How to use strategic networking to get more clients

by Michelle Hunter

Everyone loves a good referral and the warm leads referrals generate for your business. Wondering how you can get more friendly referrals into your web design business? It’s time to get strategic.

Get more leads with strategic networking

Everyone loves a good referral. There’s just something heartwarming about an inquiry that comes because someone says nice things about you and your work. That’s the power of strategic networking. Honestly, it’s equivalent  to the joy a cuddly puppy brings when it climbs into  your lap. 

Not a dog person? Oh well, just think of a kitty or something.  You get the idea, right?

Unfortunately, referrals are relatively passive. There’s nothing much you can do to increase them.  You just have to do your best work, ask for referrals once in a while, and hope for the best, right? Not necessarily!

You can take control of referral based marketing and create a steady stream of referrals into your business. Strategic networking has transformed my business.

What is strategic networking? 

Strategic networking is a marketing system based on cultivating the types of relationships that will provide referrals to your ideal (or target) clients. Think of it as a polite form of stalking – an intentional focus on building mutually beneficial ties to people who work with your ideal client in a different capacity than you. 

I discovered this idea inside the book The Pumpkin Plan by Mike Michalowicz. I can’t take credit for the concept, but over the years I’ve perfected the implementation of this system. 

Strategic networking (in this context) requires you to create an aura of expertise around yourself and your work. It also requires you to provide collaborative value to your referral partners. Ideally, you become known for your skill and expertise in a particular area – such as web design – and make it really easy for others to explain what you do and how you work. 

This marketing channel (because that’s what it is) is built on a platform of personal relationships you cultivate and nurture through personal contact, direct engagement inside social media groups and masterminds, and through public speaking – if that’s your thing. 

Your goal is simple. You want referral partners to view you as a trusted colleague, expert, and someone with value to offer in the marketplace. You want them to become brand advocates for you so they can refer people to you with confidence. 

Ready to learn more? Here’s how this thing works… 

Step One :: Create a clear definition of your ideal client. 

Who are you most interested in working with? This is the starting point of your strategy. You’ll want to identify descriptors such as industry, personality, and point of need if you can. 

Possible examples: 

  • Creative entrepreneurs who offer custom services such as interior design, photography, web design, custom artwork, custom jewelry, etc. 
  • Professionals (attorneys, doctors, accountants) looking to expand their audience. 
  • Manufacturing / industrial / corporate clients with developed digital strategy. 

Step Two :: Identify referral sources for your strategic networking efforts. 

This step requires you to do a bit of observation and investigation. Simply put, you need to identify other businesses that engage with or serve your ideal clients. These businesses do not need to be in your industry or related to your industry – in fact, it’s better if they aren’t. 

They just need to be in a position to have a trusted relationship with your ideal client. Unsure of how to do this? Read The Pumpkin Plan by Mike Michalowicz. You’re looking for people who work with your ideal client, but in a different way.

Great referral partners for web designers are: 

  • Business coaches and consultants 
  • Financial advisors and accountants
  • Project managers and administrative assistants

Another potential referral source comes from connecting with people inside an online group, social platform such as LinkedIn, or mastermind group. Look for groups that include either your ideal clients OR people who work with your ideal clients. 

Step Three :: Create a strategic networking relationship “target list.”

Identify 3-5 potential referral partners as a beginning point for this strategy. If possible, select targets who are already familiar with you in some way. 

Perhaps they have worked with you in the past in some capacity. Perhaps they are friends or people with whom you’ve already established some type of relationship. You don’t have to select people who know you, but it makes things a whole lot easier in the beginning. 

Step Four :: Reach out to your target list and start talking.

This is the scary step, but it’s actually also the most natural if you have a mindset of positive mutual benefit. Notice that word mutual – it means you are looking for ways YOU can help them. 

Sure, you’re working to get referrals from this person. That’s your side of the equation, but that’s not the whole thing. Mastering this marketing channel means finding ways to benefit each individual referral partner. 

Begin the conversation with honest curiosity. Learn more about the other person’s work, needs, and situation. Focus on building trust and friendship before you ask for anything. 

Step Five :: Find multiple ways to  add value to your strategic network. 

Remember, for this marketing channel to work effectively, you must offer real value to your referral partners. There are several ways to do this… ideally collaborating with you will fill a real need for the people on your target list. 

Some options to consider are… 

  • Offer your services and share your expertise at no charge.
  • Assist with marketing by sharing and promoting their offers.
  • Engage in their online community via social media. 
  • Provide referrals to them by  connecting them with people you know. 

Step Six (Optional) :: Speak during live events. 

Not everyone is cut out for speaking (either in person or online). That’s why this step is optional. However, you might consider building your skills in this area because it is a hugely impactful way to network. 

When you demonstrate your expertise by speaking, participating in a live workshop or summit, or appearing as a guest on a podcast or webinar, you gain instant exposure. Not only do you meet potential clients, you get in front of potential referral partners as well.

Speaking is magical because people hear your voice and experience your passion and energy. You impact them immediately with the message you share and they draw closer to you emotionally just because they engaged with you in this way – even if you’re not overly polished or confident.

Have you ever felt you “know” an expert you’ve never met just because you’ve listened to her podcast or heard him speak during a webinar? This is the power of speaking and leveraging it will supercharge your success with this marketing channel. 

Step Seven :: Create a system to manage your connections.

In a perfect world, we would keep all our important relationship information in our heads. We would instantly remember everyone’s birthday, know their address, and remember the name of their dog or cat. We’d never forget a detail. 

This isn’t a perfect world, is it? I can’t remember all the birthdays in my family. There’s no hope for me when my contact list grows long enough to be effective.  

You need a system to keep track of all the details. You can use some kind of CRM software if you like – they work well, although it can be difficult to select one and set it up properly. When you’re just getting started you can use an analog system like a notebook, planner, or an old fashioned tickler file. Does anyone remember those, or is it just me? 

The system you select is up to you… but it’s vital that you notice little details and remember them somehow. We build warmth with others through personal connections and kindnesses, so be sure you don’t skip this step. 

How will you know the system is working? You’ll get leads. 

It takes a bit of time to build trust and rapport with other people. You might have practice conversation a bit or send a few cards or make a few phone calls. You might give a fair bit for a while without getting a return… but stick with it. Trust that the leads will come. 

Some people on your target list won’t be a good fit for you. Others will love what you do and feel close to you, but not have an opportunity to send business your way. That’s okay….stick with it. Trust that the leads will come. 

Make sure the people in your circle know what you do. Tell them when you launch a new initiative or create a new offer or do something amazing. Stay open and conversational…and stick with it. Trust that the leads will come. 

When the leads start to trickle in, express your gratitude. Share your excitement with your referral partner and give the person they sent to you an excellent experience… even if they don’t ultimately work with you. Reinforce your referral partner’s trust with excellence. 

Before long, you’ll have a steady stream of warm leads and you’ll know this was well worth the effort. 

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