How I built a referral-based business
It isn't hard to hear someone yell.. that's why no one's straining to listen. But our human nature says, when someone whispers, you should lean in.
A friend once told me that in China, your credit isn’t checked when you want a loan for something. Instead, they operate exclusively on social credit.. So your social standing in your community (i.e. coworkers, neighbors, housekeeper, etc.) tells your potential lender whether you’re a good business decision or not. If lending to you turns out to be a bad business decision, whoever vouched for you loses their credibility.
While it won’t work for us Americans, it’s something to think about when improving your client list.
As a business owner, I can’t help but notice how other companies market themselves. And most of the time, it looks like a whole lot of yelling. They seem to spend 3/4 of the time shamelessly promoting themselves, and 1/4 of their time doing the actual work.
The end result? 3/4 of their customers aren’t a good fit, and the remaining 1/4 are. But it won’t matter, because the ones who aren’t a good fit will require twice as much energy to fulfill their bottom line than the ones who are (easier). So these non-ideal clients take up all the time available, meaning, these businesses can’t give their ideal clients nearly enough attention to keep them around.
What if, instead of working with anyone in need of our skills, we worked with them based on the quality of the referral? What if we turned down 3/4 of the opportunities that come to us, in favor of the 1/4 that came in on referral because they truly were the perfect fit in what we can provide them. Would we end up with better clients? Would we be more empathetic towards solving their problem?
Of course we would. And each of these individual things means we’d end up with better - and MORE - referrals.
I turn down most work opportunities that came to me blindly without some degree of separation. By shifting my focus to doing really great work for the few, these ideal clients refer me to others and do the selling for me. The best part is…
Birds of a feather.
When you prioritize what’s important to you, the clients that stick with you tend to value the same things you do. And when you free yourself up of non-ideal clients, you’re able to prioritize your ideal ones more, while your non-ideal clients can now find a better fit for them. And now your ideal clients are so overwhelmingly pleased with how you were able to serve them that they tell their friends - who value the same things they do.
You then become more invested in their solutions because of the empathy you feel for your referral.
For me, the empathy rests in making the rockstars feel like normal people, and the ‘normal people’ feel like rockstars.
The quality of the work goes up, and the quantity of the work…. goes up too. For me, social credit became the cornerstone for my very own grassroots marketing. Closely guarded referrals create more closely guarded referrals. And the service you provide instantly becomes a commodity. Crazy right? The thought patterns shifted from “Everyone should know about your service! I want to yell from the rooftops how great you are so everyone can come here!” to “I’m sure you’re busy. But I have a very dear friend who could use you.”
By whispering to the few ideal clients with an immaculate, focused experience, I avoided ever yelling. You should always prefer whispering to the few, over screaming to the masses. Whispering to the few has helped me avoid ever spending a penny in advertising. It’s helped my wait list stay healthy, my clients stay ideal, and my sanity to stay with me (ok, this one’s a bit debatable at times). It’s the key to building a referral-based business.
Choose what you want to whisper, who you want to whisper to. Then, get really good at whispering. Your ideal clients, your dream audience, your perfect business deals are closer than you think.