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Referral Marketing

When I first started networking for my new business I was clueless. Needless to say, this grated on my nerves as it clashes with my mask of being an expert. So, I set out to rectify the situation in short order.  I started talking to experts about establishing networks which would help promote my business. One said that I needed to have a variety of gimmicks to push my offering.  He suggested that I go to many different BNI chapters as a guest and recruit them into a mastermind group.  Anyone in or associated with BNI, the world’s largest referral marketing organization,  would cringe at this type of suggestion.  Others talked about going to meet-up groups and chamber meetings and collecting business cards as I practiced my elevator pitch about coaching to each of them.

These ideas and several others that I won’t waste space on here are utterly worthless in my mind.  I ended up hiring a coach who is expert in building referral marketing networks.  I did this because I wanted time compression and I trusted her approach.  Interestingly enough, she was speaking at a PCA (Pittsburgh Coaches Association) lunch meeting on networking. This, in effect, means she was doing exactly what my first example suggested in terms of allowing someone to kick the tires through my mastermind group. At least however she was not subverting the BNI meeting process to get clients.

Building a referral marketing network takes time and I believe it should be integrated into your social media and Internet marketing campaigns and work collaboratively with your overall strategy.  In my last two blog entries, I have talked about how those two activities can work.  They work really well with building a referral network.

In his book about building referral networks, Ivan Misner the founder of BNI, describes a copy written process for building a referral network.  As a member and leader in my BNI chapter, I encourage you to read the book and follow his advice. The key thing to consider is getting your core referral network to understand what your new business is all about. You must be able to describe it to others and to get those folks to “sell” you to others simply because they know, like and trust you.

I am sure that you, like me, have hundreds of people you are connected with on Facebook, Linked in, and other social media networks. Plus you have the ability to build pages to your company on Linked in and on Facebook, as I have done.  But the point here is twofold; these connections can be a good picture of your different type of networks (i.e. your information network, support network and referral network).  Knowing which of your hundreds of partners fit into your key stakeholder groups in each type of network is key.

For example, you can use Linked in to put together mailing lists of your different types of partners.  So, if you have twenty to thirty key referral partners and perhaps five or so core network partners who you work closely with (because their clients are also your target market), you can easily keep them informed of your new offerings, enabling them to better “sell you” to those clients.

Why would they help you by doing this? Very simply, because it gives them an excuse to talk more with their clients. This is an opportunity to discuss what is going on in that client’s life, what their concerns or frustrations are, and what they’ve been up to lately. This conversation oftentimes turns into a new business opportunity for your referral partners making it a win-win situation they will be happy to repeat.

The best referral relationships are the partners that are needed all of the time by your clients.  For example, I help people create new business ventures.  They all need to build referral networks, they all need Internet marketing, and they can benefit from social media, printing services, direct mail, and accounting or banking services. So, my referral network includes offerings that all of my clients will need as they grow their business.  And each of them provide something that either I can’t or don’t wish to provide myself. As such, they become natural extensions to my offering.

Some referral partners can be very aligned with what we do.  For example, let’s say that a potential client of mine is operating a business that she wants to get back onCORE to what she envisioned when starting the company.  We look at her financials over the last three years and build a model of where her business is going.  We look at seven key numbers for how her business is functioning and determine that she needs more leads coming into to remain viable.  As she works on strategies to improve her business, she will most likely benefit from the expertise of a marketing company. I work as her coach and advisor, but the marketing firm can help increase her leads. Taking this example one step further, I have several referral partners within my network that provide marketing services. My client has the option to choose one of those services that I can recommend or do the research on her own to make the most informed decision that is best for her business.

In another example, the same client might be working first with the marketing company who does not have the toolkit to do what I can do with her financials and her desire to get back onCORE with her beliefs. They are stuck in the sales process and not sure where to go next. The marketing company, as a referral partner of mine, might suggest that the client work with me to figure out how to pay for and track programs such as what they are offering to her business?

Business gets done by referral more often than not. If you are new to creating a business yourself and new to marketing it through referral networking, Dr. Misner’s 2012 book The worlds best known marketing secret (co-authored with Mike Macedonio, Julien Sharp and Jeff Morris) is a good first resource, particularly the section on building your referral network. If you’re ready to take the next step and need more information, contact us to learn more about how you can start building your social-business-referral network. If you are interested in an awesome coach who can help you build your referral network let me know and I will introduce you to her.

