Top 3 Ways for Building a Word-of-Mouth Business How to get more referrals.

By Brian Hilliard

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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As a speaker and marketing coach by trade, I'm often asked what people can do to build a more referral-based, word-of-mouth practice. Because make no mistake about it: When it comes to client acquisition, referrals can play a huge part in your success -- or lack thereof.

Especially when it comes to coaches, consultants, speakers, lawyers, accountants, chiropractors and other service professionals.


Because, by definition, our work is intangible!

In other words, hiring you is not like going to store and getting a loaf of bread, or picking up a pair of sneakers where prospects can physically compare one item with the other.

No sir.

People have to make a decision based on other factors -- how professional you come across, how you make them feel throughout the process -- and yes, the opinion of others as it relates to your work.

Enter word of mouth.

Which is why we're going to discuss my top three ways for getting more word of mouth referrals.

Related: 16 Tips for Becoming a Master Networker

1. Create a rock-solid elevator pitch.

This is absolutely huge because for most people, they don't have a great response to the "what do you do?" question and it's absolutely torpedoing their business.

So let's say you're at a networking event, and while you're mixing and mingling with various attendees, someone strikes up a conversation and asks what you do. How should you respond?

Well I usually say something like "I help busy entrepreneurs market their business in less than 90 days."

Notice how it's short, sweet and straight to the point. And if people want to know how I do that, then they'll ask, and off I go talking about my business.

And in my mind, that's the mark of a good elevator pitch: Telling people what you do, in a manner that gets them to ask how you do it.

Where a lot of people make their mistake is by telling too much (thus stymieing the conversation through sheer volume of information), or being so vague that people feel like you're some type of snake oil salesman.

But, when you describe your business in a manner that gets them to want to learn more ...well, that's a horse of a much different color, because now you're both talking about your business, and giving them a chance to learn what you do.

Which when done properly, is a great first step for them referring you clients.

Related: 13 Habits of Exceptionally Likable People

2. Get out there and network like a pro!

One of the biggest hurdles for building a referral based, word of mouth business is this notion that you don't really have to do anything else besides provide great service. The thinking goes something like this: Great Service = Happy Clients = More Word of Mouth Business.

And while that's conceptually true, it couldn't be more misleading on a regular, day-to-day basis.

Building a word-of-mouth practice is about doing good work.

But, it's also about meeting people, getting to know them and in a perfect world, positioning yourself as someone who can add value or solve a problem in an area they deem important.

And the quickest way to get that ball rolling is through networking.

But, not just any old networking, where people are handing out business cards left and right. I'm talking about networking like a pro, where you engage people by creating a visible identity.

Simply put, a visible identity asks, "How can I stand out in the mind of this person, from the other five people they've already met?" And the best way to do that is to ask the right questions.

  • Where else do you normally network?
  • What do you like best about your business?
  • How did you get started in this direction?

These are all excellent questions to get the conversation started at any networking event. And not because of the questions themselves per se, but because of the conversation they elicit, and the opportunity you have to develop a referral partner, or potential client.

Related: How to Network, for Those Who Hate to Network

3. Follow up.

Now this is where a LOT of service professionals fall down . . . and understandably so.

We've got a lot going on -- usually inside and outside of the business -- and the idea of following up can seem a little overwhelming.

And while I totally get that, you have to remember that unless you follow up with the people you meet while networking, then you really haven't networked.

So, what can you do in terms of following up with these folks? Here are a few ideas:

  • Send a "nice to meet you" email within 48 hours, telling them how you enjoyed meeting them and depending on the contact, maybe even inviting them for a cup of coffee to "see how we might be able to help each other out".
  • Invite them to another networking meeting a couple of weeks later. Now don't feel like you have to spend more time with every person you meet . . . just the ones you feel will be a good potential client or referral partner.
  • Connect with them on social media. While this in and of itself isn't the end all be all, connecting with new contacts on LinkedIn or Facebook or following them on Twitter is a quick, easy step in the overall follow up process.

Bottom line

Referrals are a big part of any business. But, they're especially important for service professionals whose product isn't something you can see.

For those folks, referrals are crucial!

And with these three steps, you should be well on your way toward developing more word of mouth referrals.

Brian Hilliard

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Writer

Bestselling Author & Client Acquisition Coach

BRIAN HILLIARD is the co-author of Networking Like a Pro (Entrepreneur Press 2017) and popular speaker. As creator of the program "How to Market Your Business in Less Than 90 Days," Brian works with busy entrereneurs in the areas of Marketing, Mindset and Personal Achievement. Some of Brian's work has appeared nationally in Black Enterprise, Coaching World Magazine and the Martha Zoller Morning Show. During his free time, Brian enjoys playing golf and basketball and watching as many movies as possible on Netflix!

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