Q: My question is about so-called "contact spheres." How do I decide which businesses are in my contact sphere?

A: First, let me describe how I defined the concept when I introduced it in The World's Best Known Marketing Secret: Building Your Business With Word-of-Mouth Marketing .

A contact sphere is a group of business professionals who have a symbiotic relationship. They are in compatible, noncompetitive professions, such as a lawyer, a CPA, a financial planner and a banker. If you put those four people in a room for an hour, they're going to do business together. Each one is working with clients that have similar needs but require different services. Hence, they're working that symbiotic relationship.

My favorite example of a contact sphere is the caterer, the florist, the photographer and the travel agent. I call this the "wedding mafia"! If one gets a referral to a wedding, then they all get a referral to the wedding. These professions, more than most, have truly learned how to work their contact sphere.

Here are some other examples of contact spheres:

  • Business services: printers, graphic artists, specialty advertising agents and marketing consultants.
  • Real estate services: residential and commercial agents, escrow companies, title companies and mortgage brokers.
  • Contractors: painters, carpenters, plumbers, landscapers, electricians and interior designers.
  • Health care: chiropractors, physical therapists, acupuncturists and nutritionists.

Let's take a computer sales and service company as an example. That contact sphere may include sales reps for telecommunications hardware firms and photocopier companies. Also, contractors who specialize in installing wiring may fit within this contact sphere to assist in wiring installations. Also, don't forget the computer trainers, who work with people and their computers on a daily basis, as well as business coaches and accountants, who may have clients that need to improve their company's technology.

To get the most out of your contact sphere:

  • Identify as many professions as possible that fit within your company's contact sphere. Take a look at what professions your industry tends to work with to get an idea of repetitive and reciprocal referrals. Create a list of these professions.
  • Identify specific individuals who could fit into your contact sphere. Go to various networking groups and consult your business card file and database.
  • Invite these people to participate in networking groups with you so you can formalize your relationship and have a way to stay in regular contact. Maintaining the relationship is key. A good way to do that is to participate in groups that put you together on a regular basis.
  • Evaluate the professionals in your contact sphere that you are presently referring. If they are not reciprocating, you may have the wrong profession or the wrong person. Fill the spot with someone who is willing to reciprocate.

Although developing a solid contact sphere will greatly increase your business, you must remember that it alone is not enough. Because contact spheres consist of small groups, you're not likely to gain exposure to a large number of individuals. Hence, work on developing your overall network of contacts at the same time you are developing your contact sphere.

Good luck. Contact spheres are a great way to start building your professional network.