Search Engine Optimization

Say “What’s your SEO strategy?” to most new business owners and the invariable response is best likened to a deer caught in the path of an oncoming truck’s headlights. Many people think they can get away with a one-time SEO activity, when an on-going strategy is what is really required.

To set the stage for this topic, I wil describe my initial foray into the world of SEO.  Before you begin to even think about SEO, you need to be clear on several items. You must clearly define “who” your ideal customer is. This involves understanding their profile, what they do, their age, hobbies, likes and dislikes. Try to build personas for them. Have conversations with real people like them. Once you have a clear picture of your ideal client, figure out how much of that market is on Facebook. You can use the Facebook Ad tool to find out how many people are in a city, state, zip code, or country. This tool provides an instant updated view of the Facebook community and if you think that Facebook is only being used by kids…well then you have been sleeping for the last three years. Likewise if you think that Linked-in is where the real business gets done and not Facebook…think again.  I believe that people engage with Facebook and their “egos” engage with Linked In. Personally I would rather engage with as much of my clients or potential clients as possible and not just their “business self”.

Still asking why Facebook?  Because you can create a Facebook page for your business for free. No web-hosting and no web designer required. The process is free and only takes a few minutes to set (once you have your strategy defined that is). You can share the new page with your existing Facebook friends and you can leverage the site to find information to push to your target market using Twitter or Google Alerts. I will re-iterate…all of this is FREE. You can become the expert on what your target market is looking for and republish that information to them in just minutes each day.

What does this have to do with SEO you ask? Your free Facebook page is exposed to the Internet search engines, just like a website.  The words that you use to talk about the interesting things you find are picked up by Search Engines. This is why knowing what SEO words resonate with your target market is so important.

To figure out what keywords work for you, employ the Google Adword tool to find out what SEO terms are used by your target customer. Start using those words in your posts and reposts.  Remember to stay on brand, be authentic, and have some fun. Watch your weekly site stats to see how many people you are reaching.

It took six months of work to get my website to the point that it is now and it is still only a working prototype with almost no traffic.  I promoted my Facebook page one week ago and more people have interacted with it in the last week than have been to my website in the last thirty days.  My website traffic was tenfold higher the day I promoted the Facebook page thanks to traffic driven to the home page link on FaceBook.

Why is this the case? In my research on Encore Entrepreneurs using Adwords, I found that no one is looking for that information.   According to one survey, there are 12 million potential Encore Entrepreneurs out there; but if you search for the term in Adwords you get just 36 monthly searches for that term as opposed to 7.4 million searches for “small business”.  So, while people might intend to grow up to be an EE someday, they are not currently looking for that in their search engine.

More interestingly, I work with people to look at retirement in a revolutionary way. One would think that boomers would be all over that…NOT! Zero! Nada! However, “Retirement New” generated 135,000 monthly searches.  It is not about what we call something, it is what the market calls it that matters.  Back in the 90’s, in a product management role, I struggled with defining the market. Now it is at our fingertips, we simply have to use the tools we are given.  To play with Adwords just go to Google,  sign in with your ID and set up a free account, then get started.

So, before you hire someone to tell you what you need for SEO, do some research. Remember, the best thing about all of this is that the Google and Facebook tools are free.  It costs you nothing and there is no commitment. You can always hire someone later and armed with this knowledge, you’ll make better decision on who to hire and what to expect. This brief blog post is certainly not meant to be a complete description of what you need to do but it is designed to point you in the right direction. If you want more information, consider attending our upcoming seminar for much more details, tips, tricks and planning tools. If you take just one thing away today, let it be this: SEO is a process that must become part of your overall marketing toolkit. It is not a one-off project that can be completed and then forgotten. As a business owner it is critical for you to understand and be involved in the ongoing process.

We will be doing a seminar series on the three pillars of marketing for today’s star-ups including the topics of Internet Marketing, Social Media and Referral Networking monthly. To get on our newsletter list and stay informed about upcoming events, send an email request.  Next week we will talk about referral marketing for your start-up business.  If all this is old hat to you and you are still stuck drop me an email, I am networked to a number of SEO experts and Internet Marketing Mavens that will be happy to help you out.

Social Media, Internet Marketing, Referral Marketing – oh my….

