How to Stay in Front of Your Referral Network Online social networking is a great way to reconnect with your top contacts, and to make many more.

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These days, business networking is getting a huge boost from online social-networking sites. Social media can enable small-business owners to reach hundreds, if not thousands of potential customers on the Internet.

One of the fastest ways to build referrals and relationships on the Web is by using social networking to reconnect with the top people in your "center of influence" who respect and admire you. This could be friends from high school, college, past co-workers, family members, bestselling authors, media contacts, and others. More than half (53 percent) of all Internet users have visited websites referred by friends or family in the previous 30 days, according to digital marketing and media researcher eMarketer.com. Online, a referral from a trusted source can make all the difference in converting a contact into a customer.

Develop that trusting relationship with people who are well positioned to give you referrals. When you do, your marketing will become supercharged with what's clearly the best form of advertising -- positive word-of-mouth.

The Keep-in-Touch Plan
It is vital that you create a powerful "stay connected" plan to keep your brand at top of mind with your contacts and those in your center of influence. It's a good idea to reach out to your connections at least once every three months by using one of the following approaches.

  • Send them an email once a month to share something new in your business and simply to touch base.
  • Phone or Skype them to say hello. Ask them how they are first, and keep notes so you have something personal to reference during your the next call. You can close the discussion by telling them about an event or big announcement about your company, product or service.
  • A personal note sent through the mail works very well for developing this type of relationship. Notes take time, which shows that you value the connection. Consider using online services such as SendOutCards.com that can help you automate card sending.
  • Don't tell them how important they are, show them. If this relationship doesn't include reciprocity, it will degenerate into a "What's in it for me?" situation that won't stand the test of time. Send them thank you gifts or online gift cards (a small amount will do just fine) to let them know you're grateful for them and any referrals that they've sent your way.
Start Your Own Business Excerpted from Start Your Own Business, Fifth Edition by the staff of Entrepreneur.
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