When I owned a bricks and mortar business I used to get a lot of customers asking if I knew anyone who could do work for them. Because my shop was in a central position within a small community, I was frequently asked if I knew any good plumbers, electricians or handymen. On the other hand, trades people would often come in and leave me a pile of cards promoting their businesses.
You would think I could have just handed out one of these cards to anyone who asked, but I couldn’t – I had no clue about the quality of the work that these people performed, the majority I had only met briefly when they dropped off the cards! How could I possibly recommend them to my customers and say they did a great job? I could not, and I didn’t want to jeopardize my relationship with my customer by passing out a card from a business I knew nothing about.
If a customer begged and pleaded, saying they were in a dire situation, I would reluctantly hand over a card, but I impressed on them that I had never done business with that person, never used their services and knew nobody else who had. These cards were kept in a box behind the counter. The only cards on display to my customers were the ones from people I did know and trust.
Perhaps a lot of these other businesses could have cultivated a relationship with me, or offered to do something for free to promote their services, but they never did, so I never referred them to others.
On the internet, you have to be proactive. Once you have a base of contacts, or a list, it is essential to keep in touch with them, even if you’re up to your ears in something else. It is far easier to write a regular email to your clients, than driving all over town to visit each person individually. After all, on the internet there are plenty of other similar businesses to yours who would be very happy to jump into your shoes, when you don’t maintain constant contact with your clients or prospects, or keep your blog updated regularly.
Referrals are the cheapest and easiest ways to gain new customers – your original customer has already done the pre-sell for you! It’s all too easy just to look at your list and see a line of names, but behind those names are real people, people who have given you something of value – their email address – and they expect something in return. Look upon them as your friends and treat them as if they are friends in everyday life. Keep in contact by offering them something of value too.
If you know you are going to be involved with something else for a few weeks or months, use your autoresponder service to do the work for you. It may only take a couple of hours to write some emails that will go out to your list on preset days, for as many weeks as you want. Just don’t brush them off to one side because something else is “more important” – it will appear that you don’t care, or worse, no longer doing business. You wouldn’t treat your friends of family in such a way, so why do it to the people who not only trust you, but may have already put food on your table?
In order to get precious referrals, your clients must be able to trust that you will be there to help or answer any questions. It’s only after building a trusting relationship with your clients they will recommend you to others. If you are constantly disappearing off the radar or being non-responsive, you will never be able to cultivate those relationships to the point where people send you referrals.
Do you have any tips on maintaining contact with your client list, even if you are busy with something else? We’d love to hear from you.