The real power of word-of-mouth referral networks

As most solopreneurs learn, the most powerful and effective way to attract good clients is through a strong word-of-mouth referral network. Using techniques like marketing vignettes to help people describe us in the most effective way possible, we can connect with far more prospective clients than traditional advertising and marketing. Recently, Marcy Phelps (Marcy Phelps & Associates) and I were talking about the importance of word-of-mouth referrals and she reminded me that her word-of-mouth network is good for more than just getting new clients.

Marcy told me about a virtual meeting of the Professional Private Investigators Association of Colorado she attended last year in which she mentioned that she was moving to North Carolina soon. The next day, she received an email from someone who was a leader of the association and was familiar with Marcy through her participation in both local and national meetings. He commented that it is fairly difficult to get a private investigator’s license in North Carolina, and he introduced her to a member of the local PI community in North Carolina, suggesting he might be able to provide useful advice. This contact has turned out to be immeasurably helpful as Marcy works her way through the challenging process of getting her license, with advice on who to contact, what to watch out for, and how to speed up the typically glacial pace of the license application review and approval process.

As Marcy noted, this invaluable help was possible because of the genuine connection she had with the association leader in Colorado. It wasn’t just a matter of having her name in a membership directory. He knew who she was because she regularly participated in and contributed to association events. Leaders and influencers notice members who are engaged and invested in an association, and they use their network to help out members who have been generous with their time and talent.

Marcy reminded me of a book that has informed her business for over 20 years now, Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty: The Only Networking Book You’ll Ever Need by Harvey Mackay. The focus of the book, now out of print, is the importance of building rich relationships with lots of people—not just the ones you think are likely to help you in the short term, and not just at the level of exchanging business cards and connecting on social media, but genuine connections that you continue to feed over time.

Marcy and I both noted the difference between the leads who have contacted us because we were listed in a directory and those who have been referred to us through our network. The former tend not to be a good fit, as most solopreneurs have specialized businesses and most directory-sourced inquiries are out of our specialized area. Contacts from our network, on the other hand, always get our attention. Whether it’s a referral of a possible client, a request for a pointer to an expert, or an open-ended question, we prioritize these contacts because we value the relationship we have with the other person. As Marcy noted, “I never would have anticipated needing a North Carolina PI license when I was active in the PPIAC. It’s important to just build your network as a great way to connect with good people, and the other benefits will follow.”

Both Marcy and I are active in the Association of Independent Information Professionals in addition to associations our clients belong to. What associations have you found helpful in building your solopreneur network?


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