Face it, some businesses are just more difficult to refer than others. Often, those same businesses struggle to get clients even through traditional advertising methods. Although I firmly believe word of mouth is the best way for almost all types of businesses to grow, in some cases, it's almost the only way to grow. When I started my business consulting firm more than 20 years ago, I learned these lessons the hard way.
Very few companies retained a consulting firm based on an advertisement. Most of my clients came from referrals, but that took time and I needed to find new business to keep my doors open. Through this struggle, I landed on a technique that I've been training to businesspeople and entrepreneurs for the past two decades. I call it "working the rubber chicken circuit."
Years ago, I learned that when I did a speaking engagement, I often got new business. So the key was to get more speaking engagements while I was working on the long-term process of word of mouth. Because educating my referral sources took time, getting some speaking engagements was a great short-term approach to building my business. I discovered that this became a specific strategy in and of itself: to build my company through the word of mouth that comes from speaking engagements.
When you schedule an appointment with someone you think might be interested in what you're selling, that time you spend with them--usually an hour--is important! Imagine having that same one-hour appointment with between 20 and 50 businesspeople in your community, all at the same time! In effect, that's what you're doing when you're asked to make a presentation at various clubs and organizations. While many of you may realize the immense networking value that joining and participating in service clubs lends to their credibility in their community, what you may not think about is how much business speakers at these various meetings can generate.
As an entrepreneur, just how do you go about getting on the calendars of these business and service groups? It isn't as hard as you might think. With a little creativity, you can put together a presentation that will be informational, educational and even entertaining for these groups. Most important, you can get referrals from people to help get you in front of them. Usually program chairs are scrambling to find someone different, engaging and interesting to come in and present to the group. Your job is to help them find you! What I did was to produce a letter that I'd give to the people in my extended network to make it very easy for them to refer me for a speaking engagement.
Here's a sample of the letter I used to send to program chairs when I owned a consulting firm in Southern California. You'll see that I was offering much more than a one-hour sales pitch for my service:
Dear Program Chair:
AIM Consulting is a management consulting firm that works with small and midsize businesses. During the past two years, we've given a presentation entitled "Entrepreneuring in the 80's" to more than 60 service organizations such as yours. The presentation deals with managing and motivating employees. It involves participation and interaction with the audience and leaves time for questions at the end. Here are some of the comments we've received:
"Fantastic, every service club must hear!"
East LA Rotary
"One of our best...Ivan kept everyone excited."
"An excellent talk by an excellent speaker."
"Excellent, highly recommended, got a lot of questions."
If you're interested in this topic, we'd be glad to visit your club to give this presentation.
Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions.
Ivan R. Misner
I'd take the above letter to networking meetings and give it to people who knew me and wanted to refer me but didn't know how. I ended up getting a lot of business this way. In fact, one of my largest clients came from a speaking engagement I got using this system.
Just one person who contacts you because of this letter can position you in front of numerous businesspeople who might be in the market for your product or service. Once you have the opportunity to make these types of connections, you never know where they'll lead.
On a related note, I found that it was very important to give the audience something to take away that would bring them back to me. For example, for me, it was a behavior profile instrument. I told them they could take this back to their office, give it to any employee, have them fill it out and mail it back to me, and I'd give them a free four-page analysis of the behavioral characteristics of that employee so they could better understand how to manage that person. By using this tool, I almost always got one or more companies to follow up after I spoke.
Let me give you an example of how a business owner might position himself to be a speaker at an organization's weekly meeting. Take the case of a hardware store owner I once knew. You might wonder how a hardware store owner could appeal to a program chair who's looking for someone to speak to a business group. The topic of home safety is a very timely message. Who better than a hardware store owner to fashion a presentation on home safety and give viable tips on things to do around the house to be sure that the home environment is free from hidden--and not so hidden--dangers.
Of course, the members present at that meeting might have a need to take care of some of the things the presenter brings up. Who do you think they're going to contact for that? Bingo! That week's speaker is just the person for the job.
The key is to go in with information and education...not a huge sales pitch. People don't like being sold to, but they do like to buy! A great presentation can motivate your audience to want to buy what it is you have for sale. Not only that, a great presentation can also position you favorably for extended networking with the members and their contacts.
This technique made my company easy for anyone to refer, and it got me a lot of clients while I was busy building my business. Most important, this technique can work for almost any business. Next time you think of rubber chicken, think leverage, think networking, think business.