I get email promotions every day about how to be successful in the launching of my new business.  Most of these communications seem designed to leverage fear, uncertainty and doubt.  They are particularly aimed at baby boomers, employing the concept that we are too out of touch with today’s reality (read: stupid) to be able to come up with our own social media and internet marketing strategies. And honestly, until recently the only thing that I could do with SEO (Search Engine Optimization, the major enabler for Internet Marketing other than newsletters) is spell it correctly (admittedly sometimes a feat unto itself) but all that has changed…

Most boomers were taught to read when they went to school. I realize that today many question if that is still the case.  We were also taught to do research in Libraries, using the Readers Guide to Periodical Literature and a Card Catalogue.  When it came time to turn in term papers, we used manual typewriters and white out.  If were able to figure all that out with very little help from adults who raised us without sharing that they loved us “just the way we are” but having no compunctions admonishing that “we must be seen and not heard”, then surely we can figure out Facebook, Search Engine Optimization and how it fits in with what we were raised on which was Referral Marketing.

Readers of this blog know that I am all about authentic “empirical learning”.  One thing that I have learned and both Presidential candidates are re-learning, is do not give off the cuff remarks to anyone. Someone will see them and forward it on, re-tweet it, re-blog it, post it…and in the process, distort the original intent beyond belief. We learned this concept via the game of “telephone tag” and with the advent and prolific use of the Internet, it just becomes that much easier.

An example is an earlier blog entry in which I talked about the death of a great aunt and named her. As a result, two of the relatives of the person who took her life came out of the woodwork to process their own budding awareness of the event which occurred so long ago. This was unexpected, possibly bad but probably actually good, and most definitely, unintended. Key lesson to be learned: when writing blog entries it is best to stay on track with your message.

In reviewing the statistics on my nascent web site and blog, I see very little traffic. However it has led to business and referrals. Why? Because the people that have  visited were looking at the site because I, or someone that knows me, sent them there based on a conversation. It has, therefore, fulfilled my desire to describe who I am to others.  This effort of just getting a domain name along with the process of beginning to craft and share a message has been valuable to the few who have seen it. Yet in looking at the site stats, I came to two conclusions: 1.) I need a more effective SEO strategy, and 2.) I need  a Social media strategy that gets people to my site from Facebook and other social media sites.

There are numerous consultants out there that will charge $500 or more to put up a Facebook page, or you can buy a Facebook Marketing for Dummies Book for about $25 and start to play with it yourself. As in anything else in life, it is either time or money, a day of your time and a few dollars or paying someone else for their “expertise.” The question you should be asking is what you are going to do to the site tomorrow.  The net – net, as a work colleague of mine once said, is consistency. Interesting content to your target audience pushed out on a relatively constant schedule. Many sites that I have reviewed that people paid good money to have built unfortunately had no consistency and were not very interesting.

So, in order to build consistency, you need content. Even the most prolific of us sometimes simply have nothing to say. In such times (as often as they may occur), leveraging existing content that is consistent with your websites theme is a useful tactic. Repurposing of content, adding your own insight and perspective, can help get the message out to a broader readership base and is one of the main principles behind the staggering effectiveness of communication via the Internet today.  How do you find something to re-post or post? I use two tools, Google alerts and Stumbleupon (an iPad app – also a website).  I use both tools for key-worded items like “Encore Entrepreneurs”, “Pittsburgh Technology”, etc. for my alerts. I use topics like “Business”, “Computers”, and “Spirituality” from Stumbleupon.  I spend less than thirty minutes a day reviewing these alert emails. If I miss a day, I delete the alerts and move on. However the e-mails in my corporate Gmail account remind me to review what I might otherwise dismiss or forget. This can be very beneficial on the days that “life” happens and things just seem to get away from you. Another helpful tip is to use a separate email address to subscribe to the alerts to keep my primary business address cleaner.

This is also an effective way to understand some of what is interesting to your target market. Try sending out the content and see where it goes. If something gets “likes” and is reposted, it must have resonated. If not, then either no one is seeing it or it was simply not very interesting.  When I taught executives how to use a personal commuter in the 1980’s they were afraid to touch it, my children however mastered it in days when it was introduced to our home.  To learn new techniques as adults, we have to become like little children and play. Don’t be afraid to try something new or look stupid. You will learn from the process and be able to share how much smarter you are for the journey.

Once you have created a Facebook Page for your business, and made it public, that page gets picked up by search engines.  Perhaps you found this blog entry from my onCOREventures Facebook page. We will go deeper into Facebook strategy creation in a later post. I will deal with next step, Search Engine Optimization, in my next blog entry.