing. The best thing about referrals: They don’t cost you any money! For longtime B12 customer, Cormac Reid, the founder and CEO of ROCTEL Telecommunications, referrals accounted for nearly 50% of the company’s client base for the first decade they were in business.

Once you have your first few clients, don’t be afraid to ask them if they know anyone else who’d benefit from working with you. Mention it at the end of an email, after they’ve paid an invoice, or on your website. You’re more likely to generate referrals if you offer some incentive, whether a discount on their next service or a small commission. If someone your client refers ends up working with you, be intentional about sending your client a heartfelt thank you.

You never know who you’ll reach through networking, referrals, and old-fashioned word of mouth. Cormac spent the early days of ROCTEL getting the brand out there as much as possible. As he put it: “Ultimately, you land a big client because you create your own luck. It was because of the hustle and conversations you have with people. Eventually, you keep knocking enough, something comes your way.”

3. Accumulate reviews

Reviews play a significant role in how prospective clients perceive you. They’re looking for social proof that you’re a credible business that other people enjoyed working with. If someone is researching your company as a possible service provider, and you have virtually no online reputation or a bad one,  they’ll probably turn to another firm.

A great tip from Julianna is to ask not only clients for reviews, but also anyone who has a positive consultation experience with you. Even if you aren’t the right fit for them now, they might still be impressed by you. She says, “Even when someone consults with me and does not necessarily want to hire me, I still ask them at the end of the consultation, ‘If your experience was good, will you leave me a positive review? You found me on Google and perhaps other people are also looking there.’”

4. Make early hires

In the early stages of your business, you likely won’t be able to offer employees the highest salary, 401k matching, or the best vacation policy. And you’re going to need someone ready to work very hard and passionate about what you do.

Since you can’t promise your small business’ first hire anything concrete, you may have the best luck hiring someone you already know. They’ll join your company because it’s an exciting opportunity for them, built mainly based on seeing you as a person they believe in and can learn from. ROCTEL’s first employee was someone Cormac worked with previously, who he knew would work hard and he’d work well with.

5. Receive feedback and advice

Being a business owner is isolating. You have so many decisions to make, hats to wear, and it’s natural to feel unsure at times. If you have someone in your network who’s willing to act as your mentor, they can counsel you through tough decisions, help you avoid common mistakes, and offer moral support.

Client-wise, not everyone will take the time to leave you a review or refer you to their networks, but many are willing to take a short survey. Creating a quick client satisfaction survey will help you better understand why a client chose you, what they thought of your service offerings, and ways they think you can improve.

Give your network a destination

Even when she started SHAKE Marketing Group, Stacey recognized the importance of launching a website and filling it with engaging content. She says, “one of the reasons websites are so important for small businesses is that it impacts the way your customers or prospective customers think about you. I wanted to appear like a bigger company than I was, not just somebody trying to figure this all out.”

So while you may be able to find your first client or employee before you’ve launched a website, it won’t be long before you’ll need one to look credible and expand your growth. A professional-looking online presence lets potential clients learn more about your services, expertise, pricing, and find ways to contact you. When you ask for referrals, it’s much easier for people to simply send a link to their network than explain what you do.

Referrals and recommendations are more convinced to work with you when they Google you and find a legitimate website. Given your long list of responsibilities and limited time to set up a site from scratch, an all-in-one online commerce platform like B12 can get you up and running in only 30 days with most of the work done for you by designers, copywriters, and SEO specialists.

Once you convert prospects to clients, B12 has tools that let you stay on top of your network more effortlessly, including email marketing and automated emails for forms and payments. It’s easier to serve clients more consistently and quickly when all stages of their journey are in one place, including your website, scheduling, invoicing, contracts, SEO, and more.

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