One of the questions that people ask me most often is this: How do I get more business? The long answer would fall in the realm of marketing and would thus require a book-length manuscript. I'll content myself with brevity for once.
Most of my new business comes through referrals, and I attribute these referrals to "the art of the casual connection."
I simply make a point to touch base with past clients and prospects on a semi-regular basis. I alluded to this in a post back in October that covered ways to improve your brand. I send Out-of-the-Blue Helpful emails to people:
"I stumbled across a blog post that I knew you'd find helpful. Here is the link...Hope all is well…"
So the art of the casual connection is the what, and being really, really helpful and thoughtful is the how.
Here's the rub:
Most freelancers, entrepreneurs, and small business owners struggle to find enough business. Day-to-day activities, such as answering emails and meeting with clients, eat up too many working hours. Any time left over is spent on scrambling to do the actual work and keep existing clients happy.
To make matters worse, a lot of creative professionals distrust "marketing." The word reeks of inauthenticity and conspicuous consumption. Snake oil, anyone? Cheap gemstones for your fish tank or a set of ever-sharp kitchen knives for the low, low price of $19.99? Some small business owners wouldn't mind throwing some marketing strategy and tactics into their business mix but suffer from a case of analysis paralysis. They have a tendency to do nothing rather than risk a mistake.
The vast majority default to word-of-mouth as their sole means of filling the hopper each month.
And maybe sticking to word-of-mouth is a good business idea.
What? Maybe that's okay.
Maybe you don't have to unroll an aggressive marketing campaign to grow your business.
Did you think I was going to try to convince you to invest in Google AdWords or send out two dozen tweets a day? That would probably help, especially if you have solid keyword and content curation strategies in place, but let's start with where you already are.
The art of the casual connection involves being helpful, not annoying. I'm not talking about sales pitches or sliding a sheet of paper across the table with a demand: "I need 10 names and phone numbers before we can leave."
That's the wonderful, ironic secret about our technology-saturated age:
Word-of-mouth is still the most powerful form of marketing.
For most people I know, "marketing" consists of a website. They dabble in Facebook, tweet sporadically, and maybe send out a Christmas card to a small list of faithful clients.
Most of them would cringe at the thought of putting a coupon in the glossies—if their local newspaper is even still in existence. A full-page ad in the White Pages? You may as well pack up your belongings and check yourself into to the Dreadfully Boring Business Motel. (Let it be said that White Pages ads still work well for some attorneys and insurance salesmen, including my father!)
Referrals are still the best way to get business.
Sustaining casual connections with an informal lunch—How's business these days? Is your family traveling over the holidays?—or out-of-the-blue emails serves to remind the people who might hire you or make referrals that 1) you're not dead; 2) you were thinking about them (i.e., being considerate); and 3) you're being helpful by finding resources and make recommendations.
It's not rocket science. It's not even marketing science, with split tests and click-through rates. It's what might have in days past been called "common" or "professional" courtesy.
You're not playing an angle, and you're not setting the stage to deliver a spiel about your latest cutting-age, plasma-filled, laser-sharpened thingamabobber. You're taking a thoughtful, organized approach to getting more referrals and encouraging word-of-mouth.
How do you get people to give you more business and money?
You treat your clients and your prospects the way you want to be treated. Practicing the art of the casual connection involves being helpful, thoughtful, and generous. Growing your business in 2013 might mean intentionally being old-fashioned.
What do you do to be helpful and keep in touch with clients and prospects? We'd love to hear from you in the Comments section